Hyderabad: On Friday, literary readers held a ‘Reading Banned Books’ at Lamakaan, an event with an agenda to bring an understanding of the importance of listening to other voices in our intolerant times.
Organiser, Dr Ashley Tellis, a professor in English Literature, said, “The whole idea of reading Wendy Doniger’s and Salman Rushdie’s much reviled books is to bring an understanding in society that freedom of writing and reading should not be killed. No voice should be silenced for the sake of politics and narrow immaturity of understanding. We have to listen to all voices and see what we can learn from them, even if we disagree with them.”
In the first hour of this event, readers read from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History and and discussed about how the writers are being judged for their writing without being read and without understanding that what points have been raised or that they tried to bring to light.
Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religion at the University of Chicago, was in the news when Aleph had published her book The Hindus: An Alternative History in India.
Right wing activist Dinanath Batra (founder of the educational activist organisation Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti and Shiksha Sanskriti) and other people and orga-nisations had expressed outrage and made a hue and cry against the book, calling it unfit for the Indian society.
After the multiple lawsuits the publisher withdrew the book. Publisher Ravi Singh quit Aleph over this and published the book again with his own publishing house, Speaking Tiger. Salman Rushdie’s book was never published in India and became the centre of an international storm thirty years ago when Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to execute Rushdie and the West rose in support of him and freedom of speech.
Dr Tellis, striking a political note, urged right wing activists to come, sit, listen and understand the real meaning of what someone writes before jumping to conclusions about it and destroying people’s lives and careers.
He spoke of the pain of a writer like Perumal Murugan and his vow not to write ever again when he was attacked. Further, he shared that he received a call from the Hyderabad police asking about the motive of the ‘Reading Banned Books’ event and he said he invited the police to be the part of the book reading session and the discussion.
Masrook Dar, of the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, and reader of the extracts from Rushdie, on being questioned about the agenda of the ‘Reading Banned Books’ event replied that “It is an effort to bring an understanding that people should refrain from making opinions before reading the literature as everyone has his own ideas and freedom to speak.
“Writing is an art articulated in words and must be respected,” he said.
A lively discussion followed in the second hour with participants quoting Edward said and warned against racist and imperialist critiques of religions like Islam. Other writers and works were discussed, from Taslima Nasreen to Irshad Manji and Angaarey to Manto.
Dr Tellis said he hopes this event will become a series which will be held regularly to increase tolerance and the capacity to read and listen in our increasingly intolerant and illiterate times....