Update: Thanks to all those who participated in or started their own #flashreads groups in Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay, Kochi and Kolkata–what we had this year was several small groups of volunteers doing readings in libraries, markets and public parks. Special thanks to our youngest protestor in Delhi, 10-year-old Nikhil, who read from Luka and the Fire of Life.

Some of the suggestions that have come in for next year:

1) make it a larger protest. This wasn’t my intention when starting #flashreads, which was meant to be a small and personal way of protesting, but it would be really nice if someone did want to organise it in a bigger way, and if they could raise issues around free speech and censorship in college campuses next year.

2) include more readings from more Indian languages–absolutely, and many thanks to those of you who read from Faiz, Paash, Muktibodh, Gadar and VM Basheer this year.

3) have a Free Speech week, instead of a single day, starting on February 11 (World Free Expression Day) so that this could go beyond just the issue of banned books and censorship.

Just keeping these up here as a reminder–and once again, thanks for your time and your ideas.

(All posters courtesy the generosity of Sanjay Sipahimalani–for all four free speech posters, go to Antiblurbs.)

#flashreads for free speech/ Feb 14th:

THE IDEA: To celebrate free speech and to protest book bans, censorship in the arts and curbs on free expression

WHY FEBRUARY 14TH? For two reasons. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses. In GB Shaw’’s words: “Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.”
February 14th or Valentine’s Day has also become a flashpoint in India, a day when protests against “Western culture” by the Shiv Sena have become an annual feature. In Chandigarh, 51 Sena activists were arrested by the police after V-day protests turned violent in 2011. Our hope is to take back the day, and observe it as a day dedicated to the free flow of ideas, speech and expression.

#flashreads is a simple way of registering your protest against the rising intolerance that has spread across India in the last few decades. At any time on February 14th—we suggest 3 pm, but pick a time of your convenience—go out with a friend or a group of friends and do a quick reading. If you’d like some suggestions/ selected passages, here’s a link to some short passages. If you want more and longer selections, email me or leave a message on twitter.com/nilanjanaroy, and we’ll send you a selection. Or pick your favourite passage on free speech, or passages from a challenged book or the works of any writer who has faced sedition charges, a book ban or other forms of censorship.

One way to do an effective #flashreads is to work like a traditional #flashmob: with a group of three-ten friends, select what you’re going to read in advance, and do the reading without announcement in a place like a Metro station, the area outside Dilli Haat, the open spaces in malls, each person picking up from the previous reader. Have fun.

Places where you might do public readings: subway and Metro stations, public parks, coffee shops, open areas in malls. If you’re talking about Flashreads on Twitter, please use the #flashreads hashtag.

If you have a blog, a tumblr or a website, an easy way to join in is to post Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear” (see below) on your site for a day, or choose any other passage on free speech/ censorship that appeals to you. Or write a post about free expression and what it’s meant to you in your own life.

Where the mind is without fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

~Rabindranath Tagore