The first ever literary festival in the disputed South Asian region of Kashmir has been cancelled after fears that violent may break out in the volatile region.
The festival, which was to be orginially held from 24-26th September and focus on local writings from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, has been indefinitelly been postponed by its organisers who said
“With many authors voicing 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. We are therefore left with little alternative but to cancel the festival for now”.
Kashmir has been a political flashpoint ever since 1947 when it was divided between India and Pakistan during the partition. Around 70,000 people are said to have died since the conflict began.
The event provoked widespread criticism after rumours emerged that Salman Rusdie, whose The Satanic Verses is banned in India, had been invited to speak at the festival. Despite the fact that the organisers deny that Rusdie was involved, many local writers planned to stage a boycott in protest.
Added to the Rusdie upset was the open letter signed by 200 noted writers from the region , including Mirza Waheed and Basharat Peer, stating their opposition to the festival saying,
“holding such a festival would, willy-nilly, dovetail with the state’s concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir. Even as the reality on the ground is one of utter abnormality and a state of acute militarisation and suppression of dissent, rights and freedoms.”
“A literary festival, by definition, is an event that celebrates the free flow of ideas and opinions. It not only assumes a freedom from fear,” the petition says, “it demands a certain independence of mind and spirit. To hold it in a context where some basic fundamental rights are markedly absent, indeed, denied to the population, is to commit a travesty.”
The organisers say they hope to ‘reenergise’ the festival at a later date when ‘calmer heads have prevailed’.