Readersforum's Blog

September 11, 2011

The Autumn of Discontent

Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

By LYDIA POLGREEN
It seemed like an innocuous enough idea: bring together the writers and readers in one of India’s most beautiful places to talk about literature. But the Harud Literature Festival, which was supposed to be held in Kashmir later this month — Harud means autumn — has become the subject of a bitter dispute that has played out in the pages of India’s best newspapers, magazines and blogs.This bitterness arises from one of the most complex and sensitive issues in India: the identity of a disputed region claimed by both India and Pakistan. Some of Kashmir’s most prominent literary voices declined to attend: Basharat Peer, author of an acclaimed memoir of growing up during the insurgency in the 1990s, and Mirza Waheed, a BBC journalist and writer of a novel called “The Collaborator,” about a young Kashmiri who secretly works with the Indian army.

They and several other writers and activists sent an open letter to the festival’s organizers:

“A literary festival, by definition, is an event that celebrates the free flow of ideas and opinions,” they wrote. “To hold it in a context where some basic fundamental rights are markedly absent, indeed, denied to the population, is to commit a travesty.”

They worried that the event would be used to portray the situation in Kashmir as “normal,” they continued, and took particular umbrage at the fact that one of the festival’s organizers called the event “apolitical.”

Abruptly last week, the festival’s organizers postponed the event, releasing a statement saying that the festival had been “hijacked by those who hold extreme views in the name of free speech.”

They also cited security threats, based on false rumors that Salman Rushdie had been invited to the event.

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