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Thursday 24 January 2013

Threats to Jaipur Literature Festival are an exercise in competitive fundamentalism

Threats to Jaipur Literature Festival are an exercise in competitive
Jan 23, 2013, 12.00 AM IST

It is the nature of literature to give offence to one set of readers or
another. And it is the nature of literature festivals to create space for
competing affronts and voices. The essence of democracy is quite similar,
with identities of caste, ethnicity, religion and so on competing for
expression.Freedom of
underpins both literature festivals and democracies. The problem with
compromising this freedom is that it only encourages further compromises,
all of which together compromise the very institution in whose name they
are forged. What`s happening at theJaipur Literature
a case in point.

Last year, a group of conservative Muslim clerics prevented Salman
Rushdie<> from
attending this festival. With authorities kowtowing to their demand,
another grouping has taken it upon itself to demand that four authors who
had read out passages from Rushdie at the event last year must not attend
it this year. Not to be bested in this game of competitive fundamentalism,
saffron activists are now demanding that Pakistani authors be kept away
from Jaipur. But authorities have resorted to the traditional ploy of
blaming the victim city police commissioner B L Soni has said that it is
the festival organisers' responsibility to make sure no one's feelings are

Going by some such logic Mumbai University removed Rohinton Mistry's Such A
Long Journey from its literature syllabus following threats from the Shiv
Sena, the release party for Taslima Nasreen's autobiography was cancelled
at the Kolkata Book Fair in light of Islamist threats, Delhi University's
Academic Council dropped A K Ramanujan's essay on 300 Ramayanas from its BA
syllabus due to pressure from right-wing Hindu organisations, M F
Husain<> was
driven into exile, the list could go on endlessly. In a healthy democracy,
outrage should be expressed via boycotts, debates, demonstrations, dharnas,
et al. Because a healthy democracy cannot really fear crumbling under the
assault of a few controversial words, it should expand rather than shrink
the space available for free expression.

And in a healthy democracy, police and politicians should not put the onus
of safety on citizens. This is akin to holding women's dress and behaviour
responsible for their security. If we cannot enjoy these freedoms, our
lives will come to resemble lives in Afghanistan or Pakistan, whose soft
power hardly bears describing because neither literary festivals nor
women's liberty can flourish there.

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