Month: October 2010

Arundhati Roy’s new statement

SOMETHING FOR THE MEDIA TO THINK ABOUT

A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday, October 31, 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live. TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I can understand that the BJP’s Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

Arundhati Roy
October 31, 2010

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Arundhati Roy: 2 interviews

From Democracy Now: “Roy on Kashmir’s Independence”

From Tehelka: “‘An independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed entity, but is independent India perfect?‘”

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?

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?

Anuj Chopra

From Foreign Policy: “Killing the Messenger

“Sedition, a charge that is obsolete in most democratic societies, is often employed to squelch dissenting voices in totalitarian cultures. So it’s disquieting when there are boisterous calls to use it to curb politically unpalatable opinions in a liberal democracy like India. This is exactly what happened last week after Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy told a convention of political activists and Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi that “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India.” It was, she said, a “historical fact.”

Azaadi — “freedom” in Urdu and the cri de coeur of Kashmiris — is bewildering to most Indians, and more often than not provokes an aggressively nationalistic response. “What is the meaning of azaadi?” people here ask. Kashmiris have the right to democratically elect their own government; the Indian constitution accords the Himalayan state a “special status”; the territory receives more monetary assistance from New Delhi than any other Indian state. And yet this “spoiled” and “pampered” lot — in the words of one right-wing Hindu organization — wants to break away from us?

Such attitudes only hardened this summer, as the region was convulsed by violent anti-India protests that by many accounts were far worse than the onset of the armed Islamist insurgency in 1989. The Kashmiri “Intifada” was triggered in early June by the killing of a 17-year-old Kashmiri student by Indian security personnel. The ensuing violence claimed 110 lives.

The apathy and indifference of Indians towards Kashmiris’ grievances has deepened despair throughout the Kashmir valley. Material inducements and a modicum of political representation cannot heal Kashmir’s existential scars, much less expunge the spirit of azaadi. Kashmir has its own government, but it is just as directly controlled by New Delhi as the army, paramilitary forces, and intelligence agencies that have descended upon the state. Democratic spaces have shrunk over the last two decades. India guarantees free speech to its citizens, but curbs all varieties of political dissent in Kashmir. Protesters in many corners of India throw stones, but only in Kashmir do the authorities respond with live ammunition.”

Pradeep Magazine

From Hindustan Times: “Half Stories, Half Truths

Sanjay Kak is a Kashmiri Pandit who has made an evocative documentary, Jashn-e-Azadi, which captures various forms of protests in the Valley and traces the deep sense of alienation of Muslims. The word azadi, in that film, acquires a meaning far deeper than just freedom or secession. The concept of azadi is so entrenched in the Kashmiri Muslim consciousness that neither State largesse nor repression can restore peace to the valley, if their struggle isn’t understood in human terms.

Kak’s documentary also brings out the angst of Kashmiri Pandits, their longing for a home from which they’ve been uprooted. A few years ago, I watched this disturbing human drama and, as a Pandit myself, admired Kak’s courage in confronting vested interests, including his own community. As we came out of the theatre, a relative of mine lamented, “I feel guilty.” This guilt did not arise, as mine did, from the realisation that the Kashmir issue is not a religious-fundamentalist movement, as the Indian state portrays. He, instead, felt that “by watching the film he was endorsing the outrageous, misleading propaganda his own community member (Kak) was spreading.” Kashmiri Pandit activists have prevented the screening of Kak’s film in Delhi through protests you can’t call peaceful.

This preamble is to put in perspective the story about last week’s seminar, ‘Azadi, the only way’, which has spawned many versions, each wildly different in its perception of what transpired.

As a witness to the event, I must admit that the 400-strong audience, comprising mostly young Kashmiris, erupted in frenzied applause every time a speaker referred to the oppression by the Indian state in Kashmir. There were speakers from the ultra left too, who underlined the brutal suppression of just mass struggles across India. Their speeches were equally anti-State, but they weren’t hate speeches nor did they advocate violence.

In this charged atmosphere, the problem began when Roy began to speak. She was heckled, for ignoring the injustices against Kashmiri Hindus, as she blasted the Indian State. The taunts of the hecklers, numbering just a dozen, were drowned in the thunderous applause of the majority, which wanted the seminar to continue.

A brief pause later, Roy raised some pertinent points for the separatists to ponder. She argued that the Kashmiris should join protest movements against injustices all across India and not care only about their own cause. She also demanded to know what kind of state the separatists envisage — whether the minorities, like the Pandits, would have equal rights and made to feel a sense of belonging in Kashmir, unlike now.

