I think it is sad that the Harud Literature Festival has been “postponed“. Sadder still is that the organisers are blaming those who asked very valid questions. All they needed to do was answer those questions and allay those concerns. Their response, two days after the release of the open letter, did not address those concerns. They even refused to withdraw, leave alone apologise for, the offensive word “apolitical”, or explain how they planned to be “apolitical” while “celebrating” literature in the midst of unmarked graves, militarised bazars and lanes, draconian laws, imprisoned teenagers and the state’s refusal to dispense justice.
It is true that many Kashmiris were opposed to the idea of Salman Rushdie attending the festival, and while I may not agree with their views about whether Rushdie should be allowed to sit on a stage in Srinagar, I find it dubious that the Harud Literature Festival’s organisers blame the Rushdie rumour on a Facebook group by Kashmiris. The rumour about Rushdie was initiated by a mischievous report in The Times of India by Randeep Singh Nandal:
There is speculation that Salman Rushdie might drop by… [Link]
That report was perhaps the first about the Harud Literature Festival. It was published on 28 July 2011. The festival’s organisers denied the “speculation” about Rushdie only on 27 August. Why did they allow the “speculation” to gain circulation in Kashmir for a whole month? And if it was not a deliberate decision to not deny the speculation about Rushdie, why did the 27 August press release blame the speculation on a Facebook group and not The Times of India? Never mind if Randeep Singh Nandal is an unprofessional journalist who writes about “speculation” that he could have easily verified with a phone call, but why did the organisers of the Harud Literature Festival not deny this speculation right away?
Anyway, Supriya Nair is spot on:
But even if there were a movement to boycott Harud, I asked, how could it be equated to an explicit effort to shut the festival down? If the organisers thought that “those opposing the festival” should have “allowed this forum to go ahead and [expressed] their dissent at the festival” — then why not keep the festival on, and engage with their concerns? How could a peaceful interrogation of the festival’s principles be equated with a “denial of free speech” to those not part of a “vocal minority”? Surely the only way to deny speakers at the festival a chance to air their views would be to — cancel the festival? [Read the full post]
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are mine and may not be necessarily shared by all signatories of the open letter.)