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Attack on Wendy's book on Hinduism suggests "casualness of attacks on the arts in India": Rushdie

By Our Representative
The author of “The Satanic Verses”, banned in India just nine days after it was published on September 26, 1988, for alleged blasphemy under pressure from extremist Islamic groups, has taken strong exception to Penguin India’s decision to withdraw "The Hindus: An Alternative History" from market, this time under pressure from Hindu bigots. Coming down heavily against the Penguin decision, Emory University Distinguished Professor Salman Rushdie has said that he fears for the “future of Indian literary freedom in the wake of the controversy over the recall and destruction of a book on Hinduism by an American scholar.”
Campaign to ban “The Satanic Verses” was orchestrated by Jamaat-i-Islami, the party founded in Pakistan by Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi. A journalist-cum-theologian, Maududi preached that "for the entire human race, there is only one way of life which is Right in the eyes of God and that is al-Islam".
Rushdie was speaking Emory's India Summit on February 17, which was meant to cover new and emerging authors in India; however, the discussion was dominated by curiosity and concern over the decision.
Reporting on Sushdie’s comment, http://news.emory.edu/ said, “Following protests by the conservative religious group Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee and a lawsuit filed by activist Dina Nath Batra, Penguin India settled the legal battle by agreeing to recall and destroy copies of ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History,’ which was published in 2009. The book is by Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and noted Hinduism scholar.”
It added, “According to critics, the book violated a section of India's penal code that criminalizes ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’."
"The casualness of the attacks on the arts in India and the broad of inertia of the mass of the public to the fact that these things are being done arises very little outrage, very little commentary. The attitude is 'if you got yourself banned, it is your fault because you did something you shouldn't have,'" Rushdie said.
"We are in the middle of a cultural emergency and the levels of oppression in the cultural area should worry us as much as the political oppression (in India) of the 1970s. There just isn't enough concern about it", he was quoted as saying.
Because of the way the law is written in India, authorities more often side with those attacking literature and art than the attackers, Rushdie said, adding, “The attitude of the masses in India ranges from apathy to acceptance of the idea that the law should prevent people from saying things that offend them."
He added, "The artist or writer or scholar or filmmaker is blamed for having done that. It is not the fault of the bigot attacking him, it is his fault for having inflamed the bigot. Nobody defends the right of people to say things that other people may not like. If we are prevented from saying something that might offend somebody else, no one will be able to say anything."
Calling Doniger's book an extraordinary work of scholarship, Rushdie said he was worried for the future of Indian culture if archaic laws continue to allow the oppression of writers and artists on the basis of offending someone. "Literature and art are created by artists who go to the edge and push the boundaries. The history of literature is full of this."
In any literature you can see courageous writers who stand against the status quo when they believe it is wrong. You do not have to do this, but you should be able to. It should not be criminalized if you do," he pointed out.

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