The Jaipur Literature Festival

Author Salman Rushdie cancelled his appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival after being informed that “paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld” were out to kill him, writes Manav Bhushan

The case

Salman Rushdie, the Booker prize-winning author of Midnight’s Children as well and The Satanic Verses, which is banned in many countries including India, was slated to attend the Jaipur literature festival from 20 to 24 January 2012. At noon on the 20 January, Rushdie announced he was not going to attend because he had “been informed by intelligence sources that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld were on their way to eliminate him”. However, in an interview four days later, Rushdie said the original assassination threat had in fact been fabricated by someone within the intelligence agencies to coerce him into cancelling his trip.

Rushdie’s visit was also publicly opposed by several right-wing Islamic groups such as the Darul Uloom Deoband, as well as members of mainstream political parties including the Congress, which is in power in the state of Rajasthan (where Jaipur is located). After Rushdie cancelled his trip, the organisers promised he would join through a video link. Just hours before the video link was scheduled to commence, however, that too was cancelled due to security concerns.

Author opinion

The way that the Rushdie issue has been handled by the Indian government is shameful, and is representative of how all political parties in India pander to right-wing religious agendas just before any election (in this case, the UP state elections starting in mid-February). However, I feel that if a battle has to be fought for the right to freedom of expression, then the soldiers fighting that battle need to display some more courage than Rushdie and the organisers of the festival managed to muster. It was clear from the very outset that there was no credible threat to Rushdie’s life, and that the security needed for his personal safety could have easily been arranged. Even though there was a real risk of the festival being disrupted by protesters, this was a risk which the organisers and Rushdie should have taken in order to defend the sanctity of the right to freedom of speech. By cancelling not just the visit, but also the video link, the organisers and Rushdie have further emboldened the fanatical elements in India and sent them the message that these kind of scare tactics are indeed an effective way of pressurising people into silence.

- Manav Bhushan

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Comments (1)

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  1. Credo che il caso Rushdie abbia un valore particolarmente simbolico. Ogni cittadino, in quanto dotato di questo diritto e dovere di essere tale, dovrebbe impegnarsi contro ogni forma di violenza e intimidazione.
    Nel 2012 non dovrebbero esserci più paesi in cui esprimere i proprio pensieri risulti un pericolo. La violenza nel mondo esiste e quando le persone affrontano questo problema è bene non ostacolarle, ma aiutarle a continuare la loro missione.
    E’ indubbio che gli organizzatori e lo Stato indiano avrebbero dovuto trovare una soluzione al problema. Le intimidazioni non si devono per forza trasformare in azioni. Coloro che pensano di riuscire a fermare l’ondata di giustizia che tumulta negli animi della gente deve capire che il cambiamento è insito nella storia. Ogni paese, ogni epoca è caratterizzata da questa volontà.
    Impegnamoci a difendere i nostri diritti, come ci sono stati dati facilmente ce li possono togliere.
    Come afferma un importante filosofo del diritto italiano Norberto Bobbio “quando le sentinelle della democrazia si assopiscono allora è vicina la catastrofe”.
    Le sentinelle siamo noi. Ognuno di noi deve essere critico e deve cercare di far rispettare i diritti che stanno alla base di una vita dignitosa. Se non si può parlare liberamente la nostra esistenza perde la sua genuinità e la sua sicurezza.
    Il caso sopra presentato deve farci capire che non possiamo fermarci di fronte alle intimidazioni Dobbiamo essere più forti e dobbiamo impegnarci a non temere le conseguenze perchè se non tentiamo, se non lottiamo, non acquisteremo mai nessuna libertà e nessuna giustizia.

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