Arundhati Roy faces calls for sedition charges in India

October 26, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize–winning author of The God of Small Things is facing calls for her arrest on charges of sedition resulting from remarks the author made in New Delhi last week that were deemed “anti-India.” According to Daily India.com: “The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday demanded from the Government the arrest of Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and writer Arundhati Roy for their recent objectionable remarks over Kashmir’s integration with India.” According to the Times of India, there is a “fit case” for bringing charges of sedition against Roy, but the police are unlikely to move quickly on the matter:

Sources said that Delhi Police’s legal wing has, after examining the contents of the anti-India speeches of Geelani and Roy, recommended that cases under section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code can be registered against the duo.

The opinion presents the Centre with a dilemma. It has been taunted by the BJP for not taking action against Geelani and Roy for their anti-India rhetoric. At the same time, it also has to reckon with the consequences of action against Geelani and Roy since it is sure to be painted as persecution and milked for putting the country in the dock at a time when secessionists and sympathisers have been shrewdly trying to put J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] on the global frontburner.

And the Sify News reports that the Indian Congress is placing little importance on Roy’s recent remarks:

Congress today refused to attach much importance to the views of author Arundhati Roy on Kashmir, saying it was “erroneous” to do so as she was not in the political mainstream but maintained that police would take action if she had violated the law.

“I do not understand why exaggerated importance is given to her who is not in the political mainstream. It is erroneous and uncalled for. Is she an MP? Is she a political leader. She is an author,” party spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters here.

Nevertheless, the idea that Roy could face charges for expressing a political opinion is highly troublesome. The author, who has been outspoken on matters dealing with India and Kashmir in the past, responded to the possibility of charges being laid in an open statement reprinted on the novelist Hari Kunzru’s blog. TSR contacted Kunzru’s publisher, who granted permission to reprint Roy’s statement here. The full statement reads as follows:

STATEMENT BY ARUNDHATI ROY

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.

Arundhati Roy

October 26 2010

Whatever your own views on Kashmir may be, I hope that you will join me in voicing an objection to the notion of a writer being charged with sedition for the crime of exercising free speech.

Comments

4 Responses to “Arundhati Roy faces calls for sedition charges in India”
  1. Finn Harvor says:

    “I hope that you will join me in voicing an objection to the notion of a writer being charged with sedition for the crime of exercising free speech.”

    I read this blog on a regular basis, and this is the first time I have read a post on Kashmir. Perhaps you have views yourself; if so, I think it’s fair to ask that you express them. If not, then why should we “join” you when it is entirely possible you have no clear understanding of the issue yourself? Or is it all reducible to Roy, and is the larger issue of anonymous people’s suffering (which is what prompts Roy) irrelevant to the discussion here?

    Sorry to sound harsh, but I find that there is an emotionalism that often seeps into the political discussions at this site. You recently wrote on the importance of publishers not using old-growth wood pulp to make their books — yet you have clearly and repeatedly posted against e-books, without seeing the painfully obvious contradiction from an ecological point of view. You have posted on the importance of supporting Canadian literature (almost exclusively anglophone and First Nations-free), yet when asked directly to cite examples of Canadian writing that go back “to Confederation and beyond” you don’t respond, either because examples are hard to come by or you think you need not deign to answer. Andre Alexis writes a post (at Beale’s site) in which he accuses you of log-rolling. You respond by writing a high-minded post in which you speak of being glad of the debate and so forth, yet slip around the log-rolling accusation, even though it is one of the most serious of Alexis’s charges, and worth discussing because the Toronto lit-scene in particular is top-heavy with a nauseating and smug brand of clique-ishness; eliminating favoritism would do something significant to make Canadian culture healthier.

    Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for Roy, and yes, of course I support free speech. But I find posts like these manipulative. Again, apologies. I’m sure you don’t mean it that way. But I do wish you’d think of the larger picture, and also wish that you’d brush up on your world political history if world political history is what you’re occasionally going to get passionate about.

  2. August says:

    “Personally, I have a lot of sympathy for Roy, and yes, of course I support free speech. But I find posts like these manipulative.”

    Exactly zero of the issues you raised in your comment have anything to do with the substance of this post.

    “the importance of publishers not using old-growth wood pulp to make their books — yet you have clearly and repeatedly posted against e-books, without seeing the painfully obvious contradiction from an ecological point of view”

    There is no contradiction. Canada has some of the largest managed, “new growth” forests in the world. It’s perfectly logical to want to avoid “old growth” forests and not advocate for ebooks (which place enormous demands on the environment thanks to readers being made from non-renewables, the fact that datacentres require the resources of a small city, etc).

    The post, Finn, is not about Kashmir, it’s about a basic principle of human rights. This post is not about Roy’s statements, it’s about her right to make them; by saying that this is the first you’ve heard from Steven on the subject of Kashmir, you’ve either missed the point by an enormous margin, or (more likely, in my opinion), you’re ignoring it in order to snark about your opinion of Toronto’s “nauseating and smug brand of clique-ishness,” which aside from being completely unrelated to the subject of this post, is also contrary to the breadth of authors Mr. Beattie actually advocates for, though granted much of his good work in that regard was lost when TSR’s database crashed some time ago. It’s also the kind of accusation you get from someone who spends no appreciable amount of time in Toronto, or interacting with the folks who live and work here; I don’t think it’s really worth refuting, and I say that as someone who despised this place and its people more or less on principle for the first twenty or so years of my life, having never spent any appreciable time, etc.

    If you really want examples of literature going back to Confederation beyond, may I suggest you make a side trip to Mr. Busby’s blog ( http://brianbusby.blogspot.com/ ), which is dedicated to such things.

    As for Mr. Alexis, while I respect his work as an author of fiction, I think LH said most of what was worth saying about the piece on Nigel Beale’s site.

  3. Finn Harvor says:

    1.
    “It’s perfectly logical to want to avoid “old growth” forests and not advocate for ebooks”

    Except it’s not. It is *tenable*, not logical. You cite ” non-renewables”. It sounds very expert and all. Yet note your lack of stats. Are you saying the aggregate environmental damage done by printing books, shipping them to bookstores, shipping them back if unsold, and so forth, equals this? Maybe it does. But show me the proof.

    2.
    “The post, Finn, is not about Kashmir, it’s about a basic principle of human rights.”

    WTF?

    3.
    “aside from being completely unrelated to the subject of this post”

    When you’ve cooled off, August, re-read my comment. I am making a larger point, particularly about log-rolling, which you, incidentally, seem unperturbed by. If so, fine. I think it’s a problem, and it’s a political problem because it reflects on how cultural power actually works.

    4.
    “It’s also the kind of accusation you get from someone who spends no appreciable amount of time in Toronto, or interacting with the folks who live and work here”

    Yeah, maybe. I lived in Toronto for eighteen years. Oh well, why worry about jumping to conclusions, right, August?

  4. Finn Harvor says:

    p.s.

    “I think LH said most of what was worth saying about the piece on Nigel Beale’s site.”

    I didn’t quite get this when I first read it, partly because I was party to the short discussion that followed Alexis posting his response at Nigel Beale’s site, and it didn’t seem to me then that LH’s initial short comment could be characterized as saying “most of what was worth saying”. I went back to Beale’s space today and see that LH did in fact leave a longer comment. Is this what you’re talking about? It’s lengthier, that’s true (and, in terms of its tone, at variance with her first comment). But, still, as a rebuttal of Alexis does it really say “the most”? I’ve read other rebuttals to “The Long Decline” that are more detailed, and, for my money at least, more strongly argued.