September 21st, 2012
05:55 PM ET

Rushdie: India close to no longer being open society

Watch Fareed Zakaria’s interview with author Salman Rushdie on GPS, Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET

Global Public Square speaks with Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” and the new book “Joseph Anton: A Memoir,” about freedom of expression in India.

What did you make of the decision by the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year, following protests and threats of violence, to pull out from screening a live video link with you?

Two things. I think one is that this was clearly being manipulated because there were elections coming up and somebody thought that they would get more Muslim votes if they came out against me. It’s very strange, because I’d been to the Jaipur festival four years earlier and there was no trouble, so it was a manufactured problem for electoral gain. It was rather gratifying that the Congress Party that had done this actually saw its share of the Muslim vote go down, so it showed that it was ineffective. But basically, it was engineered in such a way that I was unable to go to the festival, which was annoying. Especially as I went to a conference in Delhi four weeks later – and Delhi is the capital, whereas Jaipur is a provincial city – and there was not a whisper of a problem. Some of the less scrupulous bits of the Indian media went to the same people who made the trouble at Jaipur and said “look he’s over there – why aren’t you making a fuss?” But because there wasn’t an election going on, there was nothing. It wasn’t a real problem. I’ve been going to India at least once a year for years and it’s usually fine.

Were you disappointed at the failure of politicians in India to stand up for freedom of speech over this?

Yes. And truthfully I don’t think the organizers of the festival handled it as well as they could have done. But everything colluded to create that problem and I would hope that as I was able to demonstrate by going to another seminar, it’s not really a recurring problem, it was a one-off blip.

There has been speculation that the move based on your book Midnight’s Children is struggling to find a distributor?

I think sometimes I get annoyed with the way the media jumps the gun. We only showed it at the Toronto Film Festival less than two weeks ago. We have since then been talking to distributors around the world and selling distribution rights all the time. And we’re actually in conversation with Indian distributors. So, in the end, I believe it will be fine.

You said in a recent interview that Pakistan was “on the road to tyranny.” Do you think what appears to be an increasing problem with extremism there will further undermine ties with India?

Relations could scarcely be worse, but I think it will certainly make it more difficult to defuse the situation. What I was trying to say in that interview was that it used to be the case that the mass of the population in Pakistan was not very radicalized, and actually had a very moderate or even casual relationship with Islam. Interestingly, given that it was founded as an Islamic state, the attitudes of the people were not very conservatively Islamist. When they were asked to vote in elections they would vote for non-Islamist parties, secular parties. That’s beginning to change now, and the attitudes of the public at large seem to be getting gradually more radicalized. So, for instance, when the governor of Punjab was killed for clearly defending an innocent woman, a large part of public opinion supported the assassin, because apparently the support of an innocent woman against the charge of blasphemy was sufficiently anti-Islam to justify murder. That’s a great shift in the mood of the country if the mass of the people have begun to think like that.

It always used to be the case that there was a three-part power structure in Pakistan. You’ve got the Army, the intelligence services and the elected government. The elected government is the weakest of these, and was and remains primarily secularist rather than religious. It used to be that the Army was secularist as well – British Sandhurst-educated officers. That’s changed, and now the new generation, top brass of the army is much more religious in its motivation. And the intelligence service, the ISI, always was. So now you have the two most powerful parts of that three becoming more Islamist than before, and so the character of the country has changed.

The Indian government, meanwhile, seems to be getting increasingly prickly when it comes to criticism and freedom of expression.

It’s not just the government. I think what is happening is a very difficult time now because there are attacks on freedom of expression both from political figures, but also from religious sectarian groups, and hooligan groups. And this isn’t by any means confined to books or writing. There was recently an attack on the freedom of a political cartoonist for doing something perfectly innocent and normal for a political cartoonist to do, which was to satirize corruption in the government. And there have been attacks on art galleries showing work that some sectarian group disapproved of. There have also been attacks on academic scholarship, for example at Delhi University, and in Pune where a scholarly library was attacked. And Rohinton Mistry’s novel was taken off the syllabus at Bombay University because of attacks by extreme sectarian Hindus.

So, whether it’s movies, literature or scholarship, there is an increasing willingness to prevent things being said, with the state not usually defending the rights of the individuals concerned. So I think I think we are getting very close to the point where you could say India no longer has an open society.

