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HVK Archives: Is Rushdie welcome in India?; and a comment

Is Rushdie welcome in India?; and a comment - The Sunday Times of India

Khushwant Singh and Nirmal Verma ()
October 25, 1998

Title: Is Rushdie welcome in India?; and a comment
Author: Khushwant Singh and Nirmal Verma
Publication: The Sunday Times of India
Date: October 25, 1998

Introduction: Rushdie has every right to visit India. But how to explain
L.K. Advani's new found love for him? (Khushwant Singh). It's good to
know that Rushdie can travel in India. Why not lift the ban on The
Satanic Verses as well? (Nirmal Verma)

I question L.K. Advani's motives for saying that Salman Rushdie will be
welcome if he returns to India because it is the likes of Advani who
have created an atmosphere of religious intolerance in this country,
particularly against the Muslims. His sudden admiration for Rushdie is
not due to any new-found love for freedom of expression, but because
Rushdie's name is anathema to the Muslims. Welcoming Rushdie gives him
another opportunity to spite the Muslim community. We must not forget
that Advani was the prime mover of the demand to build a Ram Mandir on
the spot where the Babri Masjid stood. It was the atmosphere of hate
generated by his rath yatra that led to the destruction of the mosque.
He has still to be cleared of criminal charges levelled against him.

I will be more than surprised if Advani has read The Satanic Verses or,
even if he has, understood why Muslims were so offended by some of its
passages. I have read it three times: twice in manuscript form submitted
to Viking (US and England) and once after I bought a copy in London. I
was responsible for advising Penguin (India) not to publish it in this
country. There are two passages in the novel that are offensive to
Muslim sentiments. In one, Rushdie describes a brothel in Mecca soon
after the Prophet's return to the city as a victor. He orders taverns
and bordellos to be closed down but gives them a period of grace to take
up other businesses. The brothel keeper decides to cash in on the
resentment against the Prophet by giving prostitutes names after the
Prophet's wives. Rushdie is not a stupid man. He should have known that
even the most liberal-minded of Muslims would not be able to tolerate
that kind of crass vulgarity.

The second objectionable passage deals with the revelations through
which the holy Koran came to be compiled. It is an article of faith with
the Muslims that Allah dictated the passages to Mohammed. In Rushdie's
novel the Prophet is accused of fiddling with the revelations to
accommodate idol worshippers and later ascribe them to the devil - hence
the title The Satanic Verses. Rushdie should have known that Muslims
the world over would not accept the version.

My advising Viking-Penguin (India) not to publish the novel in India was
in pursuance of my duty as an advisor. I warned them that it would
invite trouble, including violence, on its head. I am totally against
banning books or films for any reason whatsoever and was against banning
The Satanic Verses. People who don't want to read a book don't have to
read it. But what is one to do with religious frenzy and fanaticism? If
Penguin (India) had published the novel its offices would have been
wrecked and its staff manhandled. I saved them from taking that risk.

I am not sure if the Iranians have really revoked the fatwa against
Rushdie. However, there are others who have likewise offered rewards to
anyone who kills him. I will welcome Rushdie in India - it is his
homeland as much as it is mine. Although he has taken British
nationality, he has every right to come back to the country of his
birth. But I am not at all sure, if our government will be able to give
him the kind of protection he will require. Most of all because the
invitation extended to him is with dishonest motives.

(Khushwant Singh is a well-known writer and columnist)


Introduction: It's good to know that Rushdie can travel in India. Why
not lift the ban on The Satanic Verses as well? (Nirmal Verma)

Home minister L.K. Advani's recent statement regarding Rushdie's return
to India, came both as a relief and a shock. Shock because many of us
never knew why and when Rushdie was declared as persona non grata in
India. To my knowledge, no such order was passed, nor any such
declaration made in the press. So it was quite a surprise for me to know
that, India, the country of his birth has prohibited his entry. The fact
that he could now visit India comes as a relief.

In fact, many of us would have been happier if the present government
had revoked the ban on the book, which as is widely known, was imposed
by the Rajiv government by some bureaucratic officials, who hadn't even
bothered to read the book. More bewildering was the fact that the
unprecedented act of censorship was implemented by Congress rulers, who
never tire of harping on the Nehruvian ideals of secularism and freedom
of expression sanctified by our Constitution. What can be a more
strange example of "secularism in action," that the threats of a few
religious zealots could intimidate the ruling lights of the largest
democracy into banning the book and depriving its citizens of a chance
to read it and form their own opinion about its quality.

In this case, however, the issue is not the quality of Rushdie's
writings, but whether any government has a legitimate right to decide on
behalf of its citizens what they should or should not read. Won't we
ever realise that by banning a book, because it allegedly hurts the
religious sentiments of some people, we lose the moral or legal
authority to take effective action against those who may burn the
painting of some artist, simply because it hurts their religious
feelings? There is double standards of "secularist modernity", both in
public life as well as in the sphere of art. In Indian culture, there is
no line of demarcation between sacred and profane. All art is sacred,
precisely because it contains within itself all the profanities of
worldly life. This traditional concept of the sacred, itself, should
serve as the 'bedrock of genuine secular polity in our country.

Sahitya Akademi, which much to the dismay of many of us, kept silent on
the Rushdie affair, should be the first to demand, the removal of all
restrictions on books and writers. It should organise a debate among
Indian writers and intellectuals on the complex subject of respect of
religious sentiments of the people and the creative independence of the
artist, instead of leaving these intricate issues to the present-day
politicians, who are concerned only with short-term gains.
I personally disagree with many of Rushdie's views on art and
literature, particularly with his recent comments on writing in the
Indian languages. But I believe his freedom to travel in India should
not linked to his views on art or literature or even the type of books
he writes. These are very different issues. I also think that if he
spends some time in India, his appalling ignorance about Indian
literature will be reduced; and of course, he will be able to visit his
beautiful ancestral home in Solan.

(Nirmal Verma is a well-known Hindi writer. He spoke to Mohua


Comment by the Hindu Vivek Kendra

The remarks by Kushwant Singh exhibit the type of intellectual
bankruptcy that exists in this country. We are sure that if the present
government had continued the ban on the entry of Salamn Rushide, that
action too would have been determined to be an anti-Muslim one. At
least we now know from the horse's mouth that the banning of "Satanic
Verses" has been authenticated by those who call themselves secularists.

On the other hand, the remarks by Nirmal Verma show a great deal of
maturity. Some time back he had made the following perceptive remark:
"A writer writing in English has a cynical and critical outlook towards
the paradoxes of life. On the other hand, the regional writers have
deep empathy with the apparent incongruity in Indian life." How very

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