India: Crescent Over Hyderabad

Violent protest led to arrest of three rationalists in controversy over a book with Rushdie and Taslima texts

Matcha Laxmaiah, a poet, rationalist and civil rights activist in Andhra Pradesh, who is well known under the pen-name Kratikar, has been arrested in the last week of February for compiling and publishing a book with the title ‘Crescent over the World – Boon or Silent Holocaust’. The book, allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, contains articles written by Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin, Aayan Hirshi Ali, Ibn Warrack and other scholars criticising Islam. Following Krantikar’s arrest in Khammam (AP), the police also arrested Dr N. Innaiah from Hyderabad, chairman of CFI India, and Andhra Pradesh rationalist leader Subba Rao, whose names were printed as distributors in the book. Dr Innaiah, who himself has translated and published books of some of the authors concerned in Telugu earlier, denied any connection to Krantikar’s publication in a press conference, after he was released on bail on 4th March.

Krantikar did not obtain bail and is still in jail. The charge sheets against him and the two alleged distributors are expected on 11 March 2010 in Khammam.

Meantime, in Khammam, the police seized some thousand copies of the two volume book from different places. The police commissioner announced, they would try to get hold of those copies already despatched to other districts also.

The arrests followed massive and violent protests by fundamentalists in Khammam and in Hyderabad. It is alleged that the book contains excerpts from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasris’s Lajja as well as some of the controversial Danish “Mohammed-Cartoons”. The Satanic Verses are banned in India, Lajja (though claimed to be banned) is not. The issue was raised in the AP state assembly by the fundamentalist All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM, 'Council of United Muslims'). Congress Chief Minister K. Rosaiah – with an eye on the Muslim electorate – submitted to their demands and gave green light for “stern action”. Though the radical AIMIM is small in the national scale, it is wielding considerable power in Hyderabad. Base for the single seat in the Indian Parliament that they are holding since twenty five years, is their stronghold in the Charminar area of the Muslim old city of Hyderabad. Here, they have absolute majority, commanding around 75 per cent of the votes.

The AIMIM has recently made Hyderabad a dangerous place. In August 2007, three MLAs of the AIMIM led a physical attack on Taslima Nasrin with bouquets, flower pots and chairs during a book launch at the Hyderabad Press Club, organized by Dr. Innaiah.

To prevent fresh outbrakes of violence, the police sounded an alert on Hyderabad and Khammam and deployed additional forces in Hyderabad’s old city, where ‘imams’ or clerics, during their Friday sermons, condemned the author and those who supported him.