‘Why Pakistan’s writers must attend the Jaipur literature festival’ by Kamila Shamsie and Salil Tripathi

The Guardian
Thursday 24 January 2013

Once again, religious fundamentalists in India are threatening to disrupt the Jaipur literature festival. The festival has grown over the years to be among the world’s largest such gatherings, bringing together writers from all continents, and, more important, showcasing South Asian writing talent, including the rich and diverse universe of regional languages. The festival has not been without controversies. Last year, Salman Rushdie withdrew after he received credible death threats from a Muslim group.

Five writers protested Rushdie’s absence by reading out excerpts fromThe Satanic Verses. Politicians filed lawsuits against the organisers and four of the authors – Jeet Thayil (whose novel, Narcopolis, was shortlisted last year for the Man Booker prize), Ruchir Joshi, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar – and investigations are ongoing. On the last day of the festival, Muslim fundamentalists refused to let the organisers even telecast a conversation with Rushdie. On 21 January, a few self-described Muslim scholars asked the festival to disinvite the four this year. Of the four, Thayil is the only featured speaker. The organisers have held firm – he should attend.

In parallel, and in a pattern that’s now increasingly, and dismayingly, predictable, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is India’s main opposition party, has warned Pakistani writers not to participate in this year’s festival. Among those expected are Mohammed HanifNadeem Aslam (see the interview on page 12), Jamil AhmadFehmida Riaz and Musharraf Farooqi. To their credit, the organisers have also refused to buckle under this threat. The BJP’s demand is technically unrelated to the Muslim call, but it is in line with the fundamentalist Hindu aim, to stop all cultural and sporting contacts with Pakistan, because tensions along the “line of control” – the de facto border that separates Kashmir into parts controlled by India and Pakistan – have escalated. In a series of confusing events, both sides have accused the other of violating long-standing agreements by undertaking construction, firing, and beheading soldiers along the border.

Hindu activists succeeded in stopping two talented Pakistani theatre groups from staging plays of the late Saadat Hasan Manto, a Pakistani writer who grew up in pre-partition India and is regarded as one of the most poignant chroniclers of the partition of 1947. Activists also succeeded in getting Indian Hockey League teams to drop Pakistani players they had acquired in the region’s first professionally run hockey league. Now it is the turn of the Pakistani writers to bear the brunt of Hindu wrath.

This is deeply troublesome, given the vitiated state of relations between the neighbours who have fought four wars since independence. The party-wreckers seek to weaken the festival because it has become one of the few intellectual spaces in India where it is possible for Indian and Pakistani writers to interact meaningfully with one another and their readers. Much to the chagrin of the fundamentalists, Pakistani writers are popular in India, and attract a fond following.

Hindu apologists claim they are only reacting to Muslim intransigence, but that is preposterous. Intolerance cuts across all religions (as we have argued in our respective books, Offence: The Muslim Case and Offence: The Hindu Case (Seagull), outlining fundamentalist attacks on freedom of expression). What’s peculiar in the Indian instance is the notion of competitive intolerance, due to which each side tries to outdo the other in demanding restrictions, narrowing the discourse. That’s terrible for India, for Pakistan and for literature.

Over the years, the Jaipur festival has earned the reputation of being an important destination on the global literary map. Any steps politicians and politically inclined groups take to stamp their authority on it diminishes the world. India and Pakistan may have legitimate grievances with each another, but a literary festival, like a stage or a hockey field, is no place to settle them – on the contrary, those spaces exist so that both countries can expand their views of each other beyond the rhetoric of politicians and generals.

Moreover, both Hindu and Muslim groups who want to keep authors away from Jaipur are hurting India’s long tradition of intellectual freedom. It is for the organisers to remain firm in their resolve and stay on the path and stare back at their philistine critics. And it is for the Indian government to ensure that the festival takes place without any restrictions.

Pakistan-born Kamila Shamsie and India-born Salil Tripathi are co-chairs of English PEN’s Writers at Risk committee.



