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Harud Literature Festival ‘postponed’

August 31, 2011

I think it is sad that the Harud Literature Festival has been “postponed“. Sadder still is that the organisers are blaming those who asked very valid questions. All they needed to do was answer those questions and allay those concerns. Their response, two days after the release of the open letter, did not address those concerns. They even refused to withdraw, leave alone apologise for, the offensive word “apolitical”, or explain how they planned to be “apolitical” while “celebrating” literature in the midst of unmarked graves, militarised bazars and lanes, draconian laws, imprisoned teenagers and the state’s refusal to dispense justice.

It is true that many Kashmiris were opposed to the idea of Salman Rushdie attending the festival, and while I may not agree with their views about whether Rushdie should be allowed to sit on a stage in Srinagar, I find it dubious that the Harud Literature Festival’s organisers blame the Rushdie rumour on a Facebook group by Kashmiris. The rumour about Rushdie was initiated by a mischievous report in The Times of India by Randeep Singh Nandal:

There is speculation that Salman Rushdie might drop by… [Link]

That report was perhaps the first about the Harud Literature Festival. It was published on 28 July 2011. The festival’s organisers denied the “speculation” about Rushdie only on 27 August. Why did they allow the “speculation” to gain circulation in Kashmir for a whole month? And if it was not a deliberate decision to not deny the speculation about Rushdie, why did the 27 August press release blame the speculation on a Facebook group and not The Times of India? Never mind if Randeep Singh Nandal is an unprofessional journalist who writes about “speculation” that he could have easily verified with a phone call, but why did the organisers of the Harud Literature Festival not deny this speculation right away?

Anyway, Supriya Nair is spot on:

But even if there were a movement to boycott Harud, I asked, how could it be equated to an explicit effort to shut the festival down? If the organisers thought that “those opposing the festival” should have “allowed this forum to go ahead and [expressed] their dissent at the festival” — then why not keep the festival on, and engage with their concerns? How could a peaceful interrogation of the festival’s principles be equated with a “denial of free speech” to those not part of a “vocal minority”? Surely the only way to deny speakers at the festival a chance to air their views would be to — cancel the festival? [Read the full post]

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are mine and may not be necessarily shared by all signatories of the open letter.)

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Haneef permalink
    August 31, 2011 6:37 PM

    a) You should not have written an open letter of dissent without taking the organisers’ point of view and merely based on vested interests’ online petition

    b) Being a journalist as you so claim, you should have varied the veracity of protest before publishing the dissent petition with signataries below. Because of this signature campaign and facebook mass hysteria, its but natural to cancel the festival so as not to jeopardise the security of participating writers.

    Hopefully next time you’ll be careful before joining a bandwagon mindlessly without varifying their locus standi

  2. August 31, 2011 6:41 PM

    Mr Vij, I have been directed to your comments on the above web site and have had the occasion to read through some of what you have written today and in the past. Please note as a policy I (we) are unable to respond to every press comments / facebook posting or twitter comment that involve our many festivals.
    An inaccurate report by TOI was picked up and used as the basis for many comments and views including those made by you. We have categorically stated that Salman Rusdie was not invited and was not attending the festival. This failed to convince both you and a number of other commentators.
    The climate of intolerance that seems to be spreading across India and the world needs to be debated. People take instant umbrage to almost everything and without bothering to understand the background or looking at the facts demand instant karma. Films are banned, books are burnt, festivals are cancelled all in the name of freedom. It is a shame and it is sad that the arts suffer in each incident. The written word and the arts is the only vehicle for expression, ban these and you might as well ban life itself. 46 authors confirmed to attend the festival out of approx 50 who were invited. 23 are from J&K, they have not been allowed their right to read, debate, dialogue and discuss due to what appears to be a motivated movement to disrupt the festival. You continue to justify your stand and you have a right to. I wish people like your selves showed the minimum courtesy and responsibility by ascertaining facts before commenting in public.

    • September 1, 2011 1:35 PM

      Dear Mr Roy,

      Thanks for your comment. Please note that the TOI report was not used by me in any way to make any comment on the festival. The offensive word “apolitical,” about which you have nothing to say, was made in another report.

      You don’t have to respond to every post, tweet, facebook comment but surely, given that you even had individuals working for you in Srinagar, some of the feedback about how the general public is seeing the festival must reach you? I am sure you would agree that in a conflict zone you must not only be neutral but also seen to be neutral – which is not the same as “apolitical” – to hold an event that seeks to give space to everyone.

