Salman Rushdie dominated the Jaipur Literature Festival. His book, The Satanic Verses has been in news since it was released. The book did not go down well with the Muslim Community. As a result of which, there were protests and the book was burned and banned. During the Jaipur Literature Festival, the author was persuaded to stay away and not attend the festival.
In India, art is given top notch importance. We Indians are known for our love and respect for art. Since the ancient Mughal period, and even long before that era, art has been an eminent part of the Indian society. That art, then, could be anything - be it architecture, paintings or literature.
Bearing this in mind, it is a matter of great shame that we, as Indians, who are the biggest democracy in the world, who value the freedom of speech and expression and who admire art, supported the bigots of Salman Rushdie and his book The Satanic Verses.
Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his book The Satanic Verses because according to him, it hurt the sentiments of Muslims and was an insult to Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who was castigated for human rights violations of Iranians, can never understand the importance of freedom of speech.
The book got the publicity it needed and became a bestseller. The Ayatollah sure knew how to sell books.
Freedom of expression is the cornerstone, the bedrock of any democratic society. Such protests and violent acts are an assault to the liberty. This is not an attack on a particular individual or a specific piece of work. But it is indeed and attack on the artistic intellectual scholarly freedom. An individual, who is bestowed with the freedom of expression, thus has that freedom to express his opinions. He has the freedom to offer his full vision to the world through his work.
Talking about the freedom of expression, people have the right to express their displeasure. They have the right to demonstrate but they do not have the right to disrupt peace and stability. They can make their protests but they should be clear and peaceful. Because those who burn books will then burn people.
The Salman Rushdie issue, then, is not about the book that seemed to offend certain sections of society; it is not even about India, the failed state. This is about the opportunism that imbues politics in the country today. The fundamental commonness is that politicians see in such developments as opportunities to polarize Hindu and Muslim votes and gain one or other vote-bank.
Because if that was not the case, then why didn’t these leaders raise their voice when M.F.Hussain was in exile? Why did they let him breathe his last in a foreign land? Where was the respect of art then?
During a discussion, my father was of the opinion that why do these artists have to play with the sentiments of people? Why don’t they believe in creating art that pleases everyone?
However, I cease to agree with him. This is gamble of literature. Is it fair to have censorship on thought? Because if you do so, then in my opinion, you are a fool. Censorship of thoughts is the death of art.
India culturally is in a much worse state than it was 30 years ago. It is becoming intolerant of artists and creativity. And I blame the people sitting at the top for this. India, as a country values art and freedom. It’s the leaders that are putting the nation to shame.
If this continues, India might cease to be a free country.