‘What Book and Literature Festivals!!! کیہڑے کتاب تے سُلیکھ میلے !!!’ by Zubair Ahmad

اجکل دکھڻی لہندے ایشیاء وچ کتاب تے سُلیکھ (ادب) میلیاں دا ہڑھ آیا ہویا اے۔ اک میلہ مُکدا اے تے دوجے دا رولا چھوہ پیندا اے۔ پچھے جے پور دے میلے دی دُھم سی جتھے ساڈے دیس توں عائشہ جلال تے فاطمہ بھٹو نے رلت کیتی۔ تے رپوٹ موجب میلہ وی لُٹ لیا۔ ایتھے عائشہ جلال جی مخول مخول وچ ایہہ گل وی کہہ گئے پئی ہڻ پاکستان دا نمبر اک ویری بھارت نہیں سگوں امریکا اے تے بھارت تیجے نمبر اُتے چلا گیا اے ۔ کسے نے پُچھیا 2 نمبر ویری کوڻ اے اوہناں ہسدے ہسدے آکھیا میر خیال اے اسرائیل۔

ایتھے ای بھارت وچ پاکستانی سفیر ایہہ وی آکھیا پئی بھارت نال امن دے وشے اُتے فوج، ساریاں سیاسی پارٹیاں تے لوک اکو پنّے اُتے نیں۔ اُنج ایس میلے وچ بوہتا رولا سلمان رُشدی دے آؤڻ دا سی پر اوس ورودھ وکھالے چھوہ پئے تے اوہ ڈردا نہیں آیا۔ پھیر آکھیا اوس دی وڈیو راہیں گل بات وکھائی جائے گی اگلیاں ایہہ وی نہ ہووڻ دتا۔ ایس میلے وچ سبھ توں ودھ ہند سندھ دے انگریزی لکھڻ آلے لکھاریاں دا آدر کیتا گیا لوک اوہناں نُوں سُڻن لئی اُتاولے سن۔ میں ہندوستان دیاں دوجیاں بولیاں وچ لکھڻ آلے لکھاریاں دے ناں لبھدا رہیا پر پتہ نہیں سارے لوک بولیاں دی لکھاری کتھے گواچ گئے نیں۔ نرے اوہناں لکھاریاں دی چڑھت اے جو بھاویں پاکستان دی ہووڻ یاں ہندوستان یاں انگلستان دے بس اوہناں دا انگریزی وچ لکھڻا شرط اے۔

جے پُور دے میلے مگروں لہور وچ ست دناں دا کتاب میلہ ہویا ایتھے وی جنے لوک انگریزی دیاں کتاباں دے سٹال اُتے سڻ اونے اسلامی تے اُردو دیاں کتاباں دے سٹال اُتے نہیں سڻ۔ صاف نظر آؤند ا پیا سی پئی جنی کمائی انگریزی کتاباں دی سٹال اُتے ہوندی پئی اے اوس دے تول وچ اسلامی کتاباں تے اُردو والے مکھیاں ای ماردے پئے سڻ۔ ایہہ ساڈی کوئی اُردو نال لڑائی دی گل نہیں سگوں ایہہ سچ اے پئی انگریزی اُردو نوں کھا گئی اے۔ ساڈی بولی پنجابی دی تاں کوئی تھاں نہیں سی ایس لئی ساڈی تھاں تاں کوئی کُھسی نہیں پر اُردو دی کوئی تھاں نہیں رہی ہڻ معتبر لکھاری انتظار حُسین نہیں وکرم سیٹھ اے یاں پھیر ولایت وسدا حنیف قریشی اے۔ یاں پھیر ولیم ڈلریپر اے یاں پھیر اکسپلوڈنگ مینگو والا حنیف محمد اے۔

