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Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 18:48 GMT

World: South Asia

Rushdie effigies burned in India

Mulims in Bombay beat a caricature of Salman Rushdie with a shoe

Muslim activists burned effigies of Salman Rushdie to protest at the controversial British author being granted a visa by the Indian Government.

It is not known when Mr Rushdie plans to visit the land of his birth but the government, dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has offered him protection.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the fatwa - or edict - issued by Iran's late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the publication of Mr Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses, which allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

[ image: Salman Rushdie has been promised protection by the Indian Government]
Salman Rushdie has been promised protection by the Indian Government
India has the second largest Muslim population in the world - after Indonesia -and traditional Friday prayers in Delhi and Bombay were followed by loud protests against Mr Rushdie's visit.

Slogans and effigies

In the capital demonstrators gathered in front of the main Jama Masjid mosque, shouting slogans and burning effigies of the writer.

The protesters accused Mr Rushdie of being anti-Islamic and called on the government to reverse its decision to grant him a visa.

In Bombay 100 activists from radical Muslim Raza Academy kicked and trampled on caricatures of Mr Rushdie outside a city centre mosque.

Muslim activists in India have warned of violence if Mr Rushdie is allowed to visit.

[ image: L K Advani:
L K Advani: "Rushdie is a wonderful writer"
India was the first country to ban The Satanic Verses - a ban which has yet to be lifted - but India's Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani last year described Mr Rushdie as an "outstanding writer" and said he would be welcome.

International pariah

Mr Rushdie, writing in The New Yorker magazine, has spoken of the pain and difficulties of spending ten years as a pariah.

He described the fatwa, which was issued on 14 February 1989 - St Valentine's Day, as "my unfunny Valentine" and said his life had been blighted by hatred.

Mr Rushdie described the effect of the fatwa as being like "a spear in the stomach, which somehow doesn't kill but turns and twists".

But he said he had become more resilient and more determined to defend the writer's right to free speech.

He wrote: "The best defence of literary freedoms lies in their exercise, in continuing to make untrammelled, uncowed books."

Fear of violence

Earlier this month one of India's most senior Muslim clerics, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, described the decision to grant Mr Rushdie a visa as a ploy by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to inflame religious passions.

[ image: Muslims in Bombay burn an effigy of Salman Rushdie]
Muslims in Bombay burn an effigy of Salman Rushdie
Mr Bukhari said: "Here is a man who is hated and reviled by Muslims the world over for his book 'The Satanic Verses.' Why is the government giving him so much importance? Why is it letting him come?

"Hindus and Muslims are already divided over the issue. It could lead to very serious trouble. That is what Hindu fundamentalists want," he said.

The BJP has denied it has any ulterior motive and said Mr Rushdie, as a person born in India, had as much right to visit as anyone else.

Mr Rushdie picked up his visa in London last month and his lawyer, Vijay Shankardas, says he intends to visit India in the next few weeks.

His family owns a villa in the hill resort of Solan in Himachal Pradesh.

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