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Topics: India

soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. krm1007 ©™

    I continue to read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that India is “Too Big To Succeed” in a socio-politico context. Although experts use this in an economic sense, its geo-political connotations are indeed powerful. Empowering subjugated minorities in India by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to India with no return to show for the investment. I concur with this approach and find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern and for democracy to take traction.

    September 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • rijo

      wow..who forgot the pill this morning !

      September 22, 2012 at 12:54 am | Reply
      • krm1007 ©™ aka Kareem Pakistani

        180 millions Pakistani forgot to take pills today -Or should we say, US/UN forgot to supply free pills to bankrupt Pakistan today!!!

        September 22, 2012 at 10:18 am |
      • T. Pilley

        Why? Did you pregnant from last night fling?

        September 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • I Am Not The One To Mince words

      Super duper! I agree with your observations. India is too big to succeed. We have been trying to make it succeed since the first split in 1947 and have failed tremendously. It is draining too much of world resources.

      September 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
      • Srinivas

        Sorry to say Mr, you are having delusions of grandeur. Nobody is trying hard except the Indian people. Just because you are helping Africa and other frontlline states such as Pak/Afghanistan , it does not mean you are helping India. Just one example, we were the first country to respond to our neighboring countries during the 2004 Tsunami.
        Wake up Mister.

        September 25, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Agreed, america should not be feeding india, while americans starve. India and china are the downfall of the world. 2 nations with half the world population. Sickening.

      September 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Reply
      • Vikrant1993

        The USA has never helped India much way,other that starting after 2003.Other than that India has been exporting food to the US vs. the US exporting it to India.

        September 25, 2012 at 4:38 am |
      • Anu

        American dream has NEVER come to Indian immigrants for free. We become hard-working law-abiding tax paying citizens when we emigrate. Every small time crook who bends rules here in India turns into a perfect citizen in USA. When we stay here in India, we neither support not oppose America's foreign policy. We don't want to do anything with your frat parties or bullying tactics around the world. India has never waged any war or coup against USA. India has always been the good boy at the UN table and paid a heavy prize for it. So if anything USA is more like a pain in the butt for us than a sugar daddy.
        Foreign companies are weary of India its because of our bloated beaurocracy that can't let go of the nehruvian "socialize profits privatize losses" policies. That's actually a bigger problem than corruption (which usually gets all the attention). If BIG corporation is a problem in USA, BIG government is a problem in India. The business environment in India is healthy but not fertile enough to expect HUGE success. that's what experts mean when they say India is too big to succeed.

        October 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  2. Sanjeev/Lucknow/India

    Rushdie is like a hair on the b@lls of a skunk. he stinks. No morals...no principles.....no guts. He hid like a rat for years and now he is surfacing to get some attention. His ideas are the domain of a 16 year old.

    September 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Reply
    • James C.

      That's called an "ad hominem." It's what you do when you've lost the debate: You attack the debater. This doesn't make your side true or his side false, it just says "he's a doodoohead." Try engaging in an actual debate of the issue next time.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
      • muhammad

        Good learning of the day. Thanks james

        September 22, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • obama

      Couldn't agree with u more. You just hit the bullseye. 100% spot on.

      September 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Reply
      • obama

        I mean agreed with Sanjv.

        @James:STFU

        September 21, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Hamilton Talbot

      thanks for speaking up your mind @Sanjeev

      September 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      Your post supports Rushdie's claim that India in becoming a closed society, unable to accept criticism and unable to allow free speech. I'm sure the next time Iran's leader issues a death threat to you, you'll be on the next plane to Tehran.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:36 am | Reply
  3. Plagiarism!

    Fareed committed plagiarism. Why is he still on the air?? Please post if this concerns you as well.

    September 21, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  4. svpyadav

    Respected Mr. Fareed Jakaria Garu,
    In Pakistan Islamist Parties are enjoying with Fruits, for that, I S I was supported. 9/11 U. S. was suffered by Osamabin Laden,in this case, Pakistan supported to Osamabin Laden and he residing at besides of Milatory Base in Pakistan.
    Respected Salman Rushie Garu, what said, these all are Islamist Terrorist groups concerns.
    About Pakistan, Every weak or 10 days once, Bomb Blastings are done in Public places. These all are arising from from I S I ad iter link with Pakistan Govt.
    About Indian conerns, Resopected Mr. Rushdie Garu, was not eligible to speak about Worlds biggest Democratic Country INDIA.

