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Arundhati Roy: The Debater of Big Things




On trial for sedition in 1922, Mahatma Gandhi told the court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat: "I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me." Sedition "in law is a deliberate crime", he admitted, but it "appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen".

History does not repeat itself, nor does it always rhyme. Still, the words of the father of modern India come to mind when considering the case of Arundhati Roy, who faces arrest under pretty much the same colonial sedition laws that earned [Mohandas] Gandhi a six-year prison sentence.

The writer is under threat of a sedition charge after claiming in Delhi this weekend that "Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this." Ever since, the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party has been demanding the author's arrest and trial. The party's general secretary claimed: "Anyone speaking against India should be hanged."

As sentiments go, this is both daft and directly contrary to the Indian tradition of open debate and healthy dissent - and the Congress-led government should say so. The BJP may find Ms Roy's position shocking, but her comments are hardly new - she has been making similar public statements for years now. Nor is her argument a novel one; as the author (and occasional contributor to this paper) points out, she has only been voicing "what millions of people ... say every day". All she has done is bravely use her position to draw attention to the unjustifiable repression of unrest in the Kashmir valley that has been taking place over the past few months.

Rather than chase after a novelist for speaking at a seminar, the Delhi government would be better off investigating the 100-plus people who are believed to have died in violence in Kashmir since June.

When Ms Roy won the Booker for The God of Small Things in 1997, the Indian press celebrated her as a powerful writer, an international success and an addition to the country's deservedly renowned literature. To be all those things means also having the liberty to speak your own mind - as Indians know very well.

As Amartya Sen points out in his book The Argumentative Indian, there is a long, deep tradition in the country's discourse, of encouraging argument from all comers. Mr Sen quotes a poem from the 19th-century Bengali writer Ram Mohun Roy help make his case: "Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking and you won't be able to argue back." Such sentiments are far more Indian than nonsense from irate BJP activists.


[Courtesy: The Guardian]

October 28, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: N. Singh (Canada), October 28, 2010, 12:04 PM.

Although I am impressed by The Guardian for their rational and logical support for what Arundhati is doing, I am equally appalled at their ignorance. Does the Editor of The Guardian genuinely believe that India encourages 'open debate' on controversial issues ... is that why people both in India, the Punjab and even in the Diaspora speak openly and discuss Khalistan so freely? Is that why books are removed from University syllabuses or otherwise banned from publication? Do these western journalists really not know the 'true' state of affairs or do they deliberately publish such pro-India propaganda because they get throw-backs from the India government ... what a lot of tripe!

2: H. Singh (Canada), December 09, 2010, 1:05 AM.

Maybe you should look a bit more into the so-called "father of modern India" - Mohandas Gandhi. He's not all he seems to be. He gets his face printed on India's bills, and little is known of the real heroes of modern India - the likes of S.Bhagat Singh, S.Udham Singh, etc.

3: R. Singh (Canada), December 21, 2010, 7:47 AM.

People like Arundhati Roy keep our freedoms alive. These are the true heroes.

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