Update: I’ve changed the headline from ‘arrested’. That was my mistake.
News reports from India state that Roy, the author of the Booker Prize winning novel The God of Small Things, will be arrested and charged with ‘sedition’ over comments she made on Kashmir.
In statement issued to news organisations and campaigners (reproduced below), Roy claims she said only “what millions of people here say every day” and that her comments against India’s operations in Kashmir were made in support of her fellow countrymen.
Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN, said:
Since June, Kashmiri journalists and broadcasters attempting to report on unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir have been subject to violence and gagging.
Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy has now stepped forward to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Kashmiris. The truth of what is happening in Kashmir needs to be told. Brutality by the state, and the silencing of reporters, is no option for a modern India.
The author Hari Kunzru said:
I’m concerned to hear that Arundhati Roy may face sedition charges. India trumpets its status as the world’s largest democracy, but the Indian establishment is notoriously unwilling to listen to dissident voices. Whether or not one agrees with Roy’s positions on Kashmir or the Maoist insurgency in Central India, the issues she raises are important and deserve to be debated. The willingness by elements of the Indian establishment to use the legal system to intimidate critics is lamentable. India’s writers are an important part of the nation’s identity on the international stage. Supporting their right to free speech goes hand in hand with applauding them when they win the Booker prize. One is meaningless without the other.
Laws of ‘sedition’ (criticising the state) are routinely used by governments all around the world to threaten critics of official policy and state actions. In former British colonies, these are based on archaic English laws. Last year, English PEN campaigned successfully to ensure the remnants of such laws were removed from the English statute books, but elsewhere in the Commonwealth they remain law.
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 travelled 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
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Filed in: Civil liberties,India