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News Analysis: Media and the Satanic Verses

Controversy has been dogging Salman Rushdie and his book “Satanic Verses” since the time the book was published. And again on the eve of Jaipur Literature Festival this month, it initiated a debate within various social, political and literary circles, as some Muslim organizations and clerics voiced their protest against the invitation of Rushdie for the festival.

When, on January 20, it became clear that Rushdie will not be participating in the Fest, some people termed the development ‘victory for democracy’ while people in the literary circles termed it as a “stain” on India’s international reputation.

Hindustan Times (January 21) termed it a shameful development and adorned the paper with a bold headline, “What a shame, no Rushdie at Lit Fest.” ‘Rushdie said ‘paid assassins’ were being sent by the Mumbai underworld to ‘eliminate’ him, the paper reported.

The same paper in another story titled, “Satanic Verses reading halted, but Rushdie steals the show,” it says “in a supposedly liberated environment and in place which prides itself for its ‘freedom for speech’ it came as a surprise that the organizers themselves stopped it.”

The Indian Express gave a balanced headline, “Rushdie call off visit to Jaipur litfest, his absence a presence.” The paper quoted co-director of the festival William Dalrymple saying the entire case was one of ‘Chinese whispers’ as most people have not read Rushdie.

The Hindu took the issue differently with a title “Litfest roiled as writers break ban on Satanic Verses”

The paper said that the Litfest was threatened with closure after several writers decided to show their solidarity with Salman Rushdie, by reading out passages from his banned novel “The Satanic Verses.”

“The book is banned in India and that’s a matter of national shame” writer Ruchir Joshi said.

Times of India also laid emphasis on the reasons why Rushdie evaded joining the Litfest. It titled, “Coaxed to skip lit fest, Rushdie cites ‘threat’ from ‘paid assassins”

Indrajit Hazra senior editor at Hindustan Times says “there is a childish irony in that one of Salman Rushdie’s early novels, Shame, can be benefitting description for the way in which the Indian-born British writer has been made to feel unwelcome by a gaggle of people living in the Stone Age and yet all the while in 21st century India.”

Praveen Swami wrote in an article in The Hindu, titled, “Salman Rushdie & India’s new theocracy” on January 21, “Salman Rushdie’s censoring-out from the ongoing literary festival in Jaipur will be remembered as a milestone that marked the slow motion disintegration of India’s secular state.”

On the other hand some community web portals and Urdu newspapers took the issue the other way.

English web portal TwoCircles.net published an article titled, “Salman Rushdie and the Jaipur Literary Festival” that gave a short rundown on Rushdie and his works saying “The Satanic Verses, Rushdie lavished his raw contempt on Pakistan and Islam.”

In another article, the web portal says that it seems that the forthcoming polls in five states, especially in Uttar Pradesh, have something to do with the development. Perhaps the issue has been brought to the forefront keeping in mind the sizeable Muslim population of UP whose voting pattern might tilt the balance of power in the state.

The BJP-inclined the Pioneer, said in an editorial (January 21), “Triumph of Fanatics,” the Congress has played a minority card and succeeded in achieving what it had set out to do in collaboration with mullahs of Darul Uloom Deoband as part of its electoral campaign in Uttar Pradesh.

Radiance Viewsweekly, a Muslim-run magazine, writes that “Salman Rushdie, the man who earned wrath from Muslims all across the world by writing insidious and utterly disrespectful things about the Messenger of Allah and his holy wives, has once against sparked a row of protest upon his proposed visit. ‘The government should take into account the feelings of Muslims against Rushdie,’ the paper said referring to Darul Uloom Deoband Vice Chancellor Maulana Abdul Qasim’

On the other hand Urdu newspapers have been widely reporting the protest and unwelcoming of Salman Rushdie to the literature festival.

The Urdu daily, Inqalab (January 18) says that Muslims are unhappy with the presence of Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie. It may have untoward consequences if the sentiments of Muslims are ignored letting Rushdie come and the visa for Tasleema extended.

Urdu Rashtriya Sahara on January said that Muslim organisation have condemned the citation of passage for the banned book, Satanic Verses and are planning to take legal action against them.

While referring to the news development of paid assassin to eliminate Rushdie, Urdu Hindustan Express mockingly says it was not any intelligence inputs but the Satan that rumored the presence of the killers of Satanic Verses author.

And in the latest development, FirstPost.com (January 22) reported in an article titled “Rajasthan invented threat plot to keep me away: Rushdie” that Rushdie claims to have “found out that the intelligence provided to him by Rajasthan police about threat to his life if he attended the Jaipur Literature Festival was concocted to prevent him from going to India.”

About Shafaque Alam

Shafaque Alam is a staff writer, and an MPhil student at the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies. He can be reached via email at: shafaquealam [at] gmail.com

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One comment

  1. These literary folks are the biggest flip floppers without commn sense. Just like my right to smoke freely ends when the smoke from my cigarette ends up in someone elses lungs, freedom of speech should end when that speech offends billions of ppl. Mr Rushdie has made controversy his break and butter…he is no different than Rakhi Sawant.

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