      You write, “I wish people like your selves showed the minimum courtesy and responsibility by ascertaining facts before commenting in public.” I would give you the same suggestion in return, in respect to the Harud Litfest’s release that blamed not the ToI report but Kashmiris on Facebook for spreading the Rushdie rumour.

      I reject that charge that I have ever advocated, desired or contributed to the cancellation of the event, or that any of the signatories of the open letter posted on Kafila did so. As an admirer and well-wisher of your work, I do hope the Harud Litfest is a reality in Srinagar one day.

      Best
      Shivam Vij

  3. Sumedha permalink
    August 31, 2011 7:39 PM

    Well I hope you are proud of yourself. You are now squarely in the category of those who ban books, movies, paintings etc. So next time you want to shout yourself hoarse against the activities of right wing zealots, real and imaginary, take a deep breath and stop.
    All the people looking forwrd to this literary festival, like me, are disappointed because of your bullying tactics.
    Do introspect.

  4. September 1, 2011 2:59 AM

    My response to the thoughts of one of the members of advisory committee. The link to his article is followed by my response.

    http://openthemagazine.com/article/arts-letters/the-autumn-of-hypocrisy

    “The truth is that the festival has been sabotaged.”: Does mere expression of opposition to something amount to sabotage? First of all nowhere a call or opinion for boycott was expressed. Second, the letter was not simply circulated on internet but was addressed to the organizers of the festival to which they responded through the same medium. As their response was found to be inconclusive and not addressing the concerns raised, therefore few questions about the reasons for organizing the festival, about the list of guests and choice of venue were posed expecting them to allay the concerns of those who posed these questions. But instead the organizers and their advisers chose to cancel the festival for the ‘fear’ of disturbing the peace in Kashmir. This was tantamount to blaming the opposers with inciting violence. Wouldn’t it have been appreciable on part of the organizers to satisfy these concerns and come clean on all the issues? They could have postponed it and tried to adjust the festival taking into consideration what the people opposed to it were saying. They simply chose to run away only augmenting the argument of the opposition.

    When you talk of hearing the voices of repression of Suhail Bukhari or Zamruda Habib or the voices of Kashmiris you think are in need of to be heard out why to choose a place like DPS. These voices will be articulated in the confines of DPS to a selected audience among whom most of know what is happening inside Kashmir. Who will talk and who will listen? Ironically DPS in a way looks best place for this festival because the voices will strike against the surrounding mountain peaks and the highly fortified walls of that institution and won’t move beyond that. Even if few voices sneak out they will be lost in the noise of the bus stand that is located there. If you really want these voices to be heard take them to a mature and diverse audience like DU or JNU or some other place in India where they address people who actually need to hear these voices. All Kashmiris (although selected few would have been on the audience list) have experienced what these voices will have to say, so what purposes will this narrative serve in Kashmir? Isn’t it a futile exercise in name of freedom of expression, hearing of voices? Even in Kashmir, University would have been a better place for it would have provided a better audience. Or the organizers had a sort of debating competition in mind were the DPS students would cheer every speaker in spite of whether they understand him or not? Why not make it a meaningful exercise if it really meant the voices to be heard? And if the purpose is the literary development of the young Kashmiris, simply organize a workshop because that would be more useful.

    The people who ‘circulated the letter’ had one of the concerns about the secrecy of the list of invitees. So I just fail to understand which of the invitees was intimidated and by whom. One important thing that I have to unfortunately put in a relatively rude manner is about the assertion that you make about yourself. Do you really think people in Kashmir give a care to as who you are that they will conspire against you? Take a break man. A Kashmiri phrase comes to my mind ‘Panin Dal Khalen Seekus’ (loosely translated means ‘try to make Seekh kebabs of your Dal) and I don’t know an English phrase for it. And that is what you are trying to do.

    The opposition to Harud festival as strengthening of radical voices is rhetorical and far from reality. The opposition was from Kashmiris who have started to ask questions when something is done in the name of Kashmir and Kashmiris. And they have a right to that questioning? Kashmir is a sensitive place where every interested party tries to grind its own so an event loaded with so many suspicions will always be questioned. If my questioning something about which I am suspicious makes me radical I am one and will always be.

    In the end I am enclosing the links to the letter and the response from organizers and they will be useful in toning down the rhetoric in which the cancellation of the festival has been presented.

    http://kafila.org/2011/08/25/an-open-letter-on-the-‘harud’-literary-festival/

    http://kafila.org/2011/08/27/a-response-from-harud-literature-festival/

  5. Gowhar Fazili permalink
    September 1, 2011 12:13 PM

    This is more-or-less close to my view on the proposed festival. I am one of its critics while I would have wanted it to happen. The festival would in fact have provided us with a live, mediatized opportunity to examine and critique how cultural and academic spaces have functioned in Kashmir all along. The chief outcome and possibly the purpose of which institutions appears to be depoliticization i.e. the distancing and obscuring of the concerns of the people of Kashmir. That is why they are so evidently dead and deadening in their functioning, in their ritual practices as well as outcome.

    However despite this deadness, we do not call for shutting down of the universities, the so called Cultural Academy or the College of Fine Arts and so on and not only because these provide livelihood to many people. Far from it. The whole engagement with these institutions, (despite the suffocation it involves) is to make them actually alive and free. The fact that the state owns them does not make it obligatory upon the individuals involved in them to be subservient to the purposes of the state nor for us to reject them summarily but to stage a takeover through active intellectual engagement.

    Since the organizers of Harud have washed their hands off from hosting the festival in near future, it is my request to those who have been active in criticism and protest against it to compensate by arranging for an alternative festival in space/s that are accessible and open to common public and allow for free articulation of the widest range of voices through various literary and artistic media. This is the Autumn when it must happen and it should ideally be dedicated to the students and youth who died last summer without completing their schooling.

  6. Ab Ahad (Opressed Kashmiri) permalink
    September 1, 2011 12:50 PM

    Thank you Shivam for revealing the source and timing of the Rushdie rumor in the Litfest fiasco. “The festival’s organisers denied the “speculation” about Rushdie only on 27 August. Why did they allow the “speculation” to gain circulation in Kashmir for a whole month?”. This is yet another question added to the long list of queries which remain un-answered by the ‘organizers’ of the aborted event. Supriya’s analysis is indeed spot on and goes on to show how disguised and camouflaged can the states ways to deny the subjects genuine protests and dissent, be

  7. September 2, 2011 4:44 AM

    Here we go again. So one set of unctuous voices intones its magisterial disapproval of the frivolity of holding a literary festival in such a state of oppression. There are enough voices and sound effects off stage, beyond the penumbra of the petition, to ensure that people get the message: this festival is not Kosher; attend it at your moral peril. And, of course, in this state of oppression, where the state has its jackboot on the neck of every citizen, it is actually the insurgent politburo that decides whose throat is slit for dissidence or deviation from the party line.

    What of the petitioners? Lenin called their type ‘useful idiots’, and that is all they were. Nice, resounding names of nice, resounding idiots, good enough to add weight to what was after all a primitive act of censorship of free speech. So much for the manic protestations about violation of rights that emanates from these same censors, when they think they are being censored.

    And what of the future? Oh, that’s easily fixed. Now that we’ve established that the idea of the festival was doomed to failure, due to the appalling bad taste of considering any form of artistic activity against the black backdrop of tyrannical oppression, we must also record our protest against the withdrawal by the festival organisers.

    You didn’t get that? Well, actually, the petition was merely a petition, it was by no means a threat, it was not even a suggestion that the festival not be held. Only a civil prayer that the organisers understand what they were doing by calling the context ‘apolitical’.

    Therefore, clearly, the only thing to do is to defy the oppressor; by conducting artistic activity against the black backdrop of tyrannical oppression, fling defiance in the face of the oppressor.

    We shall hold a festival of our own, and reiterate our artistic integrity.

Trackbacks

  1. Hypocrisy In Any Season: Mridu Rai responds to Rahul Pandita on the Harud Literature Festival « Kafila
  2. Killing poetry and other possibilities of life « Kafila
  3. On the Harud Literary Festival, setting the record straight « Kafila
  4. Harud Literary Festival: The Misrepresentation Continues « Kafila
  5. To the Students and Faculty of Symbiosis University on the Censors in their Midst « Kafila
  6. The Place of Dissent in the Campus:Akshath Jitendranath writes from Symbiosis University, Pune « Kafila

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