A day after author Salman Rushdie made it clear that he would not be coming to India, alleging that he was told that underworld hitmen were out to get him, the raging debate at the Jaipur Literature Festival is still on. The police have now asked for the tape recordings of author Amitava Kumar reading out excerpts from Mr Rushdie's controversial book - Satanic Verses
- which is illegal in India. The organisers of the event, however, have refused to hand over the tapes.
Some authors who read passages from Mr Rushdie's banned
book left the LitFest on Saturday. Sources say that the exit may be because of fear of
Authors Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, as a mark of protest, used their session at the festival to read from Satanic Verses. Later, authors Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi also read out from the banned book.
"We asked organisers today to provide us details and video footage of a session in which the book was allegedly read," Jaipur Police Additional Commissioner Biju George Joseph said.
"We will examine whether the alleged reading from the banned book was done. It is a suo motu action. After examining the matter, appropriate action would be taken against those who were found guilty," he said.
The organisers have also issued a mass email expressing solidarity for Mr Rushdie, but have urged for protests to be within the law.
Author and organiser William Dalrymple in his mass email wrote, "You should know that unfortunately the Satanic Verses is still a banned book in India, and if you read from it you make yourself liable to arrest and imprisonment, and put the festival in danger of immediate closure- and hand us all, authors and festival, bound and gagged into the hands of any individual or group who wish to prosecute us. We are holding strong here, and are going to continue to fight for free speech and expression and the right to dissent, but we have to do so within the law and constitution of this country."
"What I did was only to stop the authors to read a passage because while we respect the right to dissent, we also understand that it needs to be done within a constitutional framewok and within the letter of the law," said Sanjoy Roy, another organiser of the Jaipur LitFest.
Authors meanwhile continued to slam the Indian government, alleging that the Indian government failed to provide security assurances to Mr Rushdie.
"I find it quite bizarre. This is the world's biggest democracy, the most multi-cultural society you can have and I think its sad that he has not been able to come. I think its the state's basic role to provide security to its citizens and visitors and to me it seems the state has failed in its most basic duty," said Pakistani Author Mohammad Haneef.
"I am all for freedom of speech , no artist can say there can be any restrictions on freedom of speech and creativity. Any form of censorship is terrible," said lyricist Prasoon Joshi.
Mr Rushdie cancelled his India trip saying there were intelligence reports of paid assassins out to kill him. However, it's not clear whose assessment was this.
The Mumbai police say they had no intelligence inputs whatsoever on Mr Rushdie. But sources in the Rajasthan police claim there were intelligence reports of a threat. The Rajasthan Home Secretary however sent an email to the Jaipur Litfest organisers citing inputs received from the Centre.
The Centre merely maintains that "law and order is a state subject. there were apprehensions of law and order situation being created in Jaipur and Rushdie's decision seems to be driven by that fear"
Physically he may be absent but mentally and in spirit Mr Rushdie continues to have a larger than life presence at the Jaipur litfest. And while organisers may want to wish it away, the Rushdie row remains the big talking point at this festival.
(With inputs from PTI)