Saturday, January 28, 2012

Off-Topic: The storm between the Fest- The Satanic Verses plays Tempest

The Indian media over the last one week, has been flooded with news relating to one man- Booker prize winner Salman Rushdie. As the Jaipur Literary festival took stage, a few authors chose to read from his book “The Satanic Verses” – his work that was banned from release in India in 1988, on the pretext that the contents were hurtful to the religious sentiments of Muslims residing in India.

The controversy surrounding the book really took centre stage, as some authors chose to read excerpts from The Satanic Verses . The readers of excerpts state that they did so, not from the book, but in fact from excerpts available online. The readers of the excerpts, were advised to leave Jaipur for the fear of arrest.

The fact that disturbs me is that while the book is banned for release, sale, import etc. in India, would reading of its excerpts also qualify as an act that would be actionable under law???

One of the issues that bothers me is the issue of access. Although physical copies of the book are unavailable, the presence of its extracts in the internet space, does facilitate access, even though the extent of it may be limited. In this view can reading an excerpt really put one into trouble?

Another aspect is, what about freedom of expression? We know of several authors, painters,and film makers who choose rather provocative subjects. And so long as the readers chose extracts that were in fact not so provocative, should they be really threatened? And more so, in the context of a book, how would one judge what is distasteful to many, separated from the rest of the body of the work that travels with it?

While everyone, including retired Justices of the Supreme Court of India, has had something to say, this issue and the blowing up of it itself has left a bad taste in my mouth.

On one hand, in the world of Intellectual Property we talk of creative freedom, so much so that we have disregarded registration as an essential to enforce one’s rights in a work; On the other, the world of constitutionality talks of freedom of speech and expression. And yet some authors in appreciation, criticism or by reference, referring to a banned book is a taboo..

I am really at loss of an opinion- is this a reflection of the fact that we are still where we were, close to 25 years back??? Or, is this just an attempt to make a noise, specially since, we are considered a society that has always been open to interpretations, versions and fables to follow..

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