THE FOUR-DAY South Asian Sufi Festival, which begins in Jaipur on Friday, will not feature writers, scholars, or poets from Pakistan this year. The festival organisers said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) turned down their request to invite 20 Pakistani authors for the October 6-9 event.
The MEA is one of the “collaborators” for the event, which is organised by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL), in collaboration with Diggi Palace, Jaipur, and supported by the Rajasthan government’s Department of Tourism.
In February, a Pakistani delegation was denied permission for the South Asian Literature Festival, also organised by FOSWAL.
Punjabi author and Padma Shri recipient Ajeet Cour, FOSWAL’s founder-president, told The Indian Express, “We have to get permission from the political division of the MEA (to invite Pakistani artistes). When they themselves do not give us permission, how can we invite? Without permission, they (MEA) won’t instruct our High Commission in Islamabad to issue visa…it is not in our hands.”
A source in the MEA said, “The request from Mrs Cour which came to the MEA was for all SAARC countries, excluding Pakistan.”
According to the organisers, more than 130 national and international Sufi scholars and poets will participate in the festival. These include 30 from Afghanistan, 20 from Bangladesh, 12 from Nepal, 10 from Sri Lanka, five each from Bhutan and the Maldives, and the remaining from India.
About the lack of representation from Pakistan, Cour said, “It is their (government’s) present policy to not let anyone come here from Pakistan, or let anyone go (to Pakistan).”
Last year, people in the Pakistani delegation had withdrawn or was not issued visas. “Some said they cannot attend due to personal issues, while others have simply not responded,” Cour had then said. “They must be scared too…. They are also people like us, and the present state of unpleasantness between the two countries may have discouraged them.”
However, visa was also an issue, she had said.
The upcoming event will be FOSWAL’s 54th conference/festival in 30 years. The chief guest this year will be Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, chairperson of Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. The academic sessions and poetry recitals during the day will be followed by an evening of Sufi musical performances, Sufi dances and theatre, according to the organisers.