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Kashmir's first lit fest put off

books Updated: Aug 30, 2011 10:35 IST

Indo-Asian News Service
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Harud, the first-ever national literature festival in Kashmir, has been postponed over a controversy between the organisers and a section of Kashmiri intelligentsia which alleged that the festival would not allow intellectuals to speak "freely about repression in Kashmir."

Announcing the postponement of the festival which was scheduled Sep 24-26, organisers Teamworks Productions, said: "It is with great sadness that we are postponing the festival".

"We are absolutely horrified that in the name of free speech and democracy, a particular group of people threatened violence to disrupt what would have been an inclusive platform for free discussion, debate and dialogue in writing on Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India," Sanjoy Roy, Teamworks Productions MD, told IANS.

The festival was spread across two venues - the Delhi Public School premises in Srinagar and the Kashmir University campus.

"The festival was born out of the best intentions to offer a platform to works by emerging and established writers in Kashmir. But it has been hijacked by those who hold extreme views in the name of free speech," added a statement issued by Teamworks Monday.

The statement said a "few people who began the movement to boycott the festival have no qualms in speaking about Kashmir in international forums, but refuse to allow other voices, including writers, poets and theatre people from the valley and across India to enjoy the right to express themselves at the Harud festival".

The statement said the festival had invited "nearly 30 authors from Jammu and Kashmir and 20 from other parts of India, but it had neither invited nor was planning to invite Salman Rushdie to the festival as was being claimed by a section of Kashmiri writers and common people".

A page on Facebook had whipped up opposition to Rushdie's reported participation at the festival with the youth launching scathing attacks on the author.

The protesters had appealed to officially boycott the festival at a three-day rally on the DPS School Ground - one of the festival's venues.

Rushdie, who has written extensively using Kashmir as a backdrop, evokes radical reactions in the state. The state was rocked by protests when the British government conferred knighthood on Rushdie in 2007.

The organisers said the festival had paid ample attention to the vexed issues of identity and freedom of speech in Kashmir with sessions like The Silenced Voice: Creativity and Dissent, Jail Diaries, Gulistan: The Forgotten Environment, Lol'ha'rov: Echoes of the Valley, Harud: Songs of the Season and Chronicles of Exile.

Besides the ones addressing the decades of turmoil in the Valley, there were sessions on theatre.

"If those opposing the festival truly believed in free speech, they would have allowed this forum to go ahead and would come and express their dissent at the festival," the statement said. "Expression through the arts was at risk across the world and more so in India."

"Literature is one way to transcend these barriers and provide a platform for inclusive ideas. This unfortunately will be the biggest loss, not just for Srinagar, but for all artists who believe in the right to express themselves," it said.

An open letter against the festival this week said, that holding such a festival would "dovetail with the state's concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir".

The writers also objected to the festival being held on the Kashmir University campus Sep 26 on the ground "that the university gagged students' freedom to form unions."

The letter was signed, among others, by writers Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed, journalist Najib Mubaraki, research scholar Insha Malik, filmmaker Sanjay Kak, academic Nivedita Menon and journalists Parvaiz Bukhari and Hilal Mir.

A Facebook entry Monday said "the organizers denial of Salman Rushdie Mardood's arrival in Kashmir has come too late".

"If they are as sincere as they claim to be, please do let us know if they will be protesting the detention of thousands of Kashmiris languishing in Indian torture chambers whose only crime was to protest the human rights violations in Kashmir. Will they be protesting the detention of children," a Kashmiri protester said in his Facebook post.