[News] Arundhati Roy - Tehelka Interview

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Sat Oct 30 10:04:02 EDT 2010

Tehelka Interview

October 30, 2010

By Arundhati Roy
Source: Tehelka Magazine

As a section of the political class and the media 
bays for her blood, author Arundhati Roy tells 
SHOMA CHAUDHURY why her opinions do not amount to sedition.

The State has been contemplating charges of 
sedition against you for your speeches in Delhi 
and Kashmir. How do you understand sedition? Did 
you see yourself as being seditious? What was 
your intention in speaking from those two 
platforms in Delhi and Srinagar under the rubric ­ Azadi: The only way.

Sedition is an archaic, obsolete idea revived for 
us by Times Now, a channel that seems to have 
hysterically dedicated itself to hunting me down 
and putting me in the way of mob anger. Who am I 
anyway? Small fry for a whole TV channel. It’s 
not hard to get a writer lynched in this climate, 
and that’s what it seems to want to do. It is 
literally stalking me. I almost sense psychosis 
here. If I was the Government of India I would 
take a step back from the chess board of this 
recent morass and ask how a TV channel managed to 
whip up this frenzy using moth-eaten, discredited 
old ideas, and goad everybody into a blind alley 
of international embarrassment. All this has gone 
a long way towards internationalising the 
‘Kashmir issue’, something the Indian government was trying to avoid.

One of the reasons it happened was because the 
BJP desperately needed to divert attention from 
the chargesheeting 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. It never 
occurred to me that I was being seditious. I had 
agreed to speak at the seminar in Delhi way 
before it was titled “Azadi: The only way”. The 
title was provocative, I guess, to people who are 
longing to be provoked. I don’t think it is such 
a big deal frankly, given what has been going on 
in Kashmir for more than half a century.

The Srinagar seminar was called ‘Whither Kashmir? 
Enslavement or Freedom?’ It was really meant for 
young Kashmiris to deepen the debate on what they 
meant by and what they wanted from azadi. 
Contrary to the idea that it was some 
fire-breathing call to arms, it was really the 
opposite ­ it was about contemplation, about 
deepening the debate, about asking uncomfortable questions.

You have always been fiercely individualistic. 
Why did you choose to share a platform ­ or look 
aligned ­ with Syed Shah Geelani and Varavara 
Rao, who are both very doctrinaire and represent 
very specific political positions? (Your 
statements might have been received differently 
if you had made them from an individual platform 
as a writer/ thinker or a civil society platform.)

It was a civil society platform! A platform of 
people who hold no public office, who have a 
range of different views. After all, Varavara Rao 
and Geelani have very different ideologies. That 
in itself should tell you that here was a 
platform of people who have diverse views and yet 
have something in common. I expressed my views, 
as they did theirs. I did not stand up and say I 
was joining the Hurriyat (G) or the CPI(Maoist). I said what I think.

Geelani, in particular, is not just pro-azadi or 
anti-India. He is very vocally pro-Pakistan, 
pro-sharia, pro-Jamaat, and has had an ambiguous 
past with the Hizb and violent internecine 
battles within the Kashmiri leadership itself. 
While you were perfectly right to voice your 
perspective on Kashmir, why did you choose to do 
it in conjunction with him? Why would you not be 
as critical of him as you are of the Indian State?

There are many Kashmiris who seriously disagree 
with Geelani’s views and still respect him for 
not having sold out to the Indian State. Speaking 
for myself, I disagree with many of his views, 
and I’ve written about it. I made that clear when 
I spoke. If he was the head of a state I lived in 
and he forced those views on me, I would do 
everything in my power to resist those ideas.

However, things being what they are in Kashmir, 
to equate him with the Indian State and expect an 
even-handed critique of both is ridiculous. Even 
the Indian government, it’s all-party delegation 
and the new ‘interlocutors’ know that Geelani is 
a vital part of what is happening in Kashmir. As 
for him being involved in the internecine battles 
within the Kashmiri leadership ­ yes that’s true. 
Terrible things happened in the nineties, 
fratricidal killings ­ and Geelani has been 
implicated in some of them. But internecine 
battles are a part of many resistance movements. 
They are NOT the same thing as State sponsored 
killings. In South Africa, the African National 
Congress (ANC) and Black Consciousness had 
vicious fights in which many hundreds were 
killed, including Steve Biko. Would you say then, 
that sitting on the same platform as Nelson Mandela is a crime?

