New Delhi, Jan 30: Attacking Salman Rushdie, Press Council of India (PCI) Chairman Markandey Katju today said the "sensationalism" depicted by his book Satanic Verses has deeply hurt Muslim sensitivities and that an individual's freedom of speech has to harmonised with the public interest.
Justice Katju, who had last week termed Rushdie as a "sub-standard and poor writer", also questioned the Booker Prize awarded to the author saying it was "mystery" why he got it.
"Some people describe Rushdie as a great writer because he has won the Booker Prize. In this connection, I wish to say that Literature prizes are often a mystery. Out of the approximately 100 Nobel Prizes given for literature till today, nobody even remembers the name of 80 or more winners," he said in a statement here.
Referring to the Satanic Verses, he said that Rushdie has, "certainly attacked, even though by insinuation, Islam and the Prophet. Such sensationalism may have earned Rushdie million of dollars, but it has deeply hurt Muslim sensitivities."
Justice Katju, who till recently was Supreme Court judge, said the individual's freedom of speech has to be "harmonised" with the public interest.
"In other words, a balance has to be struck between the two. Where to strike the balance is therefore a question of crucial importance," he said, while noting that Article 19(2) provides for "reasonable restrictions" on the freedom of speech in the "interest of security of the State, public order, decency, morality, etc."
On this year's Jaipur Literature Festival which was dominated by the Rushdie controversy, the PCI Chairman said, "Rushdie has deeply hurt Muslim feeling by 'Satanic Verses'. Why then was the focus on him at Jaipur? Was there a subtle, deliberate design to divide Hindus and Muslims? One wonders."
He pointed out that there was hardly any good discussion on other writers of Indian or foreign countries and said, "Rushdie was made into a hero."
Justice Katju further questioned the "social relevance" of Rushdie's writings and said, "Had Rushdie's work been beneficial to the Indian people one could have supported it even if it temporarily created some social disorder."
On whether literature should address problems of unemployment, malnourishment and suicides by farmers, he said, "To my mind freedom for Indian masses is freedom from hunger, ignorance, unemployment, disease and all kinds of deprivation, not freedom to read Mr Rushdie's sub-standard books."
Observing that India is a country of immigrants, Justice Katju said the only policy which can work in India and keep it together is secularism and giving equal respect to all communities laid down by our Constitution.
Stating that India is presently passing through a transitional period in its history, from feudalism to a modern industrial society, he said, "Freedom of speech should be used in India to spread rational and scientific ideas while avoiding insult to any religion."
Since the overwhelming number of Indians are deeply religious, unlike in the West where the hold of religion has considerably weakened, care must be taken in India not to insult any religious figure directly or indirectly, he said.