New Delhi: Celebrated author Salman Rushdie was forced to stay away from the Jaipur Literature Festival and his live video conference cancelled following protests by the Jaipur-based Milli Council. Several activists of the Milli Council arrived at the venue of the Festival at Diggi Palace demanding that the proposed video address by Rushdie be called off, claiming that it was an insult to the Muslims.
Rushdie has faced repeated threats from religious fundamentalists for his controversial book The Satanic Verses. The recent blot on the right India grants to its citizens to free speech is one in a long line of incidents of intolerance. Here is a list.
Ban on Satanic Verses
In October, 1988, the Indian finance ministry banned Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses, under Section 11 of the Indian Customs Act. The ministry said the ban did not detract from the literary and artistic merit of Rushdie's work. The book was banned following the protests by Muslim politicians Syed Shahabuddin and Khurshid Alam Khan who claimed the book hurt religious sentiments of Muslims. The Satanic Verses sparked off violent protests around the world and death threats were issued to Rushdie, including a fatwa by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, in 1989.
MF Husain's exile
India's best known artist Maqbool Fida Husain, who took Indian art to the global stage in a celebrated career that was also mired in controversies, died at the age of 95 during his self-imposed exile in London. Popularly known as the 'Picasso of India' Husain was once a member of Rajya Sabha and had been decorated with nation's second highest award Padma Vibhushan. In 1996 he courted controversy after his paintings of Hindu deities in the nude, originally painted in the 1970s, were interpreted as anti-Hindu. After eight legal cases and death threats in India, he was on a self-imposed exile from 2006. In January, 2010, he was offered the citizenship of Qatar, which he accepted.
Miss World event
In 1996 Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited's (ABCL) Miss World event in Bangalore came under fire from BJP activists who claimed the pageant was against Indian culture. Protesters forced the shifting of the contest's swimsuit round to Seychelles.
Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen was forced into exile by Islamists for her book Lajja. She moved to Sweden in 2008 and later worked as a research scholar at New York University. The third volume of her autobiography Dwikhandito was banned by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government in West Bengal. She fled Bangladesh in 1994 following threats from Islamic fundamentalists.
In a gruesome attack in 2010, activists of Popular Front of India chopped off the right hand of TJ Joseph, a professor in Kerala's Ernakulam district. He was later sacked by his college for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by preparing a Malayalam question paper with alleged derogatory references to Prophet Mohammed.
Jay Leno on the Golden Temple
India strongly objected to popular US television host Jay Leno's remarks on the Golden Temple. The US government defended him saying he has the right to free speech. The Indian government has complained about Jay Leno to his employer, the NBC network, and to the US government. The government reacted to online protests by Sikh groups over Leno's joke describing the Golden Temple as politician Mitt Romney's summer home. Leno was joking about Romney's wealth at a time when he is trying to become the Republican Party's official candidate against President Obama in the US Presidential elections in 2012.
Entrepreneur-turned-actor Sachin Joshi's 'Azaan' faced a lawsuit that alleged that the film's title was offensive to Muslims. A local civil judge issued notices against the film's producer, director and cinema hall owner. Petitions were filed by two lawyers Kamran and Mohd Rizwan who alleged that the naming of a film as 'Azaan' is against the religious sentiment of Muslims. The film, starring Playboy model Candice Boucher and Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat, is the story of an agent (Sachin Joshi) working for RAW with a mixed lineage of Afghan and Indian parents.
Prateik and Amy Jackson's upcoming film Ekk Deewana Tha, directed by Gautham Menon, stirred a controversy for featuring a song by AR Rahman who has composed the music of the film. The catchy number from Ekk Deewana Tha titled Hosanna has run into trouble with the Catholic-Christian Secular Forum (CSF) for the use of word Hosanna in the song. CSF has taken up the issue with authorities concerned and wants the song to be withdrawn. According to the complaint, the song has hurt not only Christian, but also Jewish religious sentiments, Hosanna being a prayer for both communities.
Artist Balbir Krishan
A gay painter from Uttar Pradesh was assaulted by unidentified men at the end of his solo exhibition at the Lalit Kala Academy in Delhi. The assailants said that his art was provocative and went against the religious sentiments of people. They also threatened that Krishan will also not be allowed to display his art again. Krishan, who has two artificial limbs, said he was assaulted from behind because of which he was unable to identify the attackers.