As the crowd lapped up each word Roy spoke, I felt proud that our democracy has become mature enough to allow leaders of radical movements to express themselves in the very heart of India. But my pride ebbed when Geelani began to speak — a handful of protesters began to raise cries of Bharat Mata ki jai, unfurl the tricolour and make threatening advances towards the stage. They were asked to listen peacefully or leave. Ultimately, the police escorted them out.

Geelani, the ‘incorrigible hawk’, appealed to India to talk to Kashmiris in the language of insaniyat. Responding to Roy’s query, he said an independent Kashmir will grant equal rights to all. He reiterated his demand for a referendum in the undivided J&K, promising to abide by the verdict, even if it went in India’s favour. He expressed hope of India becoming a superpower, outstripping even the US and China.

This was what I heard and saw. But the story in the media was quiet different — there was only the heckling and humiliation of Geelani and Arundhati Roy.

That the Kashmir story has an alternative narrative, which Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi depicts and the seminar in Delhi fleetingly touched upon, needs to be told to India’s masses without hecklers hijacking the agenda.

Hilal Mir

From Kafila, “GQ Boy’s Platinum Pain

“There are various divisions of pain the different classes of people feel in Jammu and Kashmir. Like those bank credit cards which classify customers according to precious metals—Platinum, Gold, Silver—pain is a class thing. For example, when PDP veteran Muzaffar Hussain Baig, after making a long convoluted speech in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, said Omar Abdullah’s name figured in the list of the people who used their authority to sexually exploit girls, the junior Abdullah was transformed into a character from a Greek tragedy.

Omar nearly swooned, sulked in the chair, head tilted backward, focusing his anguished gaze toward the roof, where I guess he might have seen those specks of light a person experiences when hit by a speeding car. That was platinum pain. The reaction was commensurate to the privileged hurt: immediate resignation, walk out, a quick flight to the moral ivory tower atop which he announced “unless I am proven innocent I won’t resume.” He resumed a few days later. His father Dr Farooq Abdullah, who normally sheds tears at opportune, politically-rewarding times, cried in the studio of an Indian news channel over the first jolt delivered to his dear son. Platinum pain again.

Omar nearly swooned, sulked in the chair, head tilted backward, focusing his anguished gaze toward the roof, where I guess he might have seen those specks of light a person experiences when hit by a speeding car. That was platinum pain. The reaction was commensurate to the privileged hurt: immediate resignation, walk out, a quick flight to the moral ivory tower atop which he announced “unless I am proven innocent I won’t resume.” He resumed a few days later. His father Dr Farooq Abdullah, who normally sheds tears at opportune, politically-rewarding times, cried in the studio of an Indian news channel over the first jolt delivered to his dear son. Platinum pain again.

National Conference legislators frantically went to the press and reminded Baig that since he was salacious man who had been in a live-in relationship with a very young law graduate, also his relative, he must be ashamed of making such comments. Baig seemed to be above pain or hurt, or shame. Deep down he might have taken the remarks as a compliment, though he bared a fang or two before media. Why was Omar so deeply hurt? Because this was something that targeted the core of his being. No harm done if he has done things in his youth. A majority of us do. Besides, that is a profoundly private matter. Nevertheless, he was shaken when he was accused of something he thought he had nothing to do with. So were thousands of people when a police officer named Yusuf Bandh snatched the headscarf of a woman during a protest. The photograph was published in every local newspaper and it is there on the facebook, a testimony to the stripped dignity of Kashmiri women. But not a word from the man who resigned in a jiffy when accused of exploitation of women. Why?

This why seems to be rhetorical because every Kashmiri knows why. They know that Omar Abdullah is too little of a Kashmiri to know what snatching the headscarf from a woman means. He lacks cultural, religious and political sensitivities to realize what that police officer’s act meant, because he is too much of India. When the “world’s leading men’s magazine” GQ had him on its cover in December 2009, he told the interviewer that as a young boy his mother had told him to always dress well because as a member of Kashmir’s first political family “you will always be noticed.” Given her English upbringing, I don’t think she would have advised him to dress well on the occasion he appeared dressed casually in a T-shirt before media to talk about deaths of dozens of boys. That insensitivity comes not from a privileged rearing but an alienation from the roots. After all he is nothing but a hotel management graduate lucky to have been born as the grandson of legendary Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. He only has Sheikh Abdullah’s genes, not necessarily his ability to empathise with his own people. (I am no apologist for Sheikh Abdullah who is responsible for much of what Kashmir is going through, but we can’t take it from him that he did care about the people at some level)

Again, when a shoe was thrown at him while saluting Indian flag in an empty stadium guarded by thousands of troops, the thrower was immediately arrested, thrashed sumptuously, and 17 police officials were suspended for dereliction of duty. Platinum embarrassment. Platinum hurt. Omar’s magnanimity was broadcast live on TV when he talked to the shoe thrower and forgave him, quite like the two parties at a truth and reconciliation commission. By the way, he talked a lot about the need for a truth and reconciliation commission before coming to power. He demonstrated a narcissistic glimpse of what it might look like.

