Novelist and poet Vikram Seth Thursday criticised the government for not allowing author Salman Rushdie to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) because of pressure from Muslim fundamentalist groups.
"The whole affair was whipped up because of power and politics and because of the misuse of religion. And the government did nothing," Seth said at the maiden Kolkata Literary Meet, organised as a part of the 36th International Kolkata Book Fair.
Reading from a written statement, he added, "We are a constitutional nation and not a religious dictatorship. Unless someone threatens violence, we do not have the right to gag or dictate what he or she can say or see or hear. We don’t have the right to cover up eyes, ears and mouth of the three monkeys with our own hands."
Arguing that God and his prophets did not need bullies to defend themselves, he added, "We will not let our beloved and free republic to be hijacked by fear. It happened once in the emergency. It must never happen again."
Less than two weeks before the January 20-24 Jaipur event began, influential Islamic seminary Darul-Uloom Deoband demanded that the government disallow Rushdie from visiting India. The reason: his book Satanic Verses contains passages that allegedly insult Islam. The government of India had in 1988 banned the book.
Rushdie, who has visited the country several times after that, cancelled his visit to the JLF this year following intelligence inputs on threat to his life from the Mumbai mafia. JLF organisers had proposed a Q&A session with the author over a video link, but that too was cancelled by the owner of the JLF venue minutes before it was scheduled to begin.
With inputs from agencies