    September 22, 2012 at 2:51 am | Reply
  5. krm1007 ©™

    I continue to read South Asian nuclear-armed muslim fundamentalist State Pakistan with interest the article presented on New Yark Times that Pakistan is “Too Big To Resolve Islamic Exrimist Threats to the Civilized World” in a socio-politico context. Although experts use this in Extremism sense, its geo-political connotations are indeed powerful. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (Pashto: مرکزي قبایلي سیمې; Urdu: قبائلی علاقہ جات) is a semi-autonomous tribal region in the northwest of present-day Pakistan, lying between Afghanistan to the west and north, and the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the east and Balochistan to the south. The FATA comprises seven agencies (tribal districts) and six frontier regions. The territory is almost exclusively inhabited by Pashtun tribes, who also live in the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan and are Muslims by faith. Empowering subjugated minorities in Pakistani Agencies in FATA by splitting Pakistan into smaller 13 states, would trigger urban economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to Pakistan with no return to show for the investment. I concur with this approach and find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that Pakistan has an unmanageable large Sunni population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern and for democracy to take traction. In 2001 the Pakistani military entered the FATA for the first time in history. In 2010, The New America Foundation and Terror Free Tomorrow conducted the first comprehensive public opinion survey in FATA. The results showed that when it came to fighting militancy in the region, the people of FATA overwhelmingly support the Pakistani Taliban, Haqqani Network. Nearly 90 percent opposed the Pakistani military pursuing Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the Tribal Areas. Indeed, when asked how FATA should be governed, 79 percent say it should be governed as Independent states. The article interestingly points out the following Pakistan FATA agencies should be split in to independent states.

    Bajaur Agency
    Mohmand Agency
    Khyber Agency
    Frontier Region Peshawar
    Frontier Region Kohat
    Orakzai Agency
    Kurram Agency
    Frontier Region Bannu
    North Waziristan Agency
    Frontier Region Lakki Marwat
    Frontier Region Tank
    South Waziristan Agency
    Frontier Region Dera Ismail Khan

    September 22, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Reply
    • obama

      Couldn't agree with u more Kareem. You just hit the bullseye. 100% spot on.

      September 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
    • Peter Trussle

      It seems that the real @ krm1007 ©™ has gotten under the skin of some elements aligned with Neo Nazis in India. If so, then tip of the hat to him as that was probably his goal .... to rile them up and flush them out. Smart person.

      September 22, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  6. muhammad

    Good learning of the day. Thanks krm1007!!!!!

    September 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  7. Abdullo

    why Rushdie singling out India, and not America or European countries?? Oooooo he is supposed to criticize India like his fellow Muzzalman to get his place back in muzlum world.

    September 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • frankhy

      Ehhh... Maybe he is "singling out" India because it is his home country? Don't you single out your homeland as somewhat more important to you than the rest of the world?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Salman Rushdie is of Kashmiri descent and criticised both India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and called for Kashmir for the Kashmiris. He believed India and Pakistan could make peace by reuniting the Pakistan-occupied part of Kashmir with the Indian-occupied part and restoring the old borders. One could have both India and Pakistan agreeing to guarantee those borders, demilitarise the area, and to invest in it economically. Yet both countries don't seem to be prepared to agree on solving the conflict.

    September 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      The two men Salman Rushdie and Imran Khan can't stand each other. The latter didn't attend the festival and criticised Rushdie for his anti-Pakistan critics. Khan is the founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice Party), which is set to unseat the current government in next year's election.

      September 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  9. There You Have It

    This guy Rushdie is the product of a sicko Indian society.

    With such "Dark Age" culture still in existence in India how can the world be healthy and the neighbors prosperous. India poses a grave danger to the world and its deities and leaders set a bad example. Mahatma Gandhi, a pedophile, needs to be exposed and tried posthumously for his child molestation crimes just like the Penn State crowd Sandusky et al. Gandhi's statutes need to be knocked down everywhere they have been put in USA. The hindu deities need to be shattered and trashed. Disgusting figurines of ugly and scary looking characters with demonic personalities. How can hindu children grow up mentally stable looking at such atrocious representations of evil in its most heinous form.