By talking at seminars, by writing and 
questioning what he says, Geelani is being 
persuaded to change ­ there is a world of 
difference between what he says now and what he 
used to say only a few years ago. But what I find 
so strange about your question is this ­ how many 
people questioned Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani 
when they accepted Gujarat Garima awards from 
Narendra Modi, and embraced him in public? It 
wasn’t a seminar, was it? They didn’t question 
him, they didn’t express their views as 
individuals, they did not criticise the mass 
killing he presided over
 they backed him. They 
said he would make a great Prime Minister. That’s okay, is it?

Ditto for Varavara Rao. While their concern for 
social justice and critique of the Indian State 
as it stands may overlap with your own critique, 
the Maoists philosophically espouse armed 
revolution as the central path to change. In all 
your writings, that is not your position. So why 
choose to share a dais with Geelani and Varavara 
Rao at a particularly volatile moment in Kashmir?

I have written at length on my views about the 
Maoists and am not going to squeeze them into a 
sentence here. I admire Varavara Rao in many 
ways, even if we don’t agree about everything. 
But I speak about the Maoists and about what is 
happening in Kashmir precisely because it’s 
important to do so during critical times such as 
these, when the media is acting for the most part 
like a blood-thirsty propaganda machine, busy 
trying to drum the last intelligent thought out 
of everybody’s head. This is not theoretical 
stuff, it’s about peoples’ lives and safety and 
dignity. It doesn’t get more crucial than this.
Stamp of authority Paramilitary forces on guard in downtown Sri

Stamp of authority Paramilitary forces on guard in downtown Srinagar


Again, you are critical of the concept of nation 
states and the power they wield over people’s 
lives. Why support a man who wants to wrest 
Kashmir from India and merge with Pakistan ­ 
another extremely (and perhaps more) flawed nation state?

Who is this man I am supposed to be supporting? 
Geelani? Are you, of all people, seriously asking 
this? Could you produce one thing that I have 
said that supports the idea of ‘wresting’ Kashmir 
from India and merging it with Pakistan? Is 
Geelani the only man asking for azadi in Kashmir? 
I support the Kashmiri peoples’ right to 
self-determination. That is different from supporting Geelani.

The second part of the question ­ yes, I am among 
those who are very uncomfortable with the idea of 
a nation state, but that questioning has to start 
from those who live in the secure heart of 
powerful states, not from those struggling to 
overthrow the yoke of a brutal occupation. Sure, 
an independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed 
entity, but is independent India perfect? Are we 
not asking Kashmiris the same question that our 
old colonial masters asked us: are the natives ready for freedom?

The controversy over your speeches arises largely 
out of one point you made: “Kashmir is not an 
integral part of India. That is a historical 
fact.” Would you like to elaborate on why you 
said that? (Historical fact being different from 
legitimate sentiment arising out of ill treatment.)

The history is well known. I’m not going to give 
people a primary grade history lesson here. But 
isn’t the dubious history of Kashmir’s 
“accession” borne out by the present turmoil? Why 
does the Indian government have 700,000 soldiers 
there? Why are the interlocutors saying “draw up 
a road map for azadi”, or calling it a “disputed” 
territory? Why do we squeeze our eyes shut every 
time we have to look at the reality of the streets in Kashmir?

Even among those who defend your right to voice 
your views ­ no matter what they are ­ there are 
some people who say you could have framed your 
statement a bit differently to say “Kashmiris 
don’t feel they are an integral part of India,” 
or that “they want the right to 
self-determination and they should have that 
right”. Can you elaborate on why you wanted to be more categorical than that?

What if the British had said “Indians may not 
feel they are an integral part of the British 
Empire, but India is an integral part of the 
Empire?” Would that have gone down well with us? 
Are these well-intentioned “defenders” of my 
views unaware of what links people to their land? 
Does this well-intentioned “defence” apply to the 
Adivasis of Bastar ­ that the Adivasis are free 
to feel that they are not an integral part of 
India, but their land (with all its riches) 
certainly is! So the Adivasis should translocate 
their rituals and traditions to urban slums and 
leave their lands to the mining corporations, yes?

How do you interpret azadi? Going back to the 
earlier question about your critique of nation 
states, why would you be advocating the birth of 
a new nation state? Why not intellectually urge 
the dilution of nation states instead ­ more 
porous borders, less masculine constructs based on power and identity.