Writer James Laine
A book Shivaji, Hindu King in Islamic India, written by Laine, a professor of religious studies, was published in 2003 by the Oxford University Press in New York and New Delhi. It was banned by the state government after 150 cadres of the Sambhaji Brigade ransacked the office of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune and destroyed property on Januray 5, 2004.
The cricket pitch at the Ferozeshah Kotla Grounds in New Delhi was dug up by Shiv Sena activists in 1999. The activists also threatened to disrupt a bus service from New Delhi to Lahore. It threatened to disrupt cricket matches of ICC tournament if Pakistan was allowed to play in India.
The film, inspired by the story of a ten-year-old Parsi boy Azhar Mody who disappeared after the February 28, 2002 Gulbarg Society massacre during the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which 69 people were killed, was not allowed to be shown in Gujarat.
Chandra Mohan, a final year Master of Visual Arts student at The Maharaja Sayajirao University was arrested for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Christians and Hindus. His paintings of Shiv Linga, Goddess Durga and Jesus Christ were deemed vulgar.
Rohinton Mistry's novel
The Mumbai University decided to drop Rohinton Mistry's novel Such a Long Journey from its syllabus. The book was dropped mid-term, almost immediately after the Shiv Sena protested saying the book contained objectionable remarks about their party. And while the author has slammed both the university and the Sena, students in Mumbai too have expressed anger about their syllabus being dictated by a political party.
Filmmaker Prakash Jha's controversial film 'Aarakshan' was banned in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. States formed committees to look into any anti-Dalit references that the film may have, before giving it a green signal. In Punjab, the screening of the film for government officials turned into a family outing, even though it was supposed to be a restricted preview.
The Delhi University decided to remove late poet and translator AK Ramanujan's essay 'Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation' from its history syllabus. According to the reports, the essay has been taught since 2006 but it has now been dropped for hurting Hindu sentiments.
Jaipur Literature Festival
Four authors who read excerpts from Salman Rushdie's banned 'The Satanic Verses' were asked to leave as there was a threat that they would be arrested. The four authors, Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi struck a defiant note by reading from the banned book on Friday after Rushdie called off his visit citing death threats. The author community at the Jaipur Literature Festival seemed divided over Rushdie. Chetan Bhagat said that we need to accept that Rushdie has hurt Muslim sentiments. Deepak Chopra said 'Satanic Verses' doesn't deserve a ban or fatwa.
Pune's Symbiosis University cancelled a planned screening of director Sanjay Kak's documentary film Jashn-e-Azadi on Kashmir after the right-wing student organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) raised objections on the nature and content of the film.
Aamir Khan had upset the Gujarat government with his comments on Narendra Modi's handling of the Narmada Dam issue. Subsequently after his film Fanaa was released in 2006 it was unofficially banned across the state. Khan refused to apologise for his comments stating that he spoke about the rehabilitation of the displaced villagers.
Sri Ram Sene
The Sri Ram Sene, a breakaway group of the Bajrang Dal, in 2009 attacked women outside a pub in Mangalore claiming that women going to pubs was against Indian culture.
My Name Is Khan
Shiv Sena activists in 2010 attacked several cinema halls that were scheduled to screen Shah Rukh Khan's 'My Name Is Khan' following the actor's comments favouring the inclusion of Pakistani cricketers in the Indian Premier League. Sena activists also called him a traitor.
The Autumn Literature Festival, which was scheduled to be held in Srinagar from September 24 to 26 in 2011 was called off. Earlier it had stirred a controversy with a section of authors, filmmakers and intelligentsia from the state alleging the festival is an effort by the "repressive government" to gag the freedom of Kashmiris. The protesters had also devoted a Facebook page to criticise the festival, being presented by Teamworks Production, the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. They said there is no freedom in Kashmir for people to speak their minds, as the festival claimed.
Taslima Nasreen book launch
Defying protests by 'religious fanatics' on Feb 1, the publisher of Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen's autobiography, Dey's Publishing, launched her book in front of a stall at the Kolkata Book Fair. This came as a protest against the guild's decision to cancel the book launch. The book was launched by author Nabarun Bhattacharya in the presence of Taslima's supporters and human rights activists.
Nude painting of Bollywood stars
In yet another blot on artistic freedom of expression in the country, five unknown men, miffed with kitsch paintings put on show at a gallery, assaulted artist Pranava Prakash yesterday. Prakash was attacked while he was showcasing his paintings of Bollywood celebs in the nude at Espace Alternative gallery in Noida.
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