The controversy over Harud, the festival of literature to be held in Kashmir, came to a head today with the organisers pulling out until further notice.

Here’s the press release from Teamwork, which also organises the Jaipur Litfest:

HARUD – THE AUTUMN FESTIVAL OF LITERATURE





FROM THE HARUD FESTIVAL SECRETARIAT

New Delhi, 29th August, 2011: It is with great sadness that we announce the postponement of the Harud Literary Festival. Born out of the best intentions to platform work of emerging and established writers in Kashmir, the festival has been hijacked by those who hold extreme views in the name of free speech.

A few people who began the movement to boycott the festival have no qualms in speaking on and about Kashmir across international forums, but have refused to allow other voices, including writers, poets and theatre people from the Valley and across India to enjoy the right to express themselves at the Harud festival.

If those opposing the festival truly believed in free speech, they would have allowed this forum to go ahead and would come and express their dissent at the festival. They could have put to test their claims that the festival would not allow for free speech and expression.

Expression through the arts are at risk across the world and more so in India. Literature is one way to transcend these barriers and provide a platform for inclusive ideas. This unfortunately will be the biggest loss, not just for Srinagar, but for all artists who believe in the right to express themselves.

We wish to reiterate the following:

1. The festival had invited approx 30 authors from Jammu and Kashmir and 20 from other parts of India. The festival had neither invited nor was planning to invite Salman Rushdie.

2. The festival program included sessions on ‘The Silenced Voice: Creativity and Dissent’, ‘Jail Diaries’, ‘Gulistan: The Forgotten Environment’ , ‘Lol’ha’rov: Echoes of the Valley’ , ‘Harud: Songs of the Season’ , ‘Chronicles of Exile’ , apart from other sessions on popular fiction, poetry, theatre etc.

3. We have received some funding support from corporate sources but we have received no funding from any government source..

4. The festival was to be hosted at the Delhi Public School, which earlier this summer hosted a literature festival for children that invited authors to come in from other parts of India.

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.

We hope that when calmer sense prevails, and we are confidently able to provide a sense of security to our speakers and guests, and writers from Kashmir feel the need for a platform to express themselves, we will reenergize the festival. 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.

Background:



1) Nawaz Gul Kanungo’s story on the controversies around Harud

2) An open letter from a group of writers and artists, including Basharat Peer, Mirza Waheed and Sanjay Kak, explaining why they didn’t plan to be at Harud.

3) The “Boycott Harud” Facebook page, which reads in the main like a really despicable attack on Salman Rushdie.