Tag Archive for 'Jaipur Literature Festival 2012'

Amitav Ghosh on festivals and freedom

Amitav Ghosh on his blog:

I have never attended the Jaipur Literary Festival; nor does a visit loom in the foreseeable future. This is largely (but not wholly) because I have no taste for tamashas. Although unusual, this aversion is by no means unknown in the Indian subcontinent. I know of many writers and readers who share it, and I suspect that most of us were drawn to the world of books precisely because it provided an island of quiet within the din of tamasha-stan.

My own inclinations make it difficult for me to understand why Salman Rushdie is so drawn to this festival. But each to their own and I recognize that I am in a tiny minority. The great majority of writers seem to want to go and anyone who does should certainly be able to. It is appalling that Rushie was prevented from attending and I am wholly in agreement with those who believe that this bodes very ill indeed for the future of free expression in India.

But the controversy also raises questions about another issue that touches directly upon writing: this is the way in which literature is coming to be embedded within a wider culture of public spectacles and performances. This process, which got under way almost imperceptibly, has now achieved a momentum where it seems to be overtaking, and indeed overwhelming, writing itself as the primary end of a life in letters. More:

Myth and fiction at the Jaipur Literature Festival

William Dalrymple at India Ink / NYT:

Over the last week I have watched with dismay a similar process of mythologization take place in the Indian and international press over the succession of events which tragically led to Salman cancelling his visit to Jaipur and the decision to abandon our back-up plan: showing a video link with Salman from a London television studio (we did go ahead with the broadcast, just couldn’t show it live at the festival venue.)

While those journalists who actually attended the festival were able to write with accuracy about what happened, the further away journalists and columnists were from the event, the more distorted became their reports. Increasingly we have seen ourselves, and the festival we run, caricatured beyond all recognition.

The first myth I have watched developing after Salman cancelled his visit was that there was never any threat to his life. This is nonsense.

While we at the festival have no way finally to determine if the intelligence agencies really did exaggerate the threat perception to Salman—and that is certainly possible — what we do know is that there was a very real threat of violence at the venue if he did come. In a meeting held in Jaipur with representatives of 19 Muslim organizations on the 19th of January, the day before our opening, while the great majority of the groups were happy to pursue peaceful protests, we organizers were confronted by a few thugs who were hell bent on creating serious trouble and threatened large scale violence and personal harm to Salman and us. More:

Salman Rushdie to NDTV: I’m returning to India, deal with it

After even his video address to the Jaipur Literary Festival was cancelled, writer Salman Rushdie, in an exclusive interview to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt, says he is coming to India and the politicians will just have to learn to deal with it.

Full interview here

Richard Dawkins at Jaipur Lit Fest

D4 FL 07 from Dreamcast on Vimeo.

The emptiness of literary protest

Shiv Visvanathan in The Asian Age:

Protest has a code, a system of norms. It demands conviction and courage. It demands clarity of messages. This protest did not follow a satayagrahic code. It was not an act of civil disobedience, which refuses to obey an unfair law and stands its ground, by challenging the law, confronting it and accepting the punishment. The protest would have meant something.

A Thoreau or a Gandhi or Solzhenitsyn would have gone to jail. If Kunzru and Amitav Kumar had done that, they would have won respect. Now they sound merely like attention-grabbing diasporics. Worse, they reinforce stereotypes between an English-speaking elite and the regional culture. Literature has to break stereotypes, not reinforce them.

There was something adolescent about the act; something weak-kneed about the way they left town hinting that the organisers had suggested it. Courage cannot be a mere capsule or byte on TV. What could have been an act of eloquence in defending free speech, a critique of fundamentalism, a challenge to the state turned out to be empty liberal rhetoric, mere sentiment without political substance. Instead of heroism, what we had was empty heroics.

Contrast the behaviour of a Kunzru or a Kumar with a Teesta Setalvad, an Aruna Roy or a Medha Patkar. More:

India’s political blasphemy

Dan Morrison in IHT:

According to the Sachar Committee’s 2006 report, in Rajasthan state, of which Jaipur is the capital, 41 percent of urban Muslims live below the poverty line, compared with 27 percent of Hindus. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Darul Uloom is located, 44 percent of urban Muslims live in poverty, compared with 24 percent of Hindus.

Also from the report: 25 percent of Muslim children aged 6 to 14 had never attended school or had dropped out. Muslim-majority villages are less likely to be served by government schools, paved roads and bus stops. Muslims hold a tiny proportion of civil service jobs that are an important route to the middle class here.