    September 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • Vikrant1993

      Gandhi a pedophile? What the hell have you been smoking? And who are you say these peoples religion is wrong and scary.Which religion are you from?I can clearly name tons of crap about your religion,that not longer exists today,but it will still be effective enough to show why your religion should crumble. And I can tell you one thing,Hindu children grow up to be successful and mentally stable.If you have problem,then don't go to India and don't go to a Hindu temple and just walk away and mind your own business.Because,if you mentioned your religion to me.I could probably bring bad things it inspired many to do in the past and the present.Though whats the use,your just an ignorant close minded fool.That doesnt know how to open a book.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:27 am | Reply
  10. Cabot L

    I am really surprised that Salman Rushdie finds the following cult like elements of Hindu society acceptable. One would have expected such an intellectual person emanating from that very society would have spoken against it.

    HINDU KALI – GODDESS OF VIOLENCE/TERRORISM

    A recent report by United Press trust of India (UPI) stated that during the past three years more than 2,500 young boys and girls were sacrificed to goddess Kali in India. Another of AFP's recent reports say: hundreds of young boys and virgin girls are sacrificed every month for the deity Kali. In one case Rama Sewak hacked his eight year old son to death in broad daylight in Delhi because goddess Kali had told him he would come back to life and bring him good fortune. Bloodthirsty Kali is worshipped openly the length and breadth of India. Kali's statue stands naked astride the inanimate body of the Hindu deity Shiva, tongue stuck out with blood dripping from fang-like teeth. She holds a noose, a skull-topped staff, a blood-encrusted sword and a severed head. She is also known as Durga, Devi, Shaktima, Uma and Parvathi in other manifestations. The priest of Delhi, Kali Bari, says that a child sacrificed to Kali ensures a man the birth of a son. Human sacrifices are also made to these gods or goddesses, either to appease them or to ask favours of them.

    September 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
    • Jack-O

      send Pakistanis and Arabs to Goddess Kali. She likes moslem heads better.

      September 22, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Reply
      • Peter Trussle

        Kali is a h@rny b!tch. Likes hindus or beer bellied Americans. LOL !!!!

        September 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  11. sammy

    Rushdie is not a british indian,he is indian and should sod off back there instead of cost the british taxpayer millions to keep him safe.Pity the fatwallahs didn't get him years ago.Now we have some paki minister putting up cash for killing the bloke
    who made the crappy video about mohammed on u-tube.The country is a bigger threat to the world than iran,north korea and all the other nutters put together.

    September 22, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  12. Reprinted With Permission ©

    India has become a dinosaur. A Smithsonian specimen. Like humpty dumpty even USA, NATO and the entire free world are having a tough time holding it together. Living in the shadows of Pakistan, defined by China, haunted by Kashmir and punctuated by Terror Organizations such as Shiv Sena, India is struggling to find a meaning for its existence and a place in the new world order. How can it stand up? Certainly not on its feet .....perhaps on its knees to seek redemption for double crossing USA in Afghanistan and Iran. Typical of Indian DNA. Too bad Jerry Sandusky is behind bars.

    September 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Reply
    • Katie Oberman

      What a tremendous post !!!! This person belongs in CIA !!!

      September 22, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Reply
    • Vikrant1993

      Double crossed the US and living in the Shadows of Pakistan? Dude,I think you got your nations mixed up. India has never double crossed the US in Afghanistan.That was Pakistan,you know the nation where Osama was killed? Other than that yes your right. Though Shiv Sena to be honest,isnt a real threat. If the government wanted to,it could eliminate it had a chance.But,sadly it is so corrupt that they are busy getting distracted on how much money to steal.All India needs is a goal for its Republic .Also for that to happen,they need honest,strong,bold,and young leaders that will clean the country of corruption and restore law and order.After that only can India stand on its feet.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:34 am | Reply
  13. lee

    Respect all people , all cultures and ideas if you want peace . Endores diversity in reality , not only in talking . Everyone will not be like west . If your arrogancy make you blind leading you to impose your ideas on rest of world , it ultimately produce hate and confliction . Which is why everyone abominate America . Rushdie and american should know it .

