Kishwar Naheed is one of the most respected Urdu poets in the subcontinent. She was the lone Pakistani poet to make it to the Jashn-i-Rekhta festival in New Delhi from Feb 17 to Feb 19. She was obliged to leave midway when informed that she had been invited as a guest and not a participant.
The explanation that the founder of the Rekhta Foundation, Sanjiv Saraf, gave to a correspondent shows him and the Indian government in a poor light. It is self-contradictory, craven and disingenuous. “We took a considered decision in the light of the prevailing atmosphere in the country to not have any Pakistani participation. But, since the purpose of this festival is to promote togetherness and bonding, we thought of inviting a few Pakistanis as guests.”
Oblivious to the contradiction, he added: “This festival is about bringing people together and we did not want that to be taken away by some incident. We did not even apply for the permission that is required from the government whenever a Pakistani is invited as a participant at any event.”
Surely, the dreaded “incident”might have been sparked by the presence of the Pakistani guest without her reciting any of the poems that have earned her rich fame. It is equally hard to understand why he did not “apply for the permission that is required” for a Pakistani participant at an event. Apparently, since no permit is required if the Pakistani sits as a mute spectator. But the government can still grant a visa. Did it direct the organisers after the distinguished guest had arrived?
Under an official circular in force over the last few decades, prior permission of the home ministry and also of the external affairs ministry is required “for holding an international conference/seminar/workshop, etc.” on a subject that is “political, semi-political, communal or religious in nature, or is related to human rights”. A mushaira does not fall in any of these dangerous topics.
However, permission is required from both ministries “for holding an international conference” if participants are invited from “Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan or Sri Lanka”. A mushaira or a musical concert is neither a “conference” nor a “seminar” nor a “workshop”. The etcetera cannot rope them in.