ایہہ ساریاں گلاں میں اج مُکے کراچی سُلیکھ میلے پاروں کہہ رہیا آں۔ کراچی اُردو دا گڑھ اے پر بوہتے نویں انگریزی لکھڻ آلے وی کراچی وچ جمدے پئے نیں۔ کراچی میلے دے 27 اکٹھاں وچوں نرے ست اُردو دے لکھاریاں بارے سڻ۔ تے سارا میلہ ہندوستان تے ولایت تُوں آئے لکھاریاں نیں لُٹیا۔ اک دو گلاں بڑیاں مزے دار نیں۔ کشور بہامنی دے سوال ”اوہ کیہڑے مدھیم وچ گل کرنا پسند کردے نیں” جگ دُھمی لکھارڻ شوبھا دیوی نے آکھیا :” ایہہ نہیں اے پئی تسیں کیہڑا مدھیم چُڻدے او سگوں گل ایہہ وے پئی تُسیں کیہہ گل کرنا چاہندے اوہ۔ اِنج ای ولایت وسدے لکھاری حنیف قریشی توں ایہہ پُچھیا گیا پئی اوہ آپڻی سیہاڻ دے سوال نُوں کیویں لیندے نیں تے اوہناں آکھیا :” میں ہڻ سوچڻا چھڈ دتا اے پئی میں کوڻ آں۔”

پر کیہہ ایس نال بندے دی سیہاڻ دا سوال مُک جاندا اے۔ تُسی لکھاری او انگریزی وچ لکھدے او ولایت رہندے اوہ پر تُسی انگریز تاں نہیں۔ کتے نہ کتے تاں سیہاڻ دا سوال دبی بیٹھے او۔

پر اصل گل ایہہ وے پئی دُنیا بدل رہی اے اُنج نہیں جیویں اسیں چاہیا سی۔اُردو دی تھاں انگریزی آ گئی اے۔ ایس پچھے کیہڑے سیاسی تے وسیبی کارن نیں اوہناں نوں لبھڻ تے اوہناں اُتے گل کرن دی لوڑ اے۔

پہلی گل تاں ایہہ وے پئی انگریزی دی فتح راس وال(سرمایہ داری) دی فتح اے۔ اوس دی بولی دی فتح اے۔ قوم پوجا دا وارا مُک گیا ہڻ گلوبل ویلیج دا وارا اے تے اوس دی بولی ای چلے گی۔ دوجی گل وچلے میل (مڈل کلاس) دا کھلار تے اوس دا جگت گیر ہوڻا اے۔ ایہو وچلا میل سی جو عبداﷲ حُسین دے ناول لبھ لبھ پڑھدا سی جو ہڻ حنیف محمد دا نواں ناول اُڈیک رہیا ہوندا اے۔ یاں پھیر اُردو دی آپڻی کہاڻی مُک گئی اے؟ ایہہ سوال نیں۔ جو نویں سیاست چُکدی پئی اے پراڻے ڈگدے وسیب وچ ویکھو نویں کیہہ واپردی پئی اے۔ ایس ویلے لوک بولی دے لکھاری نوں جنا سُچیت ہووڻ دی لوڑ اے خورے کدی وی نہیں سی۔

From Wichaar:

Zubair Ahmad is a poet, author, editor and educator residing in Lahore, Pakistan. Contact Zubair at:


As the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s withdrawal from the Jaipur Literary Festival rumbles on, Indian writers are organising against censorship

Liverpool had its Fab Four, but now Jaipur in India has its own Fab Five — writers Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Ruchir Joshi and Anand.

When the Rajasthan police apparently concocted a fictitious assassination plot leading Salman Rushdie to stay away from the Jaipur Literature Festival, the mood in Jaipur was glum. Everyone took the plot to be real, until The Hindu reported the convoluted manipulation by the police.

Many in India wanted to hear Rushdie, who avoided India during the fatwa years and has been able to make only a few visits since 2000. Festival goers were hoping to hear him speak about the filming of Midnight’s Children and his forthcoming memoir. But protests from Muslim groups and the plausible threat made him change his mind.

Which is where the Fab Four came in. On Friday, Poughkeepsie, NY-based Kumar, who teaches at Vassar and who has irritated Hindu nationalists in the past with his magnificent, in-your-face memoir, Husband of a Fanatic started reading passages from The Satanic Verses. Hari Kunzru, a British-Indian novelist based in New York also took a stand at the same panel discussion. Both novelists stopped reading after the alarmed festival organisers pleaded with them.

