The seventh edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, a mega annual gathering of litterateurs kicked off in Jaipur on Friday with a keynote speech by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.
Directors of the festival, which is expecting around 200,000 people to attend over a period of five days, say they are unfazed by apprehensions of controversies that had surrounded the event in its past few editions.
“Societies can only progress with debates and discussions. We haven’t done anything to avoid controversies, we just want to ensure that freedom of being able to present the views exists,” Festival producer Sanjay Roy said.
Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva who inaugurated the festival by lighting the official festival torch said that JLF has made Jaipur, “the Kumbh of literature” in recent years.
“Democracy isn’t just about elections or street corner demonstrations, it is about public discussions and dialogues. We need to think about the institution of democracy with a larger perspective and celebrate the coming together of ideas and arguments,” Alva said.
Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place for the Festival with a posse of police in plainclothes inside the venues along with a reserve contingency staff.
“The organisers said that they have asked participants to be careful and not to do anything which might lead to a problem,” a senior police officer said.
In 2012, writer Salman Rushdie had to cancel his visit to the festival following protest by some religious groups.
The controversy did not stop with the cancellation of his visit but was stoked further when some authors read out a passage from his banned book ‘The Satanic Verses’.
The festival was marred by another controversy last year when sociologist Ashis Nandy allegedly made “derogatory remarks” on Dalits, tribals and OBCs at a panel session.
Spread over six venues at heritage resort Diggi Palace, the festival is set to feature about 240 authors at over 175 sessions.
Festival Co-Director, William Dalrymple said,”No wonder how Indian democracy works in the coming years, we cannot deny the fact, that books matter to the democracy authors matter and debates matter the most. Over 60 literary festivals, that have sprung up in imitation of JLF is an example of it.”