Jaipur: Controversial author Salman Rushdie’s planned video address to the Literature Festival here was cancelled at the last minute today over fears of violence following protests by Muslim groups, a decision that triggered an outrage in the literary community.
On a day of flip-flops by the Rajasthan Administration and the Police, the cancellation, which some authors said raised questions of freedom of expression in India, dashed the hopes of Rushdie’s virtual participation after he pulled out of the Festival at Diggi Palace.
The 65-year-old India-born author, who dominated the proceedings at the five-day Jaipur Literature Festival which ended today, described as “awful” the cancellation.
“Threat of violence by Muslim groups stifled free speech today. In a true democracy all get to speak, not just the ones making threats,” Rushdie tweeted shortly after his event was called off.
The scrapping of the video link was announced by an emotional Festival producer Sanjoy Roy who called it “unfortunate but necessary” after Ram Pratap Singh, owner of the venue, said he has taken the decision to disallow the video link with Rushdie on the advice of the Rajasthan police.
Earlier in the day, the organisers had said that the video address will take place as scheduled and that there was no need to get permission from the Rajasthan government.
The decision to call off the video address by the author of the banned book “Satanic Verses” came after a meeting festival organisers had with leaders of Muslim organisations during which the protesters told them “even seeing his face is intolerable”.
“This is not a decision that we can support, we have been pushed to the wall. It is unfortunate that we are being bullied again and we had to step down…We had no other way but to listen to save the people here, our children and everyone here,” said Roy, as he left the stage in tears.
“We have been informed by police that even as I speak there are large crowds that have gathered in parks, that are marching toward the Diggi Palace (the venue),” said Roy.
The literary community reacted with anger at the cancellation of the video conference.
Dubbing the controversy over Rushdie as “dubious”, author Kiran Nagarkar said, “Salman Rushdie by now must be so fed up with the way things are carried on.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police Virendra Jhala said the owners of the venue had conveyed to them they will not allow the video address fearing repercussions.
Ram Pratap Singh, owner of the venue, said, “I have taken a decision to not allow this video link to go ahead on the advice of the Rajasthan police who are monitoring the situation which is rapidly evolving around us”.
Roy said police had told them that people had got inside the venue to “disrupt proceedings” and cause violence.
“Some organisations have threatened violence. This is unfortunate, but necessary to avoid violence. It is a fairly iditoic situation. We are once again stepping down from the fight for freedom of expression. We have been pushed to the wall again,” he said.
After their meeting with organisers, the protesters also offered namaz at the venue.
The Rushdie session -—Midnight’s Child —- was planned for 3.45 pm where he was to discuss his childhood, his work, problems faced in the past years and the adaptation of his novel Midnight’s Children into a film.
“Salman on screen was an issue. Even seeing his face was intolerable,” said Roy quoting the protesters.
“There are large number of people who are averse to this video link and they are actually inside the property. A lot of them have gathered in and around the property…and they have threatened violence” if the video link takes place, he said.
“This is unfortunate but necessary to avoid harm to the property, to all of you, to my children and all the youngsters who are here,” he said.
Roy said that the police told them that if they wanted to go ahead with the programme, they would provide adequate security. “We are very very sad…we feel hurt, disgraced,” he added.
Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ has been banned in India for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Muslim community. The book cast a shadow on the Festival when four authors read out passages from it leading to complaints against them and the organisers in courts in Jaipur and Ajmer.