The cancellation of the release party for Taslima Nasreen's autobiography at the Kolkata Book Fair has thrown the spotlight on the destructive clout of religious fanatics in a city once known for savouring cultural pluralism.
Coupled with the
Salman Rushdie controversy - when the Booker awardee had to call off his visit and then his much-anticipated video address at the Jaipur Literature Festival following security threats triggered by some Islamic groups' protest - would go down as another
instance of Indian authorities and parties kowtowing before religious rabblerousers.
While the Rushdie episode saw the political parties and the government, in the words of novelist Vikram Seth, knuckling under an enforced disgrace
because of power and politics , the only difference here was that publishers went ahead with the launch of the book at the fair, despite the hostile attitude of organisers.
The seventh volume of Nasreen's book Nirbasan ( Exile ),
which deals with her life after exile from Kolkata in 2007 and which almost nobody had read before the release, saw religious fundamentalists protesting against the launch.
This was nothing new for the Bangladesh-born author, a doctor by
profession in the early 80s, who was forced to leave her country in 1994 after there was widespread agitation against her novel Lajja ( Shame ), which a section of people saw as an assault on Islam.
Hours before the release function,
the organisers telephoned the publishers, People's Book Society, asking them to cancel the programme due to logistical problems . But later it transpired that some Islamic groups had approached the authorities and the city police against the book
A top official of the organising body, Publishers' and Book Sellers' Guild, confirmed the development saying:
We cannot allow any such thing to happen inside the Book Fair premises which can hurt the
interest of the common people coming to the fair. We cannot allow anything that may hurt the religious sentiments of any community.
Update: Cancer of Censorship
11th February 2012. See
article from guardian.co.uk
Nasreen commented to the Times of India:
You may wonder why the authority tries to ban me or ban my book launch. They believe I am anti-Islam, and supporting me or allowing me entry to the country or the state or the
city or the book fair would send a wrong message to the Muslim fanatics. They fear they would lose the Muslim vote. They do not want to take the risk of a single Muslim vote.
The author believes the appetite for censorship is
growing in India , she said. With Rushdie prevented by fears of violence from attending or even speaking via video link at the Jaipur event in January, Nasrin says we are witnessing the disturbing victory of Islamic gangsters in Jaipur and
Kolkata. I am wondering how to stop this growing cancer from spreading, she said. According to Nasrin, intolerance is growing
because the government does not take action against intolerant fanatics and the
fanatics are forgiven for whatever violence they commit in the name of religion ... India needs to secularise the states, judiciary and educational systems. People need to learn about the principles of democracy, freedom of expression, human rights and
humanism. They need to be enlightened. In the name of 'Indian secularism', irrational blind faith and the barbarity of all religions seem to be accepted and respected equally.