Rushdie shadow over lit fest lingers

Organisers, cops clash over writers video address planned for today

Soon after the announcement that celebrated author Salman Rushdie was to address the Jaipur Literature Festival via video conference on Tuesday, simmering tensions between the organisers and police boiled over, with the cops saying that they had not permitted the address.

British author Romesh Gunesekera reads a petition to reconsider the ban on Salman Rushdie’s book ‘The Satanic Verses’  as Indian writer Annie Zaidi looks on in Jaipur on Monday. AP

“We have given permission for the literature festival on certain conditions. Video conferencing is not part of the festival. If they make amends in the programme, they have to seek fresh permission,” City Police Commissioner B L Soni told Deccan Herald.

According to sources, the government will decide on giving permission after discussing with the organisers about the theme and the topic of Rushdie’s address, and only if it the writer would avoid referring to his controversial book — ‘The Satanic Verses.’

“The organisers would be responsible if Rushdie, sitting in London or New York, spews venom about any community or people which may disturb peace,” Soni said.

Sanjoy Roy, producer of the festival, told mediapersons: “We have applied for permission for the programme and the police have sought some clarifications about the format and timing. We are preparing a detailed reply. As of now, the video conferencing will be held as scheduled on the front lawn of Diggi Palace at 3.45 pm and the session is the original one scheduled for day one that was cancelled after Rushdie called off his visit.” The session “Midnight Child” will have Burkha Dutt leading a discussion on the author’s work, journey and the adaptation of  his epic work “Midnight’s Children”.

Rushdie had called off his visit to India last week, claiming he was informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld were out to “eliminate” him.

Earlier, four authors who read excerpts from “The Satanic Verses” were advised to leave the Jaipur Literature Festival midway amid fears that they may be arrested. The four — Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi—had struck a defiant note by reading extracts from the banned book on Friday.

In yet another development that could further stoke the Rushdie controversy, many authors attending the literary festival demanded the immediate lifting of the 23-year-old ban on “The Satanic Verses”. 

“We strongly urge the government to reconsider the ban...” reads a petition put forward by the authors led by writer Nilanjana Roy.

The book by the India-born author was banned in the country in 1988 for having allegedly blasphemous content that hurt the sentiments of Muslims.

The petition claimed that the book “has not incited violence anywhere.” Others have used the novel’s existence to incite violence to suit their political ends, it said.

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