A row over religion broke out between Bollywood lyricist and
scriptwriter Javed Akhtar and Dalit activist and writer Kancha
Illaiah at the Jaipur Literature Festival here Friday.
The tiff erupted after Akhtar, who was in the audience at a packed
venue, interjected during a session on God and Buddhism, saying he
was an atheist and no religion gave equality to women and weaker
"Discussing religion was like discussing which cave will be better
to live. If you want to follow a religion, follow any religion. It
does not matter. If you have decided to commit suicide, does it
matter how you do it?" Akhtar said, triggering applause.
To this, a fuming Ilaiah, one of the speakers, said: "Real life is
not like cinema, certainly not Hindi cinema. Crores of Buddhists
in India have more knowledge than intellectuals."
As the mood in the gathering got tense, moderator Patrick French
wound up the session despite protests from the audience.
The other two speakers were Hindi writer and Jamia Millia Islamia
teacher Ajay Navaria and Punjabi poet and writer Nirupama Dutt.
Akhtar, who was to address the next session, then took the stage
and said: "All religious values should be based on justice and
Ilaiah told IANS later: "What he said was bad. He can be an
atheist but the rest of world cannot be atheist."
"All (Bollywood) superstars are superstitious," he added.
Akhtar countered: "If you watch cinema, it tells you a lot about
life. Indians worship films."
But Ilaiah, who teaches at the Maulana Azad National Urdu
University in Hyderabad, told IANS his argument was for retrieving
Buddhism to change modern Indian society.
"Buddhism in ancient India was the first religion to
institutionalise the concept of justice, the concept of 'dharma',"
he said, as he signed copies of his book, "God as Political
Philosopher: Buddha's Challenge to Brahminism".