New York: India-born controversial author Salman Rushdie has turned his ire against his home country, saying that creative works of artists are increasingly being assaulted by religious groups. India has become "very prone" to the idea that "you should not rock the boat," he said, in an expression of concern over what he called the growing intolerance to freedom of expression in the country.

Rushdie, who has been at the receiving end of various groups for years targeting his works, said the atmosphere of openness in India is now being replaced "to some degree by the rise of religious sectarianism and by the craven response of the authorities" to protests by certain religious groups.

"India was a society in which for a long time ideas of free expression were very entrenched. When independence came, there was an atmosphere of openness. I have the terrible feeling that things are going the other way (now)," he said during a question and answer session at the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature here.

He had delivered the 'Freedom to Write' lecture at the annual festival's closing day yesterday where he spoke about the faces of censorship in contemporary society and author's role within a climate of forced silence and intolerance.

The Booker Prize winning novelist cited the example of Rohinton Mistry's novel 'Such a long Journey' and scholar A K Ramanujan's essay 'Three hundred Ramayanas' being removed from the syllabus in Indian universities respectively after political and religious sections deemed them to be offensive.

He said painter M F Hussain was "hounded out of India" as his series of paintings of Hindu goddess Sarawasti in the nude were considered to be "pornographic."

"This is happening more and more and more (in India). Works of scholarship are being assaulted by this or that religious group and are immediately banned and the onus of the blame falls on the artists. India has become very prone to the idea that you should not rock the boat," he said.

Rushdie was forced to cancel his appearance at the Jaipur literature festival in India in January this year after massive protests broke out over his controversial 1988 book 'The Satanic Verses'.

He was also warned of assassination bids on his life by the underworld in Mumbai if he visited India.

Later, Rushdie said he has no immediate plan to go to India but would visit the country later in the year when his memoirs are published and the Deepa Mehta-directed movie on his novel 'Midnight's Children' released.

Having faced opposition from some quarters in India, Rushdie said there will be an audience in India for his novel's movie adaptation as well as his memoir.

"Midnight's Children has been freely available in India for than 30 years and as far as I know it is pretty well liked. I don't see why the movie would have any different response to that. As far as the memoirs are concerned, make what you want of my life but it is my life and I think there might be a few people interested to read about it."

Earlier in his lecture, which was peppered with witty comments, the author said censorship is not good for art and is even worse for artists themselves.

"No writer ever really wants to talk about censorship. Writers want to talk about creation and censorship is anti-creation, negative energy, uncreation," he said.

"There seems to be a growing agreement even in free societies that censorship can be justified when certain interest groups or genders or faiths declare themselves affronted by a piece of work," he said.

Rushdie is the chair of the festival, which this year featured about 100 writers from 25 countries who participated in readings, discussions and performances.

He said the creative act requires not only freedom but also the "assumption of future freedom.

"If the creative artist worries whether he will still be free tomorrow, then he will not be free today. If he is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treatment of it, then his choices will not entirely be determined by his talent but at least in part by fear," he said.

"If we are not confident of our freedom, then we are not free. Even worse is that when censorship intrudes on art ...the art becomes censored art," he added.

Rushdie said censorship "labels" an artist's work as "immoral, blasphemous, and controversial" and these then define how the world sees and understands that work.

These expressions remain in the consciousness of the people, who think, "Why did that Indian Muslim artist have to paint those Hindu goddesses in the nude. Couldn't he have respected their modesty... Why are artists so troublesome? Can't they just offer us beauty, morality and a good story? Why do artists think if they behave in this way that we should be on their side."

Rushdie said "at its most effective", the censor's lie succeeds in replacing the artist's truth, with people beginning to think that what is censored ought to have deserved censorship.

"Great art or original art is never created in the safe middle ground but always at the edge... Liberty is the air we breathe," he said.

(Agencies)

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