Worrying victory for India's extremes

 
Jaipur literature festival Broken link: The Salman Rushdie video address did not take place

The Sir Salman Rushdie pull-out - first physical, and then virtual - from the Jaipur literature festival must come as a huge embarrassment for India, a nation that openly talks about its aspirations of becoming a superpower.

Once again, the so-called "mighty" Indian state has succumbed to threats of violence from fringe, trouble-making religious groups. Once again, it has been proved that it only requires the threat of violence to hold India to ransom.

Once again, politicians - from right to left of centre to communists - remained speechless bystanders, showing how a politics of compromise and cowardice has numbed India. Once again, worryingly, it shows how Indians are becoming inured to frequent assaults on free speech and an ineffectual state. Outside the bustling literary salon of the Jaipur festival and some spirited coverage in the media, there was no national outrage. The mob rules, so why risk your life taking it on? Sir Salman's failure to speak at the festival, many would argue, is India's collective failure.

"This has always been a contested country. This kind of bigotry will carry on," said author and Tehelka magazine editor, Tarun Tejpal, in a conversation at the festival. Mr Tejpal is correct. It is the duty of the state - and Indians - to stand up and contest this kind of bigotry.

Everybody is complicit. The media gives the oxygen of undue publicity to rabble-rousers and largely ignores the moderates - especially among Muslims - during such conflicts and reinforces cosy and dangerous stereotypes. Writers and painters seem to pick up the gauntlet only when pushed to the wall or when under a spotlight (why did a petition by India's writers to the government to lift the ban on The Satanic Verses come 23 years after the book was banned?). Pusillanimous political parties succumb to the smallest threats of violence.

Of course, Sir Salman's pull-out is not a defeat for every Indian. The troublemakers who use religion or caste to bring the state to its knees must be rejoicing. Many will think that all of this can only lead to India becoming an iniquitous, philistine and schizoid democracy.

 
Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

Bollywood cleavage row shows India's 'crass' side

India's top newspaper hits back against Bollywood star Deepika Padukone in the latest round of the cleavage tweet controversy.

Read full article

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
 
 

Comments 5 of 46

 

Features

  • Two sphinxes guarding the entrance to the tombTomb mystery

    Secrets of ancient burial site keep Greeks guessing


  • The chequeBig gamble

    How does it feel to bet £900,000 on the Scottish referendum?


  • Tattooed person using tabletRogue ink

    People who lost their jobs because of their tattoos


  • Deepika PadukoneBeauty and a tweet

    Bollywood cleavage row shows India's 'crass' side


  • Relief sculpture of MithrasRoman puzzle

    How to put London's mysterious underground temple back together


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.