A new cultural “emergency” is emerging in India, and writers, painters, and filmmakers are becoming soft targets, says author Salman Rushdie, citing the national “Emergency” during 1975-77.
“It seems that culture has become the new target. It may be because the writers, painters, filmmakers, artists don’t have armies. We don’t have the boys to put on streets to defend our film, novel or painting. So it’s not hard to attack,” Rushdie said in an interview to news channel CNN-IBN.
Rushdie, who has been amidst controversy for long for his book “The Satanic Verses”, which has been perceived as anti-Islamic, said it is “unfortunate” authorities do not defend the artists.
“The strange form of identity politics has developed in which people don’t define themselves with things they love but by the things they hate. So to attack a book about the Ramayana, book about Shivaji or painting about Saraswati… these things are easy to do. That somehow galvanize the sense of identity of these extremist forces,” he said.
“Unfortunately the authorities don’t defend the right of people to express themselves, but blame them. For instance, I heard one police officer saying the Jaipur Lit Fest organisers not to do anything that defames someone,” he said.
Filmmaker Deepa Mehta echoed the sentiment, noting that nobody had the right to curtail other’s freedom of expression and artists needed to carry on with their work.
“It’s been going on with me for about five years now. It started with ‘Fire’. At that point when the Shiv Sena attacked theatres, there was a point I thought I won’t make another film that has anything to do with India… Then there was ‘Water’. ‘Water’ was closed down, I said not again. But you have to carry on. Because, if you have a story that moves you, nobody has the right to say you not to tell that story because it might offend somebody,” she said.
Mehta’s film “Fire”, based on homosexual relations, and “Water”, which was based on lives of widows in an ashram in Varanasi, came under severe attack from some right-wing groups.
Her latest project is based on Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel “Midnight’s Children”.
Rushdie added that the India needs to decide what kind of a country it wants to be.
“That’s about India also. What a country would you like to be? A country where Kamal Hassan’s films, Deepa’s films can be seen, Pak (Pakistani) writers can visit and share their ideas, painters as great as Hussain are not forced to exile, the works of great scholar like Ramanujan is allowed to be studied. In the country we believe it to be, all these things should be possible,” he said.