Indian-administered Kashmir's first major literature festival has been canceled after local writers and artists said it would give the false impression that basic freedoms are allowed in the troubled region.
The Harud literary festival was scheduled for Sept. 24-26 in Srinagar, Kashmir's largest city and the main hub of opposition to Indian rule.
Festival organizers said the event would be apolitical and showcase "India's multicultural ethos." But local writers argued that years of intimidation have made residents unable to speak their minds.
The cancellation late Monday came as the region enjoys an unexpectedly peaceful summer after three years of violent anti-Indian protests and crackdowns.
Kashmiri writers Basharat Peer and Mirza Waheed, who have written books set in post-1989 Kashmir, when an armed rebellion and military crackdown began, were the first to refuse to participate in the event.
Several other authors and academics also questioned the reasons for holding the festival in the highly militarized area.
"Beyond the absurdity of asserting that art and literature have nothing to do with politics, our issue is precisely that people are not allowed to speak their minds in Kashmir. Indeed, that a political reality is denied, even criminalized, in the state," they said in a letter posted on the Internet.
They did not call for a boycott or cancellation of the festival but said it would "dovetail with the state's concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir."
The festival organizers, primarily Indian writers, said if the critics truly believed in free speech, "they would have allowed this forum to go ahead and would come and express their dissent at the festival."
They said the festival program included sessions about silenced voices and jail diaries.
Kashmir has a 2,500-year tradition of art and literature, much of it in the Sanskrit, Kashmiri, Persian and Urdu languages. However, there has been a spate of new writing in English as young Kashmiris have narrated their stories of living in extremely difficult situations in the last two decades.
Anti-India sentiment continues to run deep in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed by both countries.
Most people in the Indian-ruled portion support independence or merger with Pakistan, but questioning India's claim to the territory is illegal.