Who else, but internationally acclaimed writer Salman Rushdie can best explain what it means to be constantly hounded, bullied and terrorised by fanatic groups. The fatwa issued against him for his controversial book "The Satanic Verses" way back in 1988 forced him to go on hiding for several years. The book was banned in India too. The "terror" of being "banned" to lead a normal life still haunts Rushdie.
Once again Rushdie was banned, this time in Kolkata. The Booker prize winner author was supposed to be in the city on Wednesday, Jan 30 to promote Deepa Mehta's film Midnight's Children, based on his book by the same name. He was supposed to attend a session at the Kolkata Literary Meet (KLM).
But it was state machinery ruled by Trinamool Congress (TMC) under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who made it a point not to let Rushdie enter Kolkata. Reason cited for stopping Rushdie to enter the city was that few Muslims feel the author is anti-Islam.
As far as the demon called "cultural terrorism" and freedom of writers are concerned, Rushdie said in an interview to CNN-IBN, "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 manpower to put on streets to defend our films, novels or paintings. So it's not hard to attack."
What Rushdie has succinctly expressed is echoing harshly for Kamal Haasan, as the actor-director is on the brink of bankruptcy, since he has put everything for his multi-crore film "Vishwaroopam". The film has been banned by Tamil Nadu government. Reason--fringe Muslim groups are saying the multilingual film depicts Muslim community as "terrorists".
Instead of protecting the film, which has been approved by Censor Board, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government is busy playing politics with the release of the film.
It was Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi who came up with the theory that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa government is the reason behind Kamal's woes.
"Kamal Haasan's refusal to sell the satellite rights of the movie to a channel close to the ruling party and instead selling it to another channel for a more profitable amount is being cited as one reason. Another reason appears to be Kamal's recent speech in which he had praised P. Chidambaram and wanted him -a dhoti-clad Tamil - to become the Prime Minister," Karunanidhi said.
The 58-year-old actor who is under heavy debt spoke on Wednesday of quitting Tamil Nadu and even India if his creative freedom continued to be curtailed under the guise of disrupting religious harmony.
"It happened to M.F. Husain. It will happen to Haasan," he said during an emotive interaction with the media.
An emotional Kamal was candid enough to tell journalists that ban on the film in his home state will force him to go completely bankrupt. "I have mortgaged all my property to the film's financier and could end up losing all of it if I do not start paying him from a particular date. I am willing to do that if that will ensure the unity of the country as the single judge had observed," Kamal said.
He added he would look for a secular state in India, since Tamil Nadu had ceased to be one, and relocate there and build a home from scratch.
"If I do not find such a state, I will settle down in a secular country. In that case, only my passport will change but I will continue to be a Tamil and Indian in my heart," he said.
Almost similar sharp reactions greeted Bollywood actor Shahrukh Khan when he laid bare his heart in an article about "Being a Muslim" in post-9/11 era. Later on the 47-year-old actor-producer had to explain himself to prove his "love for his motherland" India.
For most of the creative people in recent times--including scholar Ashis Nandy against whom FIRs have been lodged for his allegedly "anti-Dalit" remarks--who are facing the ire of radical groups, they are all struggling at an individual level.
An aghast Nandy said he was ready to be jailed for his comment. "If at 75, I am tried under the atrocities act and convicted then I'll go to jail, I'll not contest it because I have worked for Dalits and adivasis for 45 years and I am not going to take this insult. I will go to jail," he said.Conviction under FIR under section 3(1) of the SC/ST Act, which is non-bailable invites up to 10-years in jail.
Even state does not come to their rescue. Be it Kamal Haasan, Salman Rushdie, Shahrukh Khan and Ashis Nandy, they are all fighting against "lunatics" of India who are hell-bent on ending "freedom of expression".
In fact, Rushdie has earlier lamented over government's apathy towards protecting freedom of speech, a right well granted in our constitution. "Unfortunately, the authorities don't defend the right of people to express themselves," said the 65-year-old writer.
So, for now India remains a "gagged" nation?