It doesn’t matter how I interpret azadi. It 
matters how the people of Kashmir interpret 
azadi. About my critique of the nation state ­ as 
I said, if we are keen to dilute its masculinity, 
let’s begin the process at home. Let’s dismantle 
the nuclear arsenal, roll up the flags, stand 
down the army and stop the crazed nationalistic 
 then we can preach to others.

There is an allegation and heated anger that you 
urged people not to join the army and become 
“rapists”. This sounds as if it is tarring a big 
institution in broad brushstrokes. As hoary as 
its track record has been, I guess the story 
about the Indian Army is not a black and white 
one. Is this a mutilation of what you said ? 
Could you put on record what you said about the army in your speech?

The mutilation of what I say, and not just about 
this, is legion. I watched words I never ever 
said being attributed to me in TV debate after TV 
debate. It’s lazy, it’s convenient and it’s 
vicious. In many cases, it is deliberate. The 
Pioneer reported in banner headlines that I 
advocated Kashmir’s secession from “Bhooka Nanga 
Hindustan”. Many have pounced on this as an 
illustration of my “hate-speech”. What I actually 
said, and have written about in some detail, is 
the opposite: how angry and upset I was when I 
heard the slogan “Bhooka Nanga Hindustan, Jaan se 
pyaara Pakistan” on the streets of Srinagar 
during the 2008 uprising. I said it shocked me 
that Kashmiris were mocking the very people who 
were victims of the same State that was 
brutalising them. I said that to me this was 
blinkered, shallow politics. Of course, I know 
that this clarification will not make The Pioneer 
apologise. It will carry on lying. It has done it 
before. I have never called the Indian Army an 
institution of rapists. I am not a moron. What I 
said was that all colonial powers actually 
establish their power by creating and working 
through a native elite. It has done this in 
Kashmir. It is Kashmiris themselves, who, among 
other things, by joining the police and the CRPF 
and army are collaborating with what they see as 
an occupying power. So I said that perhaps if 
they were keen on dismantling the occupation, 
they should stop joining the police! This kind of 
idiotic conflation and absurdity is getting truly 
dangerous. I sometimes feel that my real campaign 
is against stupidity (talk of lost causes!) If 
what emanates from our TV channels is a measure 
of the nation’s intelligence, then we really are 
in deep trouble ­ the decibel level of the 
debates is in inverse proportion to the IQ. 
Fortunately, I travel around and speak to enough 
real people to know that things are not so bad.

‘The media is acting like a blood-thirsty 
propaganda machine, busy trying to drum out the 
last intelligent thing out of everyone’s head’

Your critics are accusing you of not being 
sensitive to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.

Well my critics should read what I write and hear 
what I say. But for the record: I think what has 
happened to the Kashmiri Pandits is a terrible 
tragedy. I think that the story of the Pandits is 
one that still remains to be told in all its 
complexity. Everyone was at fault, the militancy, 
the Islamist upsurge in the Valley, and the 
Indian government, which encouraged (even helped) 
the Pandits to flee when it should have done 
everything it could to protect them. Apart from 
losing everything they had and the only home they 
really knew, the poorest Pandits are still living 
in camps in Jammu in the worst conditions, and 
have had their voices hijacked by some 
well-heeled and noisy charlatans who feed off the 
destitution of their own people to get a lot of 
cheap political mileage. They have a vested 
interest in keeping them poor, so they can show 
them off, like animals in a zoo. Do you think 
that if the government really cared it could not 
have helped those poor people to better their 
lot? In all my visits to Kashmir I have sensed 
that ordinary Kashmiri Muslims feel a terrible 
sense of loss at the departure of the Pandits. If 
that is true, it is the duty of the leaders of 
Kashmir’s present struggle to get the Pandits to 
return. That needs more than rhetoric. Apart from 
it being the right thing to do, it would give 
them enormous moral capital. It would also help 
shape their vision of what kind of Kashmir they 
are fighting for. Let’s also not forget that 
there are a few thousand Pandits who have lived 
in the Valley through these troubled years, and unharmed.

Your critics see you as disloyal and 
unappreciative of India and its strengths, even 
as you enjoy its freedoms. Could you explain how 
you see and understand your relationship with India?

I’m bored of my critics! They can work it out for 
themselves: I’m not going to explain my 
relationship with this country and its people. I 
am not a politician looking for brownie points.

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

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