You are invited to a certain dangerous literary festival.
We could not organize the ‘People’s Literary Festival’ last year, a failure we blame on our inaction and weakness. These days the Hindutva-Fascist state has poisoned public consciousness with relentless religious sectarianism and hatred. Capitalism has consumed water, forests, lands and jobs.
We consider it a crime not to fulfill our promise to stand by the masses in these troubled times. Corporate-sponsored literary festivals continue to be organized in metropolitan cities in a professional and acutely reactionary spirit, setting the stage for capitalism and its companion, Hindutva to deploy literary culture to push their ideologies, to cloak social discomfiture and nausea in tawdry trappings.
They also treat literary spaces as a battleground of sorts, where it is possible to corrupt the public imagination with reactionary influences, and this is as serious a threat as open war. This is cognitive warfare, and the fascist regime will not give an inch to critique. There are numerous examples thinking writers have been attacked, music born of resistance is labelled seditious, objective journalists have been jailed. Among others, journalist and writer Rupesh Kumar Singh, a former speaker at the People’s Literary Fest, was arrested under the UAPA Act. Cultural activist Jyoti Pratap of the Kabir Kala Manch has been in jail for more than two years. The Bombay High Court rejected Jyoti’s bail saying that the use of phrases like ‘Ram Mandir’ and ‘Achche Din’ in their songs indicates a conspiracy against the democratically elected government.
Words carry infinite power, and can be hurled like grenades into the imperialist cabaret, or ordered into slow laments at the feet of our lords. We are organizing the People’s Literary Festival again in an attempt to resurrect literary culture in its original form, to revive its incendiary nature, to shake literary festivals patronized by corporates to their foundations.
At this task, we failed last year, and we have taken it upon ourselves to make a success of the festival (in its fifth edition this year), on March 19, 2023. In the past, our Festival has been celebrated by writers from the margins, writers from around the nation who have attacked the establishment, even though there has never been any widespread publicity or any significant public participation in the event.
But we could bring together the people who have written of Dalit and working-class experience, of protest and dissent. Bama, a Dalit writer from Tamil Nadu, whose autobiographical book ‘Karukku’ was removed from the Delhi University syllabus in 2021 (when Mahaswata Devi’s ‘Draupadi’ was banned as well) joined us. Leena Manimekalai, whose documentary on the Hindutva camp had provoked a fatwa just days ago, also attended in 2019. The Assamese Mian poet Hafiz Ahmed spoke at the Festival about the existential crisis of the Indian Muslim, and the legendary poet/activist Varavara Rao, famous for his arrest and imprisonment by the state in his eighties, has also attended the Festival. Shahnawaz Bashir and Anjum Zamarud Habib came from Kashmir, speaking of the sighing chinar trees and the Jhelum river.
Chances are we can never again welcome our friends from Kashmir, separated from us by military fences. The ‘babu’ writers of Kolkata have long mocked Dalit and Mian literature, they complain that poetry is transforming into slogans. And we are sorry that slogans are not treated as poetry. We want the People’s Literary Festival to ring with anti-fascist slogans. We have on our minds the poem by Brecht, where fascists were burning books that threatened their order, and a writer was outraged that his book was not on the list, despite having written the truth. And this writer went on to write letters to the fascists, telling them to burn his books, and mourning the fact that his work was not provoking enough. Let this mourn haunt the “babus”.
You are invited to the dangerous literary festival with dangerous writers.