Tuesday, 14 February 2012

deepad: black silhouette of woman wearing blue turban against blue background (Default)
Before going off to the Jaipur Literature Festival, I had joked about wanting to heckle Salman Rushdie but deciding that avoidance was the better part of valour. Of course, once I reached the festival, the man's name became almost impossible to avoid, since the event was overshadowed by the controversy of his non-attendance.

On the Jaipur Literature Festival )

There are people in this country who can measure freedom by how much energy, inclination and ability they have to still speak out after the State--representative of the majority of the Indian citizenry--has chosen violence to physically silence them.

There is this horrible game we can play, a flip-side of oppression olympics, which is--you have one brief moment to make your point. To speak in front of readers and reporters. Which cause do you choose? Whose words do you choose to turn into your symbol? By adding your power to a spotlight, what other people get relegated to the deeper darkness of non-discussion?

On #flashreads )

Of course, I am against physical violence, and the threat of it, being used to silence writers and their words. But equally, I cannot talk about absolute freedom of speech without talking about the ideological and cultural violence that books and the words within them have done, and are doing, and will continue to do unless we resist them (with verbal violence alone).

On International Book Giving Day )

I've known what it's like to be yearning for books, but I've also known what it is like to yearn, while surrounded by books, for ones that represent people like me. I can't speak for the child I was, but the adult I am is happy to have not been exposed to some of the more virulent books I know about now, back then when I was more desperate and less discerning.

On The Satanic Verses )

I defend the rationality of being offended by a misrepresentation of what one holds sacred. I defend the right of those in the marginalised, threatened or oppressed position in a hierarchy to challenge and question and reject those ideas and stories that reinforce the injustice being done to them.

But no matter how much value I may want ascribed to non-physical violence--be it economic, ideological, legal or cultural--I do not wish to downplay my rejection of physical violence. In the hours it has taken me to write this, I scroll up and compare my knee-jerk irritation at the JKF Rushdie imbroglio to the aching empathy I felt for Rashid in Haroun and the Sea of Stories, exiled from the source of his stories. Free speech and its consequent debates around book banning, censorship and the like is one thing. But bodies imprisoned or exiled because of threat of violence, translators stabbed, defenders beaten**--this is wholly more absolute injustice.

I consider the written word sacred enough that though I have felt the desire to do damage to a book, I could never imagine ripping, or burning or physically harming even the most loathsome text. How much more sacred then, is even the most antagonistic human soul, the source for those words, enshrined in a fragile and totally irreplaceable body.

A banned book may be resurrected to be argued with or reinstated, a dead person cannot be.

For all my reservations, minor and major, with the various champions of these various causes, I don't want my doubts and disagreements to negate my fundamental support of people speaking out against what they (and I) see as injustice.

So here - for #flashreads (and International Give a Book Day):
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (free epub readers)
For historical context, read:
Mohammad: His Life Based on Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (epub, mobi, pdf, html, txt)
For literary perspectives, read:
Notes for Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses by Paul Brians (html)

Also, here is Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation by A. K. Ramanujan, the essay that was dropped from Delhi University's Ancient India course readings.

Finally Lihaaf, a short story by Ismat Chugtai, was banned in 1944 under charges of being obscene.
Here's the story in Urdu, in Hindi, and in English translated by Syeda Hameed or by M. Asaduddin.
Here is the author's account of her trial: An Excerpt from Kaghazi Hai Pairahan (The “Lihaf” Trial) by Ismat Chugtai, translated by Tahira Naqvi and Muhammad Umar Memon.

Dear Reader, she won.

Inshallah someday we might be able to say that for more of the people who choose to fight with words against those who would silence them with weapons.

*Not all the session videos are up at the JLF website. I find it suspicious that the more controversial ones are missing, but have no information regarding their absence.
**This article has a huge anti-Islamic bias, but it was the closest I could find to a source with some citations.

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deepad: black silhouette of woman wearing blue turban against blue background (Default)
Deepa D.

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