Kunzru, a former English PEN vice-president, takes freedom of expression seriously. When the European Writers’ Parliament met in Istanbul and Turkish authors protested against the presence of VS Naipaul, forcing Naipaul to cancel his appearance, Kunzru spoke out. Reading from Rushdie’s controversial novel was no different.

The mood in Jaipur had changed. By Friday afternoon, unexpectedly, the poet and novelist Jeet Thayil picked another passage from The Satanic Verses, and read aloud. Finally, Ruchir Joshi, film-maker and novelist, whose magical The Last Jet-Engine Laugh is an uproarious account of a futuristic India, read from The Satanic Verses. Tensions rose.

Soon thereafter, the police arrived, making inquiries about illegal conduct at the festival. Importing The Satanic Verses into India is prohibited but the law is unclear if possessing the novel is a crime, or reading aloud an extract from it is a crime. A lawyer or the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, the only local civil society group to support Rushdie last week, said that as the four authors read extracts from downloads, and not a book, it may not be a crime. Shashi Tharoor, novelist, diplomat, and parliamentarian pointed out he has routinely quoted and cited from The Satanic Verses and never been troubled.

In any case, the police should not throw around terms terms such as “guilt” and “crime”, as they have been doing, when they haven’t filed charges, nor proved their case before a judge.

The government could claim that by reading from the novel the authors incited the public. But incited to do what? Demand overturning the ban, nothing more. In fact, eyewitnesses say that the four authors were listened to in respectful silence, and warmly applauded. In any case, if the government wishes to proceed against the authors and is really mean-spirited, it could do so under S. 295A which gives the state the power to use criminal law against individuals who may have intended to cause trouble. But was there criminal intent, or mens rea? Sure, this is defiance, and it challenges a governmental act but it is Gandhian in its peaceful nature.

Police are seeking recordings of the reading, which, at the time of writing, the festival organisers are refusing to hand over. It is clear that the Rajasthan Police’s actions are meant to intimidate the authors and their supporters.

The role of the festival organisers — while their position is delicate — also requires scrutiny. If an author read from Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, or Liu Xiaobo’s poems, or displayed Ai Wei Wei’s art at a public event in China, one would expect that the police would swoop down, and the organisers would very likely be forced to hand over the author to the Chinese security.

But this is India; a nation that holds elections, calls itself a democracy, and has a constitution that offers some protection for free speech. The actions of the Indian government in recent days, the intimidation of the five writers and its pusillanimity over Rushdie’s visit fall considerably short of India’s aspirations and claims.

While the organisers haven’t yet handed over the tapes, they told the authors to leave Jaipur immediately, lest they be arrested. It is not known if they offered them any protection. Worse, a lawyerly statement was issued, which in effect blamed the authors for “disturbing the peace”, because they acted outside the confines of the law. The organisers dissociated themselves from the action — which they can make a case for, but did not uphold the four’s right to speak freely, which is harder to justify. They should have said that even though they disagreed with the action, they’d defend the principle of free speech. But India isn’t there yet, it seems.

Future participants, apparently, will have to conform to rules not yet defined, so that they act within the confines of the law. Such rules defeat the rationale of a festival of literature, where ideas are expressed to be argued over and debated; such rules restrict fundamental freedoms.

On Sunday, the writer Anand —who publishes dalit literature under the imprint Navayana — joined the protests, reading an eloquent passage from The Satanic Verses, which underscores the spirit of the protests:

What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive: or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits: but, the hundredth time, will change the world.

On Monday, leading Indian writers began to circulate a petition to the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, calling for the ban on The Satanic Verses to be lifted. The battle to undo the damage of the past quarter century has begun.

There are no ifs and buts. As Rushdie wrote in The Satanic Verses:

A Poets work (is) to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.

It is time for India to wake up.

Sign the petition for the ban on The Satanic Verses to be lifted

Salil Tripathi is a journalist and author and the chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee

From http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2012/01/writers-take-a-stand-against-rushdie-ban/