Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Banning Rushdie in Kolkata

by BINOY KAMPMARK

He might have written a very indulgent autobiography about his travails and joys as the world’s most conspicuous writer in persecution, but a few authorities are certainly not willing to let him forget his mischief making potential.

There is more than just a little part of Salman Rushdie that loves mischief.  Better that than the discrete, quiet life.  Rushdie preoccupies himself somewhere in the area between ego and doom.  In India, and most notably in the state of West Bengal, Rushdie became the subject of what was termed a pre-emptive ban.  Sandip Roy, writing in the First Post (Jan 30), found it “a pre-emptive strike most foul”.

Rushdie wasn’t even scheduled to speak at Kolkata’s Literary Meet, Asia’s largest book fair.  A “senior minister” had gotten on the blower to the organisers of the KLM, asking if Rushdie would be so much as appearing for the promotion of Deepa Mehta’s film Midnight’s Children, based on his Booker-Prize winning novel.  A written assurance was sought that he would not even be allowed at the event.  There were no protests in advance of the gathering, and not a sense that any trouble would arise – as if that might have even mattered.

It was, in fact, a bad day overall for the culture pundits and consumers in India.  J Jayalithaa’s Tamil Nadu government also banned the screening of Kamal Haasan’s movie Vishwaroopam, supposedly on the basis of complaints by various Islamic groups.

Such actions have certainly irritated a host of Indian literati and film makers.  If you were Bengali, it was even worse.  “The Rushdie ban is an insult to our cultured claims,” tweeted an indignant filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh.

As ever, writers are considered the firebrands and unspoken legislators of conscience. They write rules as they come, and dispose of others.  One’s holy task as a writer, claimed the Irish author Brendan Behan, is to let your country down.  If idols do arise, trash them with enthusiastic glee.  West Bengal has shown form in terms of its hostility to writers suggesting that it’s the writers who deserve both trashing and thrashing – Taslima Nasreen, according to Roy, was given her marching orders by the Left Front government. In 2007, Nasreen’s Dwikhandita was banned.  Progressives were silent. Her own response to act against Rushdie was furious.  “I condemn West Bengal’s ban on Rushdie in 2013.  I also condemn West Bengal’s ban on me since 2007.”

The suspicions of Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal government, placed under a broader microscope, show that more is at stake.  It must be remembered that Rushdie’s circle of defenders has never been a broad one.  Even those who admire his writings tend to fall silent when another round of condemnation is directed his way.  He carries the suffocating baggage of history.  For heaven’s sake, write, they seem to say, as that is all we are concerned with, even if you are incinerated in the process by the culture bullies.

Other authors thought him foolish. The Rushdie affair revealed that the person with a pen is not necessarily your ally.  Often, they are the first ones to rush in betrayal and shoot off poisoned pen letters.

What Rushdie has become is a trope of anticipated violence both tribal and authoritarian.  While he has been, and no doubt in some circles remains, a genuine target of fundamentalist groups, the mystique of terror and sheer irritating nuisance goes beyond that.  He has become a pop symbol of what authorship can do, in terms of blood dripping envy and social instability.

What is stunning is that his writing, for the most part, does not deserve it, betraying a remarkably stunted maturity on the part of many of his critics, of both the lethal and more benign sort.  “The police had prior information that there might be law and order problems,” explained Idris Ali of the Trinamool Congress.  But India is permanently beset by challenges to law and order that do not necessarily require such actions.  Rushdie doesn’t even have to speak, or move to cause the murmurings of concern.  The assumption that he might be setting foot in an auditorium, or in a place of literary merit, is enough to require his erasure.

According to writer Amitav Ghosh, himself a guest at the KLM, the repressors have changed.  “We were worried about the State repressing us.  Today, the main threat to freedom of speech comes from non-State actors” (The Hindu, Jan 31). What Ghosh ignores is that complicity is required: an abject capitulation to non-state interests in the name of state security and culture bullying is a trend West Bengal might wish to redress.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]