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

 

More articles by:

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

November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail