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Intolerance spreading in India: Salman Rushdie

world Updated: Sep 18, 2012 01:45 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Writer Salman Rushdie, whose new book charts his years in hiding, admits that his famous battle for free speech notched up only a partial victory because intolerance has spread - particularly in the country of his birth, India.

The global row over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses led to a limited victory for the right to free speech "if you look at the kind of narrow story of my own circumstances," said Rushdie, who is in London promoting the new book Joseph Anton, which hits the bookstores on Tuesday.

"There was an attempt to suppress a book which was not suppressed, which is still freely available in around 50 languages, and there was an attempt to suppress an author who is also not suppressed."

But self-censorship has grown since Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa on his life in February 1989. It is a "chilling fact", Rushdie told BBC Radio, noticeable "more in the industry than amongst the writers - about finding publishers, persuading bookstores to stock the books, persuading theatres to put it on".

He said, "There is a problem that has by no means gone away and is by no means confined to this country. One of the things that is worrying to me about what's happening in India is the way in which religious extremists - Hindus and Muslims - have been inspired to attack works of art all the time, whether books or paintings or, indeed, works of scholarship."

Rushdie's book charts the events surrounding his years in hiding after the fatwa. The memoir takes its name from the pseudonym Rushdie adopted in hiding - first names of authors Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.

The protests over The Satanic Verses weren't "a one off thing," he said. "As time passed we saw serious attempt to attack intellectual freedoms in many parts of the world and then spreading to India into other religions."