[News] Arundhati Roy - Tehelka Interview
news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Oct 30 10:04:02 EDT 2010
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. Its
not hard to get a writer lynched in this climate,
and thats 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 dont 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 Geelanis 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 Ive 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, its 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 thats 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
wasnt a seminar, was it? They didnt question
him, they didnt 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. Thats 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 dont agree about everything.
But I speak about the Maoists and about what is
happening in Kashmir precisely because its
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 everybodys head. This is not theoretical
stuff, its about peoples lives and safety and
dignity. It doesnt 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
PHOTO: TARIQ MIR
Again, you are critical of the concept of nation
states and the power they wield over peoples
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. Im not going to give
people a primary grade history lesson here. But
isnt the dubious history of Kashmirs
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
dont 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 doesnt 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,
lets begin the process at home. Lets 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. Its lazy, its convenient and its
vicious. In many cases, it is deliberate. The
Pioneer reported in banner headlines that I
advocated Kashmirs 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 nations 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 everyones 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
Kashmirs 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. Lets 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?
Im bored of my critics! They can work it out for
themselves: Im not going to explain my
relationship with this country and its people. I
am not a politician looking for brownie points.
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