This year, the police in Jaipur have assured security to participants but in return, they have reportedly asked organisers to ensure that no oneís feelings are hurt. It is a bizarre condition, since the best literature is written to question, to provoke, even to disturb. And yet, since the government routinely shirks its responsibility to protect free speech, the request of the police may appear almost reasonable. The resolve of the Union home ministry was put to the test in the decade-long battle over M.F. Husainís paintings. Both the NDA and the UPA were in office during that period. Neither showed any inclination to face down groups who claimed their constituencies had been emotionally hurt, and who were prepared to dish out physical hurt in return. After that, itís been steadily downhill.
Ironically, the government is quite eager to curb the right of expression in the interest of public safety, but unwilling to assure the safety of individual citizens who speak freely. The drama in progress at Jaipur follows other embarrassments as theatre groups and sporting teams from Pakistan have cancelled events and left India. The government should now prevent the establishment of another precedent at Jaipur by standing up to the industry of hurt sentiments.