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Salman Rushdie’s Ban Personifies Irony On So Many Levels

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By Charumati Haran:

Sir Salman Rushdie has become one of the most controversial figures in modern times. It all began with the release of The Satanic Verses in 1988, which led to a ‘fatwa’ being issued against him. Last year, he withdrew from the Jaipur Literature Festival after reports of a death threat. He was also forced to abandon plans to address the gathering by a video link after protesters threatened to march on the venue. It seems that this ‘series of unfortunate events’ is still not over.


Author Salman Rushdie has been barred from visiting Kolkata. He was to go there for a promotional event of Midnight’s Children, the film based on his book. The event was scrapped at the last minute. While so much is certain, the reports on what exactly happened are confusing: Some say, the author was also scheduled to drop in at a literary event at the Kolkata book fair where police asked for a written guarantee that the author would not attend. MP Saugata Roy says the police were told to give Rushdie “friendly advice” to stay away for his safety. Salman Rushdie himself alleges that Mamata Banerjee ordered the police to keep him out and he was told the police would put him on the next plane out of Kolkata. The event organizers says he wasn’t scheduled to come, Rushdie says he can prove he was invited for the promotional trip.

While this quagmire makes it very difficult for the outsider to take sides, there are certain very ironic facets about this whole issue:

One would expect that a vendetta like the one certain Muslims have against Rushdie would have died down in the space of 25 years. Even if some people do consider it serious enough to be maintained, the ironic thing is that by protesting again and again and so vehemently, they are only adding fuel to the fire: After the issue of the fatwa, sales of The Satanic Verses skyrocketed. The book was flying off the shelves and Rushdie earned about $2 million within the first year of publication. So the end result is that even though the author was sufficiently harassed, the amount of publicity that he and his book received just reconfirmed the popular saying that “No publicity is bad publicity”. Instead of stopping the book and the idea in its tracks, these protests have made the book more widely known! This is similar to the present situation. The protests shadowing the release of Midnight’s Children have just made others more curious to see the film: many will go just to see what all the fuss is about!

However, a very negative consequence of this is that when some members of a particular community use violence to protest, the whole community gets painted with the same brush. This feeds existing stereotypes. How will the people against Rushdie’s book, say group A, convince others that their intentions are right and honourable if group A is stereotyped as being narrow minded and violent?

Violence and stereotyping prevents people from having reasonable discussions and finding solutions. It also drives wedges between people, communities and nations: the Iranian government saw the book as part of a British controversy against Iran and broke diplomatic relations with them. We will never be free of religious and caste barriers if groups keep bringing up their differences to the forefront again and again and giving them too much importance.

This leads me to the next ironic observation: the only people who seem to get away with saying whatever they want are the people with power. The political class that has escaped several times in the last year: calling women dented and painted, indirectly blaming victims for being raped and Raj Thackeray saying that rapes are because of Biharis to name a few. And last but not least, let us not forget the infamous Akbaruddin Owaisi. This is the same political class that clamped down on free speech several times in the past year: abuse of IT act 66A and prosecuting political cartoonists are the most prominent examples. The politicians’ blunders will be forgotten, they will be voted back into power. With perhaps a reprimand from their superiors, they will go on to live comfortable lives. All this keeps happening while an author who wrote one particular book is hounded for the rest of his life.

Cases like IT Act 66A happened when the state allowed a particular group to misuse the existing laws to favour their own interests. There is a reason the judiciary exists: the learned, experienced and capable judges of the courts exist to pass judgments. If the courts have decided that banning of the book is sufficient punishment, then that should be accepted. Isn’t a court qualified to decide if content is offensive? Why can’t offended parties take recourse to legal means to express their dissatisfaction? Why hold a sword over a person’s head with threats and violence? This is sending a very bad message to the world in general. Now all kinds of groups will try to get their demands met by coming into power or threatening violence. Every day a new group will want something banned because it offends their sentiments. The values of democracy, tolerance and secularism in the constitution are to be interpreted by the judiciary and their will should be respected. The law cannot be subject to hooliganism by random groups, punishing innocent people in the process — the offended group takes out its fury against the common people along with the thing they have a grievance against. How will the educated and intellectual thrive? Why will events like the literary fest be organized when there is so much risk of offending some group?

I’ll leave you with one last curious thing to ponder on: recently on Arnab Goswami’s show, there was one panelist who spoke strongly against the movie Midnight’s Children. He was asked if he had actually seen that movie. He had not.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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