Panelists Quit JLF New York, BJP’s Shazia Ilmi Says ‘Cancel Cancel Culture’
JThe New York edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival or JLF was meant to reflect his influence and reach beyond India’s borders. But instead, the festival held September 12-14 in New York City has been criticized for “normalizing Hindutva”. At least two panelists withdrew from the event, allegedly because they did not want to share the stage with BJP national spokesperson Shazia Ilmi.
Although the panelists themselves did not release statements, author Aatish Taseer claimed they were afraid to do so publicly. It’s because “they have connections with people at the festival,” he told the Middle Eastern Eye.
The organizers of the festival, however, have denied these allegations.
“Married [Brenner] told us she was traveling,” said Sanjoy K. Roy, general manager of Teamwork Arts, which organized the festival. Brenner is an author, investigative journalist and general writer for vanity lounge. The other panelist who withdrew was Amy Waldman, a former reporter for The New York Times and author of two books.
Ilmi was invited to participate in a panel discussion on September 14 and deliver the closing speech.
“JLF is a platform for all kinds of voices. They have every right to cancel [their appearances]“Roy told The Print.
Taseer and Ilmi took to Twitter to expand on the controversy.
“Let’s also not forget that it was too loose a festival to accommodate @SalmanRushdie in 2012 when there was a Congress government. One can only imagine the eagerness with which they were prepared to do @Narendra Modi‘s auction”, Taseer tweeted Tuesday. Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of India card was revoked in 2019.
“It’s time to cancel the cancel culture”, Ilmi tweeted in response. Finally, Ilmi spoke, both during the panel discussion and at the closing ceremony.
“The chorus of protesters grew louder as they held up signs against India! And against this very hateful backdrop, I spoke of the need to bury the hate within and within outdoors,” she later tweeted about her speech.
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Cancel valid culture or review
Sanjoy Roy attributed the uproar to the culture cancellation, saying it was an attempt to “cancel” “a Dalit writer and a young right-wing Muslim woman”. The Dalit writer in question is Guru Prakash, another BJP spokesperson invited to speak at the event. Guru Prakash and Shazia Ilmi were panelists in a discussion on “Intersections: Searching Equity” moderated by journalist Prashant Jha.
Writer and historian Audrey Truschke was particularly critical of JLF.
“I have spoken to the JLF twice in the past. Also in the past, JLF organizers have privately encouraged me to tone down my criticisms. Given these experiences + JLF’s BJP connections, I appreciate people’s reluctance to speak for them,” Truschke declared on Twitter.
Roy disagreed with the “narrative” that was being created, mentioning the panelists who did speak – which included Indian-American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, politician and diplomat Gopal Krishna Gandhi and renowned Ugandan writer of Indian descent Mahmood Mamdani. Suchitra Vijayan, founder of the New York-based Polis Project, which conducts and publishes research on the inequities of the Modi government, expressed her disappointment with Mamdani.
“As India itself is becoming an apartheid state, this is intellectual dishonesty at its worst and deeply saddening for those of us who grew up with its work[sic],” she said Middle Eastern eye.
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Business as usual for JLF
JLF is billed as one of the biggest literary festivals in the world, JLF 2022, held in Jaipur, being its fifteenth edition. This is far from the first controversy he has entered. Salman Rushdie’s near-visit in 2012 and Ashish Nandy’s caste comment in 2013 are some of the major ones.
Roy argues that “JLF invariably stands for protest.” He also said the actual number of protesters who showed up at the event in New York City was only four. On the evening of September 14, Shazia Ilmi gave her opening speech.
The literary festival has now moved to Houston, with a speaker list that includes more members of the literary elite. In 2023, he will return to Jaipur.