In the marketplace of ideas, conviction in an idea is as important as the idea itself. The response of the festival organizers to the charade of the security agencies and the pressure tactics of the fringe muslim groups tells a lot about the conviction of the “mainstream” present at the JLF (Jaipur Lit Fest).
I don’t agree with the ideas espoused by the fringe but I do not doubt their conviction in their cause. The litterati, twitterati and glitterati want their freedom of expression but are not willing to risk anything for it. The fringe understands this weakness and draws its power and sustenance from it.
The politicians warm up to the fringe because of their commitment to their cause, not because of their ideas. A handful who can face off with 20000 definitely demonstrate more conviction. Politician who are in the business of power like to deal with the powerful not the meek.
At JLF the mainstream handed over their idea of right to freedom of speech and expression to a band of thugs and allowed them to decide the limits of their freedom of expression.
The literature festival is a forum for authors and readers to interact in a free and open atmosphere. In its fair grounds authors and publishers meet their intended consumers to create brands. Nothing wrong in all of this. In fact we should have even more lit fests. But lets not confuse the purpose of the JLF with an attack on freedom of expression. JLF is not organised to protect that right. If it was it would have kept its distance from Rio Tinto which has a dismal history of human and labour rights.
Rights are not inalienable. Human history is replete with examples of that. What gives the right – any right, its intrinsic value is the resolve of the people to protect it. Rushdie has paid dearly for exercising his right to free speech. He has lived under the shadow of a fatwa for more than two decades. The agitators for the Jan Lokpal Bill have stood up for their idea against personal and physical attacks. The resolve of the movements leaders is what gives the movement strength and its large number of sympathisers. The pen is mightier than the sword is an adage the organisers and participants of JLF take to be literally true but are surprised at the turn of events when the sword hangs over their pen. The pen will eventually win but till then those of us who want to enjoy the right to freedom of speech have to be ready for a face off.