by Huma Dar
At a groundbreaking seminar, ‘Azadi: The Only Way,’ organized by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) in New Delhi, India, on October 21st, 2010, the minutes record that Arundhati Roy, the prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, asserted that
[Kashmir] has never been an integral part of India and the Indian government recognised it as a disputed territory and took it to the UN on its own accord. In 1947 we were told that India became a sovereign democracy. But it became a country as per the imagination of its colonizer, and continued to be a colonizer even after the British left the country. Indian state forcibly or deceitfully annexed the North-East, Goa, Junagarh, Telangana, etc… the Indian state has waged a protracted war against the people which it calls its own. Who are the people it has waged war against? The people of North-East, Kashmir, Punjab, etc. This is an upper caste Hindu state waging a continuing struggle against the people.
… a convention of this kind was historic in the capital city of this hollow superpower that is India… The British colonial empire too once considered Indians to be unfit for self-rule. The same argument is being used today by the powers-that-be to deny azadi to Kashmir. It is the same Indian ruling class which once preached non-alignment, but is now bowing before US imperialism and the MNCs [Multi-National Corporations]. We need to continue this exercise of debate, and at the same time be aware that we are up against a serious adversary. We must realize that the bows and arrows in the hands of the adivasis or stones of the Kashmiris alone are not enough. We need to make serious and meaningful alliances. There has to be an alliance between all the struggling people and what will connect them will be the idea of justice. We need to be aware of the fact that not every movement or slogan is for justice.
…many of the stories of atrocities on [Kashmiri Hindu] pundits have been concocted to sow misunderstanding and distrust among people, though what happened to some of them is tragic and unfortunate. Justice is to be fought and upheld for everybody, whether a minority of religion, caste, or nationality. It is not enough to ask for justice if the next person does not have it. People in Kashmir have said that Kashmiri pundits are welcome back, and this is a commendable gesture.
Arundhati paid homage to the resistance of the “young people, women, children who are out on the streets facing the brutal Indian army” and crucially mentioned that
the first great art which the Indian state has mastered is to wait and wait and hope that people’s energies will go down. Killing them is the next. It is up to the people of Kashmir to take their struggle further in solidarity with other people’s movements. At the same time, the people in Nagaland must reflect on themselves why is it that a Naga Battalion is sent to kill people in Kashmir and Chhattisgarh. A direct confrontation with the state is not enough. It is necessary to know one’s enemy and make alliances locally, as well as internationally.
(Please find complete minutes of the seminar here.)
Shortly thereafter the media was deluged by warnings, triggered by vitriolic attacks on Roy by an Indian TV channel, that the Indian State is “contemplating” charging Arundhati Roy with sedition. Fortunately it has now relented. Roy herself astutely diagnoses that one reason for this recent attack is that the Hindu Nationalist party currently in opposition at the Centre, and in power in certain states including in Gujarat, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), “desperately needed to divert attention from the charge-sheeting of Indresh Kumar, a key RSS leader in the Ajmer blast. This was a perfect opportunity; the media, forever in search of sensation, led by Times Now, obliged.” (See the complete interview here.)
RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the key and ideologically founding organization of the group of Hindu nationalist parties collectively called the Sangh Parivar (the Sangh Family). Investigations into a number of bomb attacks on Muslim mosques, cemeteries, and shrines at Malegaon (2006), Mecca Masjid (2007), Ajmer Sharif (2007), and on the Pakistan-India train Samjhauta Express (2007), during the past few years, that were all habitually and predictably blamed on “Muslim outfits” and ISI (another favorite Indian scapegoat), by the compromised Indian mainstream media, are now showing explicit links not just to the expected Hindu nationalist parties, RSS, BJP, Abhinav Bharat etc., but also to serving and high-ranking officers of the Indian Army with access to weapons-grade explosives, and other professionals. For example, Tehelka, an investigative news outlet in India, on July 31, 2010, cites one RP Singh, an endocrinologist at Apollo Hospital, as Singh unabashedly admits:
“We burnt 25 Muslims at one go. Killing Muslims by day, practicing medicine at night: we have to do this. We have to spread terror. No more crying” (translated from Hindi).
Tehelka’s exposé of the “right-wing Hindutva terror network” via its access to 37 audio tapes, two videos and several witness statements that explicitly admit the targeting of Indian Muslims for violence is not shocking per se. Many people already suspected it. It is shocking, however, how little global media attention it received. Nonetheless, as Rana Ayyub, the writer of this excellent report, correctly points out, exponentially more alarming is “the fact that such damning evidence has been in the possession of investigative agencies for a while but has not been acted upon” and thus stands as an incriminating evidence of the “disturbing unwillingness by the State to unearth the larger conspiracy.” (See full article here, and another here.)
