Assert freedom

While the annual Jaipur literature festival has taken off it has again been attended by controversies. It is not surprising that the written word and its celebrations have always  been targets of attack by governments, fundamentalist groups and other assorted interests that  either want to appease some sections or derive satisfaction from projecting themselves as defenders of some dogma or faith. In the process views that differ are sought to be shut out not just through censorship and ban on books but even by bans on the physical presence of writers. The Jaipur festival is India’s biggest carnival of books and writers and has gained international attention and recognition in the few years of its life. That itself makes it an attractive target  of attention-seekers and this edition has also seen them in combative form.

Last year Salman Rushdie was prevented from attending the festival and even from appearing on a video screen there. Electoral politics of a state was one element in the campaign against Rushdie but the spirit of intolerance and the refusal to see other points of view, which are spreading and poisoning the minds of more and more people, were the real driving forces of the campaign. This year there is a continuation of the same intolerant campaign. Some Muslim groups want writers who read out passages from Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, at the festival last year to be debarred from attending the festival this year. Not to be left behind, saffron groups also have made their demand: Pakistani writers and editors should not be seen in Jaipur. Why should writers or actors be held responsible for the problems between two countries? There is clearly no line of control in minds and hearts and in thought and imagination.

The authorities capitulated before threats last year. This year the police have promised security for the invited writers but have told the organisers of the festival to ensure that nobody’s sentiments are hurt. Do the authorities want the organisers to tell the writers what they should speak?  In any case it is in the nature of literature to provoke or even to hurt. It can not be blacked out and the writer threatened out of presence or existence in any society that values freedom of the mind. Hurt sentiments are becoming the regular ruse for most retrograde demands and campaigns. If they are heeded or encouraged, they can endanger the society’s most cherished values and principles.

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