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Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ Which Was Banned In India, Before Being Read   

The book which some Muslims believed had blasphemous references against Prophet Muhammad, was banned in India after objections to it by MPs such as Syed Shahabuddin petitioned the government to do so.   

Rushdie also claimed that an official statement was brought to his notice, that his book had been banned as a pre-emptive measure. (Photo Credit: File/ANI)

As the much celebrated, and also controversial author, Salman Rushdie battles for life after being stabbed multiple times at an event in New York, one looks back at the book which began the death threats against him. It was on September 26 of 1988, when Rushdie’s novel ‘Satanic Verses’ was published, and just a few days later banned in India on October 5 by the Rajiv Gandhi government. The book which some Muslims believed had blasphemous references against Prophet Muhammad, was banned in India after objections to it by MPs such as Syed Shahabuddin petitioned the government to do so.   

A few other countries followed suit, and Iran’s supreme leader then, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in early 1989 issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie and his publishers’ death. But Rushdie had reacted to India’s ban, in an open letter published in The New York Times on October 19 1988, titled ‘India Bans a Book For Its Own Good.  

He wrote, “the book was banned after representations by two or three Muslim politicians, including Syed Shahabuddin and Khurshid Alam Khan, both members of Parliament. These persons, whom I do not hesitate to call extremists, even fundamentalists, have attacked me and my novel while stating that they had no need actually to read it. That the Government should have given in to such figures is profoundly disturbing.”  

Further still, his reaction was strongest towards Rajiv Gandhi as he wrote to him, saying “Clearly, your government is feeling a little ashamed of itself and, sir, it has much to be ashamed about.”   

Rushdie also claimed that an official statement was brought to his notice, that his book had been banned as a pre-emptive measure. “This really is astounding. It is as though, having identified an innocent person as a likely target for assault by muggers or rapists, you were to put that person in jail for protection. This is no way, Mr Gandhi, for a free society to behave.”  

In February of 1989 at least 12 people were killed and 40 wounded when police fired at Muslim rioters in then Bombay – Rushdie’s birthplace – against the ‘Satanic Verses’ novel, according to a BBC report. The riots had seen the torching of a police station, and the burning of cars, buses, and motorcycles. Before this incident, at least three people were killed in the same month, and more than 100 wounded in clashes in Kashmir, again during violent protests against the novel.

Later on, in his memoir ‘Joseph Anton’ published in 2012, Rushdie wrote that his open letter to the prime minister was arrogant: “Well, OK, that was arrogant. Angry and injured also, but the arrogance was undeniably there. Very well. So it was.”  

In that memoir Rushdie spoke much about the ban and the reactions of governments and people, going on to write that he was informed of India’s ban by Salman Haider, a family friend and the then deputy high commissioner of India in London. The ban by India, Rushdie wrote, was a “painful blow”.   

Satanic Verses remain banned in India. Rushdie has not returned to his country of birth – India since. His 2012 appearance at the Jaipur literature festival to discuss one of his most notable books, ‘Midnights Children’, was cancelled over threats of violence.  

The Booker prize-winning book was the tale of India’s Independence from the British and its transition through the time, told through the life of Saleem Sinai who was born exactly on the midnight of August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Rushdie himself was born the same year.   

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