The festival was to be staged September 24-26 in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city, but organizers said Monday that it had been called off after some local and Indian authors and filmmakers wrote an open letter in protest.
“Holding such a festival would dovetail with the state’s concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir,” read the letter, signed among others by leading Kashmiri writers Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed. Opponents have set up a Facebook page to argue against the festival, saying there is no freedom of speech in Kashmir.
Anti-India sentiments run high in the region, which has been wracked by a deadly insurgency against New Delhi’s rule since 1989.
Cancelling the event, organizers said that many participants “have voiced their concerns about possible violence during the festival due to the heightened nature of the debate, and a call for protest at the venues.”
“We neither have the desire to be responsible for yet more unrest in the valley nor to propagate mindless violence in the name of free speech,” a statement said. “We are therefore left with little alternative but to cancel the festival for now.”
’Pink city’ of Jaipur
Those arranging the literary festival are also responsible for a similar event held each January in India’s “pink city” of Jaipur. The Jaipur festival this year gave pride of place to Indian Kashmir, whose literature has been marked by more than two decades of rebel violence.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has a rich literary tradition dating back to the 14th century, but few outsiders are familiar with works from the region because much of it has never been translated.
Salman Rushdie not invited
But an increasing number of Kashmiri books are now appearing in English as interest grows.
Organizers made it clear that they had not invited Salman Rushdie, as was reported in some media.
“We hope that when calmer sense prevails and we are confidently able to provide a sense of security to our speakers and guests, we will re-energise the festival,” the statement said.
“Till then, it is a sad day for us and a victory for a vocal minority who feel that they alone are the doorkeepers to peoples’ minds and hearts.”
Violence has sharply declined in the region since India and Pakistan, which hold the region in part but claim it in full, started a peace process in 2004.