Recently, when sobered Czar Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s salt-and-pepper bearded Rasputin, Naeem Akhtar, and journalist-turned legislator, Nizamuddin Bhat, publicly accused Omar of receiving kickbacks from some project, a defamation suit was filed against them quicker than you can say case. Why? I know why. Because it was the platinum boy whose skin had been touched, not the nine-year-old son of a fruit vendor who had been trampled to death by Indian forces, half-chewed toffee still in his mouth. You can put a price on fruit vendor’s pain. It is half a million Indian rupees. Don’t you dare to even think of measuring GQ boy’s honour in terms of money.

When he was awarded the Leader of The Year Award at GQ’s inaugural men of the year awards in October last year, Omar told drooling reporters, “I’m much more comfortable standing in a crowd of people asking for votes than I am facing the camera.” How true. Comfortable asking for votes, but heartless enough to rub salt on the wounds of a crowd that is grieving deaths of people mowed down like flies.”

Arundhati Roy Interview

From Democracy Now, “Roy Faces Arrest for Questioning India’s Claim on Kashmir

The award-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy is facing possible arrest in India on sedition charges after publicly advocating for Kashmir independence and challenging India’s claim that Kashmir is an “integral part of India.” If charged and convicted of sedition, Roy could face up to life in prison.

The interview was conducted Sept. 19, 2010 in London.

Watch the segment here.

Resolution passed in the convention on Kashmir

21 October 2010, New Delhi: AZADI: THE ONLY WAY

Kashmir today has turned into a tortuous prison for its people where the right to life is a mirage. Mourning is a luxury which common masses cannot afford. Everyone in the beautiful valley is condemned, whose turn for being murdered could come anytime, anywhere. Ironically, the murderer is a claimant to democracy. And the murder is of democracy.

The killings of at least 110 civilians, most of them young teenage boys, from the start of early summer till now are testimony to this fact. Curfews were imposed, bullets were fired, tear smoke used to intimidate and suppress the people of Kashmir into submission by the Indian state. Every trick in the book was employed, perhaps surpassing even the Machiavellian imaginations. In the face of brute force and scheming tactics of the state, the people of Kashmir have shown the highest levels of patience, perseverance and courage. A lively spirit, and a determined attitude which is exemplary for the resistance struggles worldwide and brings to light the pinnacle of the strength of the human will.

While many people have shown concern and expressed their views about the recent turn of events in Kashmir, it is imperative to contextualize the whole situation. We need to ask the question as to why people are getting killed in hundreds, injured in thousands, kept behind bars, tortured and maimed. It is important at this juncture to bring the attention towards the fact that the basic issue at hand regarding the Kashmir dispute is the self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir for which they have been steadfast and hence been the target of the repressive military machine of the Indian state. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are clear about the fact that what they want is Azadi which they have time and again defined in coherent terms of letting them decide their own future. They have made clear that for them Azadi is the only way.

The latest people’s resistance – which forms the part of the recently launched ‘Quit Jammu and Kashmir Movement’- needs to be viewed as a continuity of the resistance movement (Tehreek) which the people of Kashmir have been sustaining for over six decades. And which for the past few years has been completely non-violent and peaceful. The only violent party being the Indian state.

The political dispute vis-à-vis Kashmir need not be confused with the superficial measures like the removal of AFSPA, human rights violations, other draconian acts, stopping of unlawful killings, tortured, enforced disappearances etc. Though all these things do exist and need to be stopped at any cost, they manifest only symptoms of a broader and deeper malaise- a militarized governance used to maintain a military occupation of the region by the Indian state, through its armed forces, numbering at least 7,00,000.

In order to address these issues several measures are required, which would move in the direction of the attainment of Azadi for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. And we at this convention ‘Azadi : The Only Way’ organized by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), on 21st October, 2010 at LTG Auditorium, New Delhi, propose the following:

We ask the Indian state to:

1. Formally admit that Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute.
2. Immediately start steps towards complete demilitarization of the region.
3. Release all the political prisoners languishing both in Kashmiri as well as Indian jails.
4. Removal of draconian laws like AFSPA, Disturbed Areas Act, etc.

Also, we would ask all democratic people in the world at large to:

1. Pressurize the Indian state to take immediate steps in this regard,
2. Investigate into thousands of unnamed and mass graves in J&K,
3. Prosecute and bring to justice all those responsible for the murder of innocent                     Kashmiri civilians

ORGANISED BY COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS (CRPP)

Statement from Arundhati Roy

From The Times of India, “I pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice

“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