Salman Rushdie to return to India after death threats

NEW DELHI Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:34am EDT

Author Salman Rushdie smiles while addressing the crowd at the 2012 Awards for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence awarded to Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Author Salman Rushdie smiles while addressing the crowd at the 2012 Awards for Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence awarded to Chuck Berry and Leonard Cohen at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Salman Rushdie will return to India this week to speak at a conference, under two months after death threats forced the Booker Prize-winning author to pull out of Asia's biggest literary festival, the event organizer said on Tuesday.

Rushdie's attempt to visit India in January brought protests from some Indian Muslim groups, which consider his 1988 novel 'The Satanic Verses' blasphemous because of the way it portrayed the Prophet Mohammad.

The British Indian writer, who spent years in hiding after the book's publication, subsequently accused Indian authorities of pandering to zealots, and spoke in a television interview of India becoming "a totalitarian state like China".

Rushdie, who won the Booker Prize for his novel 'Midnight's Children' in 1981, will speak on Friday in New Delhi alongside writer Aatish Taseer at a conference hosted by the India Today media group, in a discussion called 'The Liberty Verses', according to the event's website.

"So far there has been no demand for his ban," said Ashok Damodaran, a senior editor at the India Today Group.

"I think it's excellent," said author William Dalrymple, who was the director of the Jaipur Literature Festival which Rushdie had been scheduled to attend, referring to the author's plan to return.

"Our mistake at Jaipur was to announce his visit three weeks in advance, which gave everyone who opposed his visit time to mobilize," Dalrymple said on Tuesday. "And of course it (the visit) took place during an election."

Aatish Taseer is the son of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province who was killed by his own bodyguard last year because he had called for the reform of the country's anti-blasphemy law.

The publication of 'The Satanic Verses' sparked protests around the world and death threats against Rushdie after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini claimed that the novel's portrayal of the Prophet Mohammad insulted Islam.

Rushdie has not commented on his latest visit to India, the first country to ban the book.

India's Congress party-led government has been hit by accusations of censorship since late last year, when New Delhi urged social network companies including Facebook, Twitter and Google to remove offensive material.

The row over Rushdie's appearance at the Jaipur festival led to further criticism of the Congress party, which at the time was approaching a crucial election in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and home to a large Muslim minority.

"There has been some positive outcome from the whole experience at Jaipur, in that it did provoke a national debate," Dalrymple said.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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