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?

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