It's been a few weeks since Rushdie went off front pages, months after Ramanujan's essay was taken of the Delhi University syllabus and more than a year since Rohinton Mistry was targetted by the Shiv Sena. Each time, a handful of writers, activists and mediapersons stood up and protested, everyone else watching, listening, absorbing.
#flashreads, organised by Nilanjana Roy, is public event for anyone and everyone on social media to congregate online and then meet today on the streets of Mumbai, New Delhi, Kochi and Bangalore — or anywhere in India — for a quick reading from works of writers who have faced sedition charges, book ban or any kind of censorship. The idea, says Roy's site, "is to celebrate free speech and to protest book bans, censorship in the arts and curbs on free expression."
While we were writing this, the New Delhi event saw participation from 8 non-profits where participants read from Ramanujan's essay, from Luka and the Fire of Life, they read Gandhi on sedition, Vikram Seth, and with Tagore. Other events are either on or about to begin.
The event's Facebook page says the Mumbai event will begin at 6 pm at Shivaji Park.
The organisers have chosen today for the event because:
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.
For those who cannot make the time to get out, can simply post Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear” on their blog, tumblr account, website, or Facebook. Or choose from a list of literature put together by the organisers.