Even as you read this, there's a simmering debate on whether writer Salman Rushdie is coming down to India to attend the Jaipur Literary Festival from January 20 to 24. Despite conflicting reports, it would most probably be a no-show in Rushdie's case.
The government has once again proved that it has bowed to pressure from Islamic radicals and extremist forces by taking the stand that Rushdie must stay away because there might be a law and order problem if he comes to Rajasthan. The intolerants have scored a point and if Rushdie stays away, which is the most likely scenario, it proves that secular fabric, which India is so proud of, has snapped. It's secular in name only. The growing intolerance and extreme climate has hemmed in writers and artists. Art and by that we mean all forms of creative expression is subversive by definition. If we do not have anything new to say, then why say it at all? Whether it is James Laine and the book on Shivaji controversy, the Rohinton Mistry and his book fracas or even a fatwa on the Surya Namaskar in Madhya Pradesh, by failing to protect Rushdie and the people, by backing down because of extremist threats the government has once again given credence to the belief that India is a soft target.
The right to offend is getting eroded everywhere in the world, that is why Western society continues to push the envelope in several ways trying to defy the fundamentalists through art.
In India, art exhibitions have been disrupted, books burnt and protests held over provocative works. If that ire was restricted to the work, that would still be some small solace. Now, though the creators themselves are at risk, either of being killed or maimed by violent extremists. The government has to be strong enough to withstand pressure and security situations. Otherwise, India is in danger of losing its brightest minds with their work that provokes lively debate and healthy dissension.