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Rushdie: Indian Police fabricated threats

A furious Sir Salman Rushdie has accused Police in the Indian state of Rajasthan of fabricating death threats which led to the Booker-prize winning author staying away from the Jaipur Literature Festival.  Sir Salman tweeted Sunday “I’ve investigated and believe I was indeed lied to.  I am outraged and very angry”. 

He also said he did not know who gave the orders to police to come up with the threats, adding “I guess (it was) the same police who want to arrest Hari, Amitava, Jeet and Ruchir”; referring to authors Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi who read passages from Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses on the first day of the festival following Sir Salman’s withdrawal. 

The Chief Minister of Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot however refuted Rushdie’s allegations, telling reporters, “The government had made all arrangements for his security because it was our duty.  If we get an advisory from the Central Government about a threat to the life of a certain person then we have to make arrangements for his security.”

Sir Salman’s visit to Asia’s largest literary festival was cancelled following threats made by – among others – the Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic Monastery in India, one of the most powerful bodies in the Islamic World.  Following the threats, state officials are reported to have persuaded Festival organizers to cancel the appearance citing “massive security concerns”. 

The author’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses provoked outrage throughout the Islamic world, leading to the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his death over claims made by the novel’s narrator that disputed verses in the Koran had been disclosed by the Archangel Gabriel.  The Satanic Verses was banned throughout the Islamic world, including India, which has a Muslim population of nearly 200 million. 

The cancellation of the author’s visit to the Jaipur Festival meanwhile has elicited widespread criticism, particularly from the literary fraternity.  Author Hari Kunzru tweeted that Rushdie’s absence from the festival is “a stain on India’s international reputation” whilst writer and analyst Salil Tripathi said, “Writers should not need armies to protect them in a free society”. 

There have also been reports the threats to Salman Rushdie by Muslim Groups may have been motivated by political compulsions with politicians actively seeking the Muslim vote ahead of local government elections.  None of the main political parties in the country have spoken out against the Muslim groups. 

The failure of the government to ensure security for the internationally celebrated author has led to many critics to question India’s claim to being the world’s largest democracy and charge that an increasingly prosperous India is becoming ever more intolerant. 

– Vijitha Alles

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