New York, May 7 (PTI): Salman Rushdie has voiced concern at what he calls the growing intolerance of freedom of expression in India, saying the country of his birth has become “very prone” to the idea that “you should not rock the boat”.
Creative works are increasingly becoming the subject of assault by religious groups, the author said.
“India was a society in which, for a long time, ideas of free expression were very entrenched. When Independence came, there was an atmosphere of openness. I have the terrible feeling that things are going the other way (now),” Rushdie said during a question-and-answer session at the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature here.
The atmosphere of openness in the country is now being replaced “to some degree by the rise of religious sectarianism and by the craven response of the authorities” to protests by certain religious groups, he said.
Rushdie, who is the chair of the festival, delivered the Freedom to Write lecture at the annual closing day yesterday where he spoke about the faces of censorship in contemporary society and authors’ role within a climate of forced silence and intolerance.
The Booker Prize-winning novelist cited the example of Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such a Long Journey and scholar A.K. Ramanujan’s essay Three Hundred Ramayanas being removed from the syllabus by Indian universities after political and religious groups found them offensive.
Painter M.F. Husain was “hounded out of India” as his paintings of the Hindu goddess Saraswati in the nude were considered “pornographic”, he said.
“This is happening more and more and more (in India). Works of scholarship are being assaulted by this or that religious group and are immediately banned and the onus of the blame falls on the artists. India has become very prone to the idea that you should not rock the boat,” Rushdie said.
In January this year, Rushdie was forced to cancel his appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival after protests broke out against his controversial 1988 book The Satanic Verses. He was even warned of a threat from paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld if he visited India.
Rushdie, who later visited India in March for the India Today conclave, said he had no immediate plans of coming to India but would visit the country later this year when his memoirs are published and the Deepa Mehta-directed movie on his novel Midnight’s Children is released.
“Midnight’s Children has been freely available in India for more than 30 years and as far as I know, it is pretty well liked. I don’t see why the movie would have any different response to that. As far as the memoirs are concerned, make what you want of my life but it is my life and I think there might be a few people interested to read about it.”
Earlier in his lecture, peppered with witty comments, the author said censorship was not good for art and was even worse for artists. “No writer ever really wants to talk about censorship. Writers want to talk about creation, and censorship is anti-creation, negative energy, uncreation,” he said.
“If the creative artist worries whether he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today. If he is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not entirely be determined by his talent but at least in part by fear,” he said.
“Great art or original art is never created in the safe middle ground but always at the edge.… Liberty is the air we breathe.”
Courtesy: The Telegraph, May 8 , 2012