11 May, 2021

Don’t Cry For The Wolf

The paranoia is misplaced, there’s no ‘cultural Emergency’ in India

Illustration by Sorit
Don’t Cry For The Wolf

In the wake of the row over Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, an old quote of Salman Rushdie suggesting that India is in the grip of a “cultural Emergency” has been dredged up by the media to feed the notion that it is becoming an increasingly illiberal and intolerant country. He made the remark more than a year ago while answering a leading question from a television anchor about the protests against his visit to India and whether he thought the old ‘Emergency’ days were back.

While the TV anchor got the headline she wanted, Rushdie’s broader point that culture by its very nature is a soft target and “artists do not have gangs to defend themselves” was drowned out in the rush to make it to prime-time news.

The idea that India is facing anything remotely like a cultural Emergency reflects the paranoia that has come to surround the freedom of speech debate. There is a growing tendency to seize on individual instan­ces of intolerance to claim that artistic freedom in India is under...

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