More recently, a November 2011 report by Gallup found that 32 percent of India’s Muslims consider themselves to be “suffering,” compared with 23 percent of Hindus, who make up India’s majority. More:

Hari Kunzru: Why I read from The Satanic Verses

On Friday, over lunch, I heard the news that Salman Rushdie would not be attending the Jaipur Literature Festival. His visit had been in doubt for some time. Initially, we had been scheduled to have a conversation on stage that afternoon, but since Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, the head of the Darul Uloom seminary in Deoband, had called for him to be prevented from entering India, the festival organizers had been fighting a storm of manufactured controversy, not unconnected with the upcoming Uttar Pradesh state elections. Salman has been visiting India without incident for many years, and spoke at the JLF in 2007. Clearly, the sudden eruption of righteous indignation at his presence was not spontaneous. The manipulation of religious sentiment for political ends has a long history in India, and this was merely a particularly cynical example of a traditional election-time activity.

Initially, the directors of the JLF asked Salman to delay his arrival, while they worked with the authorities to provide security, and attempted to defuse a planned protest. Our Friday event was moved to Tuesday morning, and his name was removed from the festival program. Then came the news, apparently originating in police intelligence reports seen by the festival team, that three assassins had been despatched from Bombay with orders to murder him. Now there appears to be doubt about the veracity of these reports – Mumbai police deny that they communicated any such intelligence, and the Hindu newspaper has reported that the story of the assassins was concocted by the Rajasthani police. Whatever the truth of this, it was enough to prevent Salman from travelling to India. More:


Ours is the most peaceful time in history: Steven Pinker at the Jaipur LitFest

Vikas Singh & Srijana Mitra Das in TOI:

We live in violent, turbulent times-perhaps the most dangerous in human history, right? Wrong. At least that’s what Steven Pinker would argue. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, the Harvard professor of cognitive psychology and author of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined’ on Saturday held a packed audience at the Jaipur Literary Festival spellbound with his argument that, in fact, we have the good fortune to be living in the most peaceful period in human history.

We live in violent, turbulent times-perhaps the most dangerous in human history, right? Wrong. At least that’s what Steven Pinker would argue. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, the Harvard professor of cognitive psychology and author of ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined’ on Saturday held a packed audience at the Jaipur Literary Festival spellbound with his argument that, in fact, we have the good fortune to be living in the most peaceful period in human history.

That claim may have seemed bizarre at first, but not once Pinker started listing one interesting statistic after another. He pointed out that death caused by violence as a percentage of all deaths has declined dramatically over the centuries. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. Similarly, the murder rate of medieval Europe was over 30 times what it is today. And there are more chances of Americans dying in a bathtub (one in 950,000) than in a terror attack (one in 3.5 million), according to a paper published by John Mueller and Mark Stewart. More:

Police invented plot to keep Rushdie away from Jaipur LitFest

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Local intelligence officials in Rajasthan invented information that hit men were preparing to assassinate eminent author Salman Rushdie in a successful plot to deter him from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, highly placed police sources have told The Hindu.

Sources in the festival administration told The Hindu that Rajasthan Police intelligence officials had claimed that the threat to Mr. Rushdie came from two underworld hit men who they identified as “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” The intelligence officials also said an Islamist terrorist, Saqib Hamid Nachan, was suspected of financing the plot to assassinate Mr. Rushdie.

“I received a call from one of Mr. Rushdie’s friends on Friday, asking about these names,” said a senior officer of the Mumbai Police, who deals with organised crime. “I thanked him for giving me something to laugh about.”

The officer said the Mumbai Police’s dossiers on organised crime figures had no reference to individuals who might be using “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” “We’ve had a Salim Langda [‘the lame'], a Salim Kutta [‘the dog'], a Salim Tempo [‘truck'] and a Javed Fawda [‘the spade'] — but no ‘Kongo.’ Lots of Batlis [‘bottles'], but no Kongos.” More:

Rushdie Tweet: “Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie’ I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”

Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest

In The Hindu:

The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses — Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here. They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.

A source close to the festival said the police had gone to Hari Kunzru’s room to question him. But that information could not be independently verified, especially since Mr. Kunzru had already hurriedly left town.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that even reading from a banned book is against the law. This is part of a piece of absurd and draconian legislation going back to 1867 or thereabouts. I am convinced that the writers who did the readings were not aware that this is a punishable offence and could carry a fairly long prison sentence. You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned. That is a punishable offence,” Mr. Dalrymple said. More: