Writers, artists see a defeat for freedom

The cancellation of the projected video chat with Salman Rushdie at the Jaipur Literary Festival on Tuesday drew strong protests from writers and artists, with every speaker on the last day of the festival slamming fundamentalism targeting creative people.

Noted Lyricist Javed Akh­tar termed the incident sad and depressing and said the­re is some logic that an artist’s work is banned for some reasons but banning the author himself is the first of its kind. He said fundamentalists am­ong both Hindus and Mus­lims are equally dangerous to liberal democratic society.

Noted Hindi writer Ashok Vaypayee questioned the rationale in continuing the ban of Rushdie’s book “Satanic Verses”. He said “In this cyber era anybody can download a book from internet and it is time to demand lifting the ban on the book”. Tarun Tejpal of “Tehelka” said, “This  may be  a momentary set back for free speech and victory of bigotry” but added “Salman Rushdie’s voi­­ce cannot be silenced by such acts”.

After protracted discussion with the representatives of the protesting Muslim organisations failed to break the ice, the owner of Diggy Palace, Ram Pratap Singh told the waiting crowd that he had decided not to allow the video conference, fearing violence.

Police Advice

Singh said that several people had entered the venue and threatened violence if the video conference was allowed.

“I have taken a decision not to allow the video conference to go ahead on the advice of Rajasthan police. There are a large number of people who are inside the property and a large number who are marching towards the property. This is necessary to avoid violence and harm to the property and my family,” he said.

 Expressing regret over a situation that was described as “fairly idiotic”, Sanjoy Roy, the organiser of the festival said, “We are having to step down in a fight for the freedom of expression...this is not a decision that we can support.  We have been pushed to the wall.”
He added, “they are opposing to even seeing his face on TV”.

Big crowd

Before breaking down on stage, Roy explained that “We have been informed by police that that a large number of people of belonging to various Muslim organisations opposing Rushdie have made their  entry into the venue and many are assembling at various  parks and public places to march towards the venue to disrupt proceedings.”

Rushdie was scheduled to join a panel discussion at 3:45 pm in a discussion with Barkha Dutt on his celebrated novel “Midnight’s Children”. 

Protesters gathered at the venue after organisers announced in the morning that the video chat would take place, and that the Rajasthan government had told them they did not need special permission for Rushdie’s appearance via a satellite link from a London studio which triggered fresh the protest.

This morning, Roy had announced, “We have been in constant touch with Mr Rushdie, he will talk about his life, his work and his book ‘Midnight’s Children’. But I am not in a position to dictate to Mr Rushdie what he wants to talk about.”

The literary festival, attended by world-famous authors and personalities including Oprah Winfrey, has over the last few weeks have been in the news over the controversy surrounding Rushdie’s participation in the event after some Muslim organisations protested his presence in the festival and the government raising security concerns.

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