Of course, it is significant to take note that the political party at power in the centre is not BJP, the affiliate of RSS, but the purportedly secular Congress, yet they both have their hands tainted with pogroms — of Muslims, Sikhs, Adivasis, Dalits, Naxals, and in Kashmir, Northeast, and elsewhere. Like the Democrats and the Republicans in the US, they usually cover for each other with great alacrity where they are most vulnerable, most culpable, while making a show of difference on other aspects. On October 23, 2010, two days after Arundhati Roy’s talk at the New Delhi seminar on “Azadi: The Only Way,” Indresh Kumar, a senior RSS leader, was charged with participation in “an elaborate conspiracy hatched by a group of Hindu radicals” to create terror through bomb blasts in 2007, at Ajmer Sharif, one of the most beloved Sufi shrines for Muslims in South Asia from the 13th C.E.
Here I would like to add yet another reason, for the campaign to harass Roy: the elephant in the room. The Indian State and a certain class of Indian citizens blinded by the sheer glitter of neo-liberalism, jingoism and non-self-reflexive nationalism (thrust down their throats by steroidally hyperpatriotic media and state-directed histories) do not want to hear about Kashmiris and their inspiring movement for Azadi, for self-determination. They do not want to hear about it as it might trigger a recognition of what India has become: an ugly colonial state. Not in the past, and especially not now, right before Barack Obama’s state visit to India, and the possible anointment of India to the UN Security Council. A previous state visit in March 2000, by Bill Clinton, had triggered another hysterical and violent reaction from the Indian state in Chitisinghpura, Kashmir — a sordid tale replete with false-flagging, fake-encounters, and bodged postmortems. (See Pankaj Mishra’s excellent article “Death in Kashmir” for more details.)
The “sedition” tamasha (spectacle) against Arundhati Roy was unleashed full force almost immediately. The tamasha ran the whole gamut from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliate, Bajrang Dal, proudly proclaiming “it will do to writer Arundhati Roy what it has already done to painter Maqbool Fida Husain — teach her a lesson” (as in force her to exile?), to Madhu Kishwar, a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) who proposes that Indians “ignore” Roy while calling her a “brown Memsahib,” “narcissistic” as well as “self-hating,” and a “Katherine Mayo of the 21st century” thus unwittingly revealing her own unfortunate inability to “ignore” Ms. Roy. The lady doth protest too much, methinks. The crisis has also elicited statements of solidarity from people like Ashis Nandy, who bemoans the “future of censorship and surveillance in India [as] very bright” to those supporting Roy from the English PEN, to a most forceful defence of free speech and a scathing critique of the anti-sedition law itself — a sad sediment of the British colonial law of 1860 — by Nivedita Menon in which Menon recounts the following:
In 1922 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Shankarlal Ghelabhai Banker, editor, and printer/publisher respectively of Young India, were tried under this section before the District and Sessions Judge, Ahmedabad.
Pleading guilty to the charge, Gandhi said:
“I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of Government has become almost a passion with me…” Sedition, said Gandhi, “in law is a deliberate crime”, but it “appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen.”
Today, almost a hundred years later, the government of “the world’s largest democracy” threatens to invoke this exact same colonial provision instituted to curb resistance to foreign rule, against a writer whose bright integrity has never faltered, and whose powerful voice has been consistently raised against injustice.
To those who feel that the “celebrity” controversy around Arundhati Roy takes away from the issue at hand, the movement for self-determination in Kashmir, I have this to say, with due humility: Not only does Roy focus repeatedly on the actual people oppressed in Kashmir (and, yes, in India as well), but she also persistently brings the conversation back to them, points out the links between the shared oppressions, and warns her readers and audience about the diversionary tactics of the wannabe imperial, disciplining state. Reacting to the possibility of being charged with sedition, Arundhati Roy released the following statement on 26th October 2010, that precisely and eloquently demonstrates just that.
I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.
Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.
In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.”
This morning, October 31, 2010, a mob of about a hundred people “consist[ing] largely of members of the BJP’s [Bharatiya Janata Party] Mahila Morcha (Women’s Wing)” attacked Arundhati Roy’s home in New Delhi, breaking through the gate and vandalizing property. Roy reports that uncannily, “[t]he OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.” How did the TV channels know in advance that Roy was to be attacked and were outside Roy’s gates to catch the despicable “action” live? Roy was advised by the police “to let them know if in future [she] saw any OB [News network] vans hanging around the neighborhood” as a foreshadow of a possible “mob on it way.”
What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene’ in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred.
(Full statement issued by Arundhati Roy is here.)
Note: For those who want to support the critical right to dissent in India and a much-promised, much-awaited plebiscite in Kashmir, please endorse a statement by some concerned citizens, by sending your information (including name, affiliation, location/country, and contact email) to: email@example.com