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India being made scapegoat at Galle literary fiasco

world Updated: Jan 22, 2011 19:38 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
Sutirtho Patranobis

Is India being needlessly blamed for the withdrawal of the two star attractions from the upcoming Galle Literary Festival (GLF), Noble laureate Orhan Pamuk and Booker winner Kiran Desai?

Their withdrawal from the GLF, beginning January 26, was announced within a day of rights organistions calling for a festival boycott – endorsed by Noam Chomsky and Arundhuti Roy -- because of Sri Lanka’s allegedly poor human rights record during the end of the civil war. The two were expected to reach Galle after attending the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival.

But the GLF organisers and the Presidential secretariat issued statements indicating that it was India’s tightened visa rules for re-entering India that prompted the star withdrawal though Desai shouldn’t have had a problem as she is Indian.(After the Mumbai attacks, the rules were tightened to allow a foreign tourist to re-enter India only after a two-month gap, except in special cases.)

It, however, was reliably learnt that India had not only issued Pamuk a multiple entry visa from the Indian embassy in Istanbul but the High Commission of India in Colombo had also assured the GLF organisers – verbally and in written – that all Pamuk had to do was to fill up the re-entry form and submit it.

"There was no ambiguity. The organisers had approached us. We had fully assured them. (about allowing Pamuk and Desai back into India). The rules have been tightened but in genuine cases exceptions are made," informed sources in Colombo told HT.

"High level assurances of a smooth re-entry for Mr Pamuk unfortunately were not enough to allay his fears that he would not be allowed to re-enter India after the festival," the GLF organisers said in a statement, insinuating that India was to blame.

``If a person doesn’t want to come, why put the blame on us?’’ sources said.

While the two statements from GLF and the Presidential secretariat imply that it was Pamuk’s apprehension about re-entering India that stopped him from coming to Sri Lanka, the real reason could be different: Both he and Desai could actually have responded to the GLF boycott call by Reporters Sans Frontier but were not willing to take a stand. And the GLF organisers too found it easy quietly put the blame in India’s court.

The RSF statement said at least 46 eminent analysts and authors – including Noam Chomsky, Arundhuti Roy and Tariq Ali -- had endorsed the appeal to shun the festival in a country where freedom of expression was severely impaired. It added that arts should not be celebrated where journalists were killed or have disappeared.