India book fest reaches out to Muslims over Rushdie


Organisers of India’s Jaipur Literature Festival met with Muslim groups on Thursday seeking an agreement to enable author Salman Rushdie to speak at the event after protests against his work.
Several Muslim leaders have called for Rushdie to be banned from attending the festival due to lingering anger over his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses”, which was alleged to have insulted the religion of Islam.He had been due to appear at the first day of the festival on Friday, but his name was dropped from the schedule over fears for his security.
“We had a meeting today with different Muslim organisations,” festival producer Sanjoy Roy told reporters in Jaipur. “We presented our point of view and we heard their point of view.”
Roy confirmed that Rushdie would not be at the start of the five-day event, a free annual fair that attracts tens of thousands of Indian and foreign book fans, but added that he hoped Rushdie would attend at some stage.
Rushdie, a British citizen who was born in Mumbai, spent a decade in hiding after Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death over “The
Satanic Verses”.
The row over Rushdie appearing at the festival was triggered by demands from the influential Darululoom Deoband seminary in northern India that he should be kept out of the country.
Roy gave no further details about Thursday’s discussions but said that the Jaipur organising committee was determined to uphold the principle of free speech. “First and foremost, we stand for the freedom of expression,” he said. “The festival has always stood by issues of minority communities and other religions. “This is a platform where we allow for free speech as long as it is done in a peaceful and democratic way.”
Political leaders in Rajasthan state, of which Jaipur is the capital, said they had been lobbied by Muslim groups opposed to Rushdie’s visit, which would pose a major security challenge amid the dispute. “Representatives of some Muslim organisations met us and appraised of their feelings and objections,” Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said.
“I wouldn’t like any untoward happening, and we will ensure it.” The Jaipur festival, which Rushdie attended without incident in 2007, has mushroomed in recent years into a major literary, business and social occasion in the Indian calendar.
Among the speakers this year are biologist and author Richard Dawkins, Indian best-selling novelist Chetan Bhagat and US television star Oprah Winfrey.