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Salman Rushdie: a critic of orthodoxies and fundamentalisms of all stripes and hues

People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), condemning the attack on Salman Rushdie, has called him “an inspirational leader of persecuted writers and journalists”:

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PUCL strongly condemns the brutal targeted attack on noted author of Indian origin, Salman Rushdie on August 13, 2022 in a literary event in the US by the attacker identified as Hadi Matar. It is reported that the author has suffered serious injuries to arm and liver’ and is in danger of losing his eyesight in one eye.
Though Salman Rushdie is now a British citizen he was famously one of India’s `Midnights’ Children’ born within a few weeks of India’s independence in August of 1947. Apart from writing the fictional narrative of a nation post-independence through the eyes of its narrator, Saleem Sinai, in `Midnight’s Children’, he also wrote the book `Satanic Verses” which was banned in India in 1988 and earned him a fatwa condemning him to death by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.
The PUCL stands for freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Indian Constitution and hence opposed the ban on his book. PUCL also demanded that the Rajiv Gandhi Government withdraw the ban. When Prof Mushirul Hasan was attacked as the Vice Chancellor of Jamia for saying that he believed in freedom of speech and expression, PUCL stood with him. We continue to demand that the ban be withdrawn.
Throughout his life and in his works, Rushdie has stood for the right to artistic expression and for the right to speak truth to power and the right to offend, shock and disturb. As he puts it, ‘nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read.’
The PUCL asserts the right of the artist to speak truth to power. Any kind of social change is premised on this right to free speech and opinion, which encompasses in itself the right to dissent, criticise and express freely without fear or intimidation. In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s own words in the ‘Annihilation of Caste’, ‘The world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible.’
Rushdie has also been a defender of heterogeneity, diversity and difference and opposed to a monoculture of the mind. He is a defender of the ‘imaginary homelands’ of literature and says that ,‘It has always been a shock to me to meet people for whom books simply do not matter, and people who are scornful of the act of reading, let alone writing. It is perhaps always astonishing to learn that your beloved is not as attractive to others as she is to you.’ In his view, literature represented the multiplicity and diversity which was the characteristic of plural societies.
In his book of essays titled ‘Imaginary Homelands’, he says that, ‘I come from Bombay, and from a Muslim family, too. 'My' India has always been based on ideas of multiplicity, pluralism, hybridity: ideas to which the ideologies of the communalists are diametrically opposed. To my mind, the defining image of India is the crowd, and a crowd is by its very nature superabundant, heterogeneous, many things at once. But the India of the communalists is none of these things.’
Salman Rushdie was a critic of orthodoxies and fundamentalisms of all stripes and hues and the attack on him needs to be condemned strongly. At the same time we would like to point out that that despite his known vulnerability, adequate security / police protection was not provided at the time of his attack. This is a serious breach of security for a person who has for over 3 decades been leading a reclusive life because of the threat by fundamentalist forces opposing his works.
The threat and attacks on writers and creative artistes for expressing their freedom of expression and writing on social and cultural issues questioning majoritarian and divisive discourse and politics is now seen worldwide, as also in India. The global human rights movement should take the lead not just to challenge such unacceptable attacks on writers, singers and cultural artistes but also put pressure on the UN system and national governments to implement the fundamental freedoms promised under the UDHR, ICCCPR, ICESCR and other international instruments proactively and not wait for an attack to respond. In the context of Salman Rushdie, PUCL urges that efforts be made to demand the withdrawal of the fatwa issued against him and to protect him from future attacks.
The PUCL wishes the author a speedy recovery from this latest and most brutal assault.
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Statement signed by Dr. V. Suresh, Gen. Secretary, PUCL; Ravi Kiran Jain, President, PUCL; Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary, PUCL; Arvind Narrain, President, PUCL Karnataka state unit; Lara Jesani, PUCL Maharashtra

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