Litfest roiled as writers break ban on Satanic Verses

Queen Mother of Bhutan, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk, inaugurating the Jaipur Literature Festival at Diggi Palace on Friday. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras  

The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was threatened with closure after several writers decided to show their solidarity with Salman Rushdie, by reading out passages from his banned 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.

Ruchir Joshi, author of The Last Jet-Engine Laugh, who decided to read some of the most controversial passages from The Satanic Verses, told The Hindu: “I took a stand as did other writers. The book is banned in India and that's a matter of national shame.”

Police told the JLF authorities that the literary event, which began on Friday, could find itself in serious trouble for flouting the government ban imposed on the book. India, under Rajiv Gandhi, became the world's first nation to ban the book, even before Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the Indo-British author, which sent Mr. Rushdie into hiding under strict protection for several years.

The Festival's lawyer, producer Sanjoy Roy, co-directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple met the police to assure them that the readings were not scheduled and were the initiatives of the individual writers concerned. Such incidents would not occur again, they said.

Mr. Sanjoy Roy told The Hindu that the festival would henceforth obtain signed guarantees from participating authors and interviewers saying that they would abide by the organisation's rules.

The JLF's lawyers told the organisers that the government's ban on The Satanic Verses meant it was illegal to circulate the book in whole or part in any way or form in a public place, including through the reading of passages.

Earlier, novelist Hari Kunzru and writer Amitava Kumar both read some passages but were later asked by the festival organisers to refrain from reading further so as not to fuel the controversy.

In session after session, writers and moderators including personalities like Tarun Tejpal, author and publisher of Tehelka, The Hindu's Editor Siddharth Varadarajan, TV presenter Barkha Dutt and literature professor Amitava Kumar came out publicly against the way in which Mr. Rushdie was forced to abandon his Jaipur appearance.

Their condemnation of these events was met with loud applause from a public that included not just academics and book lovers but the local aam aadmi and schoolchildren from both English and Hindi medium institutions. An elderly Muslim gentleman from the audience declared: “I do not agree with Rushdie but I do not think he should be stopped from attending.” There was also a general condemnation of the government's “spineless capitulation and failure to give Rushdie the protection he needed” said Indrani, a visitor from Mumbai.

V.K. Karthika, publisher at Harper Collins-India, who is Ruchir Joshi's editor, told The Hindu: “No book should be banned and I stand by Ruchir, a writer I publish, who has taken a bold and courageous stand.”

Earlier, Mr. Rushdie, who received threats from Muslim extremists over what they describe as his “anti-Islamic writings,” decided he would not attend the Festival.

“I have been informed by Intelligence Bureau sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to eliminate me... It would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience, and to my fellow writers. I will therefore not travel to Jaipur as planned,” Mr Rushdie said in a statement read out by Mr. Sanjoy Roy.

JLF organisers clarify (Press Release)

This press release is being issued on behalf of the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. It has come to their attention that certain delegates acted in a manner during their sessions today which were without the prior knowledge or consent of the organisers. Any views expressed or actions taken by these delegates are in no manner endorsed by the Jaipur Literature Festival. Any comments made by the delegates reflect their personal, individual views and are not endorsed by the Festival or attributable to its organisers or anyone acting on their behalf. The Festival organisers are fully committed to ensuring compliance of all prevailing laws and will continue to offer their fullest cooperation to prevent any legal violation of any kind. Any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken. Our endeavour has always been to provide a platform to foster an exchange of ideas and the love of literature, strictly within the four corners of the law. We remain committed to this objective.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 2:37:51 PM |

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