Edit/Op-Ed

Read Rushdie Before You Protest Against Him

Pranay Parashar, BeyondHeadlines

“I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the last your right to say it” remarked Voltaire one of the greatest philosophers the world has ever seen, stretching the defining boundaries of the democracy to its widest possible. Lately the democratic rights and liberty of individuals had been trampled upon by state, “cultural, religious” and political organizations. In some cases state had even intruded in private domains of individuals, flagrantly abusing the fundamental rights of human being, envisioned in our constitution.

In past films had been banned, citing presumptive disruption of law and order. Aarakhshan was released in UP only when Supreme Court strike down the state order banning the film. Essays has been expunged from syllabus, books had been banned in universities and states. A gory incident came into light from Kerala, where hands of a Professor were chopped by some religious fundamentalists upon appearances of some “uncomfortable questions” in question paper.

Self-aggrandizement and cheap publicity are the only motive that play role in the background of opposition emanating from so called cultural organization. The need of scoring political points and sympathy seems to be the hidden agenda behind overt endorsement of undemocratic, sometimes irrational lines by the political parties. The rising intolerance ensue the refusal to accept the differing opinion and robs the protagonist of an opportunity to stand corrected if wrong. And if the opinion is correct it opens new avenues of thinking and suggests new paradigms for research and development of the niche.

Recently certain Muslim organizations have opposed the participation of novelist Salman Rushdie in Jaipur Literature Festival starting this Friday. These organizations had warned of protest all over Rajasthan if government failed to stop his participation in the event. In another instance an essay by Ramanujan was expunged from the syllabus by reputed Delhi University, apparently bulging under the threat from so called “cultural groups”.

Now the question is how many of those who protested, vandalized or threatened have actually read the book or the essay. If they haven’t read it, then their opposition can be perceived as a despicable agenda to denigrate the author and his artistic work or an attempt to earn cheap publicity for themselves. And if the claim is that they have read it, than it is unreasonable to debar others from reading it. To think that others are less educated to understand or interpret the author is actually the poverty of mind and intellect. Even, it is unwise to claim the moral leadership of a community, advising the community what to read and what not to, whom to interact with and whom not with, whom to listen and whom not to. Portraying oneself as a self-appointed messiah is not always appreciated. Organizations that have opposed Rushdie’s participation are attempting to snatch the right of liberated readers to interact with the author. These organizations have seriously undermined the capability of Indian readers to question the controversial author, or to rebut his claims if not agreed upon.

Being against criticism only ossifies religious set up, makes it stagnant and fundamentalises it. Criticism if seen constructively can modernize not only religious set up but other parameters of social structure too. So need is to, at least hear other perspectives too, even if we don’t agree.

We already have a shameful blot on our conscience, when the nation refused permission to its 95 year old, most respected and honored painter, who wanted to breathe his last air in the soil in which he was born. But he died in an exotic country, aren’t we ashamed enough? Do we want more???

(The writer is a B. Tech student at Jamia Millia Islamia. His email id is pranayparashar@gmail.com and Facebook Profile https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000592636247. The views expressed in this article are writer’s own, and it does not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy.)

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