Muslim clerics in India have demanded that Salman Rushdie be prevented from visiting India to attend a literary festival. Rushdie is the author of The Satanic Verses, a 1988 novel that caused outrage among Muslims because it allegedly blasphemed Islam.
According to the Indian clerics, 65-year-old Rushdie should not be permitted to participate in the annual literary festival at Jaipur because he has hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past. According to Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, the vice Chancellor of the Darul Uloom seminary in the town of Deoband, northern India: "The Indian government should cancel his visa as Rushdie had annoyed the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past." Nomani said, “If he visits India, it would be adding salt to the injuries of Muslims. He has hurt our religious sentiments.”
Nomani told The Times of India that if the government fails to cancel the visa, the seminary will follow up the matter. He said: "We will write to the external affairs ministry, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi if the government doesn't cancel his visa."
Reuters reports Maulana Khalid Rashid Farangi Mahali, a Muslim cleric, supported Nomani: “India is a country where the sentiments of each community and caste are respected. And therefore such a man should not be permitted to come to the country.”
Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses, was banned in many Muslim countries, including India, and the late Ayatollah Khomaini of Iran issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill him. The fatwa forced Rushdie into hiding for about a decade.
The Independent reports that Rushdie has visited India a number of times in the past and participated in the 2007 Jaipur festival. According to The Guardian, Rushdie is scheduled to give a talk titled: "Inglish, Amlish, Hinglish: The Chutneyfication of English," a reference to an expression the writer coined in his Booker prize winning novel Midnight's Children.
The Indian law minister has suggested that the matter be referred to the courts. He said: "Why should the Congress stop [Rushdie]? There is law in the country. And if law permits, there must be a ban. But whatever is done, it should be done as per the law. We cannot do anything beyond law."
Rushdie has, however, explained that the clerics are mistaken in thinking he needs a visa to visit India. The writer posted a message on Twitter: "Re: my Indian visit, for the record I don't need a visa." The Guardian reports that Rushdie re-tweeted journalist Barkha Dutt's comment: "Ridiculous controversy being raised over @SalmanRushdie's visit to India. In my view shouldn't get media space either. Grow up India."
Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamworks Productions which produces the festival, said that Rushdie is a British citizen with an Overseas Citizen of India Card and therefore he does not need a visa to visit India. Roy confirmed that Rushdie will be attending the festival: "A literature platform like the Jaipur festival is a place for free speech in the best democratic traditions. Salman Rushdie has attended several literary events and forums in India in recent years without incident. This includes his attending the Commonwealth Writers' prize awards in 2000, and the Jaipur literature festival in 2007. In plural societies such as ours, it is imperative that we continue to allow avenues for unfettered literary expression."
No threats of physical harm have been issued, but the organizers of the festival in the state of Rajasthan say they will be providing security for the celebrities and high-profile participants. Among the celebrities expected at this year's festival is Oprah Winfrey.
The Jaipur festival is the biggest and most prestigious literary festival in Asia and runs this year from January 20 to 24.