    September 23, 2012 at 5:31 am | Reply
  14. thomas

    My impression is that India is basically an ethiclesss society based on greed–a trait shared in some aspects with China.

    Like the wealthy Chinese, their looking for greener pastures in Western democracies, while maintaing some links to the mother country.

    Good luck in finding those pastures.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  15. krm1007 ©™

    We continue to monitor the economic, political and cultural bubble burst/malaise in India and are very concerned with the continued state of deterioration. At this point, we restate our view that India is in a precarious situation and that a geo-political implosion is imminent (if not already in process) and the need of the hour. As you will recall, India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to prop it up. Additionally, it is also too big of a geographical unit to govern. Americans now need to focus on its own people and cannot afford to handout more financial and technological aid to India.

    We believe that this defragmentation of India will unleash boundless opportunities and uber economic demand that will be beneficial to US and Europe and help pull them out of current recessionary trends. We pray for the events to unfold peacefully and in a harmonious manner for the people of India and its neighbors.

    September 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
    • Charlie Felt

      Tremendous economic opportunities for all from fragmenting India.

      September 25, 2012 at 9:25 am | Reply
  16. Muin

    Republicans caused so much damage to economy but President is still running only 5 points ahead on CNN's poll of polls. President Clinton knows how much damage bank deregulation did to U.S and global economy which was passed by republican congress. Tax cuts didn't create exploding growth but it put U.S government and local government in trouble because it has the lowest revenue in history. And also keeping Iraq war off the budget passed on the burden to Obama administration who was oppossed to war from the beginning.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  17. Coutu

    We remain extremely appalled and highly concerned about the continued medieval cultural and barbaric social practices prevalent in the name of Hinduism in India. Much to our chagrin, the human rights organizations are either turning a blind eye towards these injustices or are being paid off to look the other way. We are particularly aware of the victims of such practices, namely, young children and women especially those women who are pregnant and are bearing a female embryo. They are being mistreated or simply sacrificed in the name of their deities. To the civilized world such atrocious behavior is repulsive and is condemned in the strongest words. We urge the Indian Hindus to immediately cease and desist from such unacceptable norms. To them we say the world is watching and will see to it that justice prevails.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • Vikrant1993

      Who are you to define what is right and wrong? Huh? It's the only oldest religion that hasn't changed its views and hasn't ever been tampered with. Yes,their are aspects that are outdated,but the facts are some of those practices are banned in India.Maybe its time you should stop reading books that are outdated and start reading books on what has changed over years in India.Plus do you not understand the concept of a norm. If a certain aspect if life is a norm in your culture,its going to be the opposite in another culture.Whether you like it or not.Though some things you consider norms,are now outdated and even outlawed.As I said before,times have changed and its time people start reading more modern descriptions of India,over using outdated books.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:15 am | Reply
      • Kettle Two

        INDIA: On a Goat and a Stick:

        The problem with India is that is built on a system of cultural and societal values based on Hinduism which is a cult. Nations built on a cult seldom survive in the long run. You can only take it so far based on symbolisms of a goat and a stick with a skinny little man aka gandhi banging boys at night and spinning wheels during daytime.

        September 25, 2012 at 9:23 am |
      • Bapu1900

        LIPSTICK ON A COW: Making India (Hindustan) look pretty

        There is so much one can do to make an ugly country look good.
        But whatever you do in case of India is analogous to spattering some cheap lipstick on a cow.
        Now one may not want to kiss this cow but sure would love some hamburgers!!
        LMAO!!!

        September 25, 2012 at 9:24 am |
      • Anu

        Vikrant, Don't waste your breath arguing with anti-Hindu propagandists. They are paid by rich organizations to spew such garbage. They feed their children by practising willful ignorance about other religions. They are encouraged to read ONLY 18th century history books about India.

        October 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Stolichnaya

      You are right about India...a very middle ages people.

      ARE INDIANS UBER TERRORISTS OR WHAT???? Forget the GDP, focus on these murder statistics.
      In India, millions of girls are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash. Moreover, in India, at least 1,370 girls are aborted every day. As a comparison, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic progress, 10 million girls have died as such in India.
      SHAME ON INDIA AND ITS BARBARIC AND MEDIEVAL CULTURE !!!
      Indians have killed more human beings (girls particularly) than Al Qaeda and Talibans put together.

      September 25, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply

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