Best-selling Indian author says banned writers not "heroes"

JAIPUR, India Sat Jan 21, 2012 3:24am EST

Indian writer Chetan Bhagat speaks at the annual Literature Festival in Jaipur, capital of India's desert state of Rajasthan, January 21, 2012.  REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

Indian writer Chetan Bhagat speaks at the annual Literature Festival in Jaipur, capital of India's desert state of Rajasthan, January 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Altaf Hussain

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JAIPUR, India (Reuters) - Best-selling Indian writer Chetan Bhagat on Saturday criticised the support leant to authors whose books are banned for offending religious communities, a day after Salman Rushdie cancelled a trip to India citing threats against his life.

Bhagat, whose five novels have sold around 6 million copies, condemned the banning of texts at the Jaipur Literature Festival but criticised people who proclaim their writers as heroes for upholding the right to free speech.

"(Banned books) have hurt people, they have hurt Muslims," said Bhagat. "I don't think anyone should be banned... but let's not make heroes out of them."

Rushdie said on Friday that he was abandoning his visit to the five-day festival due to assassination threats against him, following protests by some Indian Muslim groups at the invitation to the author of The Satanic Verses.

Organizers of the festival said in a statement late on Friday that they would not tolerate any legal violations at the event after two authors read passages from The Satanic Verses, which is banned in India, in support of Rushdie.

"Any comments made by the delegates reflect their personal, individual views and are not endorsed by the festival, or attributable to its organizers," they wrote in the statement.

The publication of The Satanic Verses over twenty years ago sparked a wave of protests around the world after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini claimed that the novel's portrayal of the prophet Muhammad insulted Islam.

Bhagat, whose best-selling novels such as 2005's One Night @ the Call Centre have divided literary critics, has risen in prominence over the past year as an outspoken supporter of the movement headed by anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare.

"Everyone has a right to hurt, but people don't have to," Bhagat added.

Oprah Winfrey, Michael Ondaatje and Ariel Dorfman will speak to over 70,000 visitors at the event, which aims to showcase the best of Indian, South Asian and international writing in one of the world's fastest-growing publishing markets.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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