Several ‘liberal’ panellists withdrew from the New York edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival because of the presence of BJP leader Shazia Ilmi. According to a report by Middle East Eye, at least three panellists have withdrawn from the event, alleging that JLF is normalising Hindutva in the United States.
Among the three persons that didn’t participate in the event due to the presence of Shazia Ilmi include Marie Brenner and Amy Waldman. While the two authors have not made any comment on the issue, journalist Aatish Taseer said that he knew at least three persons who had pulled out of the Literature Festival.
He also said that South Asian activists and writers were mobilised to explain to other participants that “these are full-on right-wing ideologues, including card-holding members of the BJP”. He said, “These people who are appearing from the New York side who are liberals would never be caught dead with these [BJP] people. So it’s a really, really insidious and sly thing that the JLF leaders have done.”
According to the schedule of the JLF New York, Shazia Ilmi participated in a session titled Intersections: Searching Equity with Dalit activist Guru Prakash Paswan and Prashant Jha on September 14. Marie Brenner was scheduled to discuss her book ‘The Desperate Hours: One Hospital’s Fight to Save a City on the Pandemic’s Front Lines’ on 14th, and Amy Waldman was scheduled to participate in a conversion titled “Better to have Gone: Love and Death in Auroville”, also on 14th September. But later their names and programs were removed from the schedule published on the official website.
Amy Waldman’s event was presented by Akash Kapur and Myna Mukherjee instead, while Marie Brenner’s event was cancelled. The event was held from 12 September to 14 Setepmber.
Shazia Ilmi sharply reacted after learning that some panellists left the event due to her presence. She said that she was not aware of it, and said, “If you say that these people have dropped out because of my presence, that remains entirely their choice.” While talking to Middle East Eye, she said “And if they are against freedom of expression, of others, or dissenting voices, a voice that is different from theirs [then] they must take a deep, hard look at themselves and examine the hatred and the bias that they have within themselves towards those who represent a different point of view. And this entire cancel culture and self-cancel culture that they are bringing to the table represents and smacks of intolerance of the worst kind.”
Ironical.Who’s squashing Freedom of Expression now? Gosh,the idiocy of these whining fascist crazies who first won’t allow me to speak and then pressurise the sponsors to pull out of the program.Time to 🛑 cancel Cancel culture!— Shazia Ilmi (@shaziailmi) September 14, 2022
I will speak! @BJP4India https://t.co/GWdN2FWlus pic.twitter.com/K44XcjUl4z
Shazia found support from several other panellists, who said they will not object to the presence of someone with different ideology. Ugandan writer and academic Mahmood Mamdani said, “I have never before considered withdrawing from an event because I objected, however strongly, to the views of a participant – so long as the event itself was not being hijacked by this person or their organisation, thus closing it to opposing or divergent views.”
But Mamdani came under attack for his support to Shazia. Taseer said Mamdani has a lot to answer for because he takes a very strident position when it comes to Israel. “You have a party spokesperson that is systematically creating a climate of genocide in a country where the demographics are even more explosive, even more volatile,” he said.
Shazia Ilmi also delivered a keynote address during the closing ceremony of the festival.