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Instead of “defending the freedom of expression”, politicians and governments “appease” those who protest against a book and “disrupt law and order”, said author and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor while delivering the Sahitya Akademi Foundation Day lecture here Saturday.’
Speaking on the “Anxiety of audience: The dilemma of Indian writing in English”, the novelist said that “moral policing” is increasing in society as governments have shown “lack of courage” in handling such elements.
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The Akademi, an autonomous body under the Culture Ministry, had recently faced flak from writers across the country for not upholding the free speech of authors. As many as 39 authors had returned their Akademi awards in protest.
Responding to a question on the present situation, he referred to his novel published over 25 years ago, “The tendency of people who claim to have been offended (by a work of art) has grown dramatically. Certainly, it’s much worse than when I published The Great Indian Novel, where I took liberties with nationalist heroes and with the Mahabharata itself.”
He added, “I wonder, if that book were published today, whether I would get away with it. I think probably it would be far more difficult to get away with it.” He also pointed out that “a new book that does something similar could run well afoul of the moral policing we are seeing increasingly in our society”. He urged the audience to fight for their right and “deplored” governments for succumbing to these protests. “I think this is a lack of courage of successive governments I personally rather deplore,” he said.