The Jaipur Literature Festival, or to give it its rightful name this year, the ZEE-Jaipur Literature Festival, has, like every other year, attracted a number of well-known authors. But this year in India is not like any other year. We have a new government in place, and the change from one dispensation to another is reflected in the festival as Tarun Tejpal gives way to Tarun Vijay.
Of course it is not incumbent upon the festival to reflect on this change; politics need not be the stuff of literature. But over the past year, a man named Dinanath Batra—who has the full endorsement of the current dispensation—has had considerable success in ensuring that publishers think more than twice about publishing anything that may annoy the Sangh Parivar, which is but a name for the vast amorphous machinery of Hindutva ideologues that drives the BJP. So even if politics does not concern the festival, its impact on literature should.
The facts about Batra are well known, but still worth repeating. In February 2014, after a four year legal battle, Batra successfully persuaded Penguin to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, and pulp the remaining copies. Soon after, in March, another publisher, Aleph, received a letter from Batra regarding a different book by Doniger, On Hinduism. Amidst proceedings that spread across many months and much confusion, Aleph—a much smaller publisher than Penguin—was able to ensure that the book was not withdrawn.
Others seem to have fallen in line. In May 2014, Megha Kumar, the author of Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad Since 1969, was told by her publisher, Orient Blackswan, that her book had been set aside for “comprehensive reassessment.”
Looking through the 2015 program schedule for the festival, I cannot find a single session devoted to this predicament. While we all understand that such festivals are largely a jamboree, it still takes gumption of quite another kind to ignore the very real issue of book bans and censorship at what pretends to be India’s most important literary event.