NEW DELHI: The fifth edition of three-day Ajmer Literature Festival (ALF), set to be inaugurated by veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah, was called off after protests by rightwing groups over his recent remarks on mob violence, the Press Trust of India said.

The 68-year-old actor found himself at the centre of Hindutva anger over his remarks in reference to the killing of a policeman in Bulandshahr earlier this month. He said the death of a cow was being given importance over the killing of a policeman.

Earlier when Mr Shah, who was supposed to deliver the keynote address at the literature festival, was asked during his visit to his alma mater, St Anselm’s Senior Secondary School, about the backlash he received on social media over his remarks, he said: “What I said earlier was as a worried Indian. I have said this earlier as well. What did I say this time that I am being called a traitor? It is very strange.

Launch of veteran actor’s book also called off

“I have to bear criticism. If they have the right to criticise, then I also have the same right. I am expressing concerns about the country I love, the country that is my home. How is that a crime?”

The actor had expressed anxiety over the growing mob violence in a video interview with Karwan-i-Mohabbat India that shared it on its YouTube channel on Dec 17. In the interview, the actor had expressed concern for the well-being of his children, who had not been taught any particular religion, in the country.

He said the “poison has already spread” and it would be difficult to contain it. “It will be very difficult to capture this djinn back into the bottle again. “There is complete impunity for those who take law into their own hands. In many areas we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significance than that of a police officer,” he added.

Before the event, rightwing activists protested outside the venue. One of the protesters also hurled black ink on a poster of Mr Shah.

Raas Bihari Gaur, coordinator of the festival, said: “Shah was scheduled to inaugurate the festival but he did not come because of the protest by some locals over his comments.”

Mr Shah was also scheduled to launch his book in the opening session, which was also called off due to the protests.

He said the festival, however, kicked off on Dec 21 and would conclude on Dec 23.

On Dec 3, police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a youth, Sumit Kumar, were killed in mob violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district after cow carcasses were found strewn around. The main accused in the case is said to be a local Bajrang Dal leader, affiliated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Yogesh Raj.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2018