Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sedition and the Roy

Let me begin with putting my cards on the table -- I disagree with virtually everything that Arundhati Roy says or writes. I find her views infantile and polemical with no attempt at deeper analysis. She has no knowledge or understanding of context. Her 20,000 word diatribes are verbose and content-less. She criticises state sponsored schemes like Salwa Judum (and indeed she should) and defends the Naxals but has nothing to say about all the innocent people they kill regularly by blowing up railway tracks or buses or members of the police forces, including those not involved in anti-Naxal activities. Her most egregious, not to say outrageous statement was to blame the 26/11 massacre on Government policy towards Muslims in India. Not a word about the fact that it was engineered by the ISI in the friendly country across the border, nor the fact that those carrying out the attack were not Indian Muslims taking revenge on the state, but Pakistanis trained and brain washed in camps across the border. Her most recent claim was that Kashmir never acceded to India, ignoring the fact that Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession. If this is not legally valid, as she seemed to imply, then neither was the accession of all the princely states or Hyderabad. Are we planning to undo those? She finds much that is wrong with Indian policy in Kashmir (regrettably here she is right) but finds nothing wrong with sharing the dias with Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Geelani is not just a separatist leader -- there are many in Kashmir. He is amongst the most morally and intellectually corrupt leaders of that movement. He incites young impressionable men to go and throw stones at the security forces thereby running the risk of facing a bullet. He, on the other hand, and in fear of his life stays safely indoors, unwilling to risk life and limb. His jihad involves sacrificing lives other than his own. He takes money for his 'cause' from Pakistan and yet, when he fell ill with cancer, got the Indian Government to pay for all his medical expenses in Delhi. (An average citizen of India, on the other hand, needs to depends on our notoriously ill equipped, ill managed and indifferent Government General Hospitals). And this is the man Ms. Roy sees fit to join common cause with.

And yet, is her speech worthy of a case of sedition being slapped on her? I am astounded that there has been so much discussion about this issue in the media. A couple of posts earlier, I wrote about China. Do we want to be like them? Are we like them? Do we want to put behind bars every person who says things that is against the official Government line? The BJP has of course gone overboard in asking for the death penalty for such people. But the BJP, far from becoming a mainstream right wing party, continues on its path of fascism. Does it mean P. Chidambaram must rise to the bait every time Arun Jaitley taunts him with being 'soft'? Does he or the UPA Government have no self confidence that they need to make common cause with the BJP? Where was the need to ask the Delhi Police to investigate? The Supreme Court has already ruled that freedom of speech, enshrined in our much beloved constitution by our founding fathers is not to be proscribed, except in cases where there is actual threat of war or rebellion to overthrow the Government, "Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section".

Ms. Roy's statement(s) deserves indifference, not action under sedition laws. A mature democracy cannot afford to be sidetracked by irrelevant, uninformed and infantile criticism. Even the statements of Mr Geelani (a far more dangerous and contemptible person) deserve to be ignored. As I believe they have been this time. I hope this sense continues to prevail in the future and we will be spared the pathetic 'Pity the nation...' statement of our erstwhile Booker Prize winner. It is this pitiful nation that allows her the freedom to utter whatever drivel she takes a shine to.

Update:Classic Roy! Check out the last para.


L said...

Well said. The media should not be doing free PR job for Roy. Ignore her twice and she will stop being the enfant terrible.

gaddeswarup said...

Actually I read Arundhati Roy off and on. She has said it well "Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds."

Anant said...

OLO: I suppose you realize that by writing so passionately about AR you have violated the dictum that she deserves to be ignored? Enlighten us...

Rahul Basu said...

gaddeswarup: Since I also belong to this nation, I don't like to be pitied. In any case, nobody has tried to silence her, either now or earlier. This just seems to be one more of her pre-emptive strikes.

Anant: Indeed, she deserves to be ignored. But someone has to say it...or do you wish to convey everything through telepathy?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

You say
"nobody has tried to silence her, either now or earlier."

So what do you call the sedition case, that you refer to in this blog post? In fact that is precisely what she refers to in the piece that Gaddeswarup links.

"I am not trying to silence you: I am only telling you that you may be arrested for what you say."

I think she is a terrible writer who loses anyone who's not already on board within the first hundred words. That's the only explanation for claims like yours: "[she] has nothing to say about all the innocent people they kill regularly..." In fact, in the very article series that annoyed everyone, she says things like "I feel I ought to say something at this point [about the killing of a panchayat president]. About the futility of violence, about the unacceptability of summary executions. But what should I suggest they do?..." [1] and "the Naxalites remained silent while General Yahya Khan committed genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh), because at the time, China was an ally of Pakistan. There was silence too, over the Khmer Rouge and its killing fields in Cambodia. There was silence over the egregious excesses of the Chinese and Russian Revolutions. Silence over Tibet. Within the Naxalite movement too, there have been violent excesses and it's impossible to defend much of what they've done..." [2]

The problem is that she writes too much and too polemically. You have to wade through the rhetoric to get to the point.

Rahul Basu said...

Rahul: There was no sedition case. P Chidambaram made the Delhi Police go through the motions and I think both of them decided it would be ridiculous particularly when the Kashmir interlocutors have been told to talk to anybody and everybody including the separatists.

You quote her views on Naxalites. But her article on 26/11 had very few of these ifs and buts. She was clear that culpability lay squarely with the Indian Government. Frankly on this one issue, I decided she was beyond the pale. Or maybe she said something around the 100th para and I never made it there....

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Are you talking about this article? Perhaps readers can read it for themselves and judge whether you are characterising it fairly. It is not long by her standards.

Rahul Basu said...

Rahul: I read the Outlook version which is somewhat longer but is essentially the same -- the moment I saw 'Side A' and 'Side B', I knew it was.
And as usual it manages to conflate and confuse innumerable issues. She claims at one point to choose Side B always. Then she brings in a host of issues, talks of the elephant in the room (that's Kashmir, Godhra, Babri Masjid). And this is absurd. Of course all three are blots on the Indian record, the last two more so. But it is ridiculous to suggest that if Godhra hadn't happened, 26/11 wouldn't either -- that somehow these are connected somehow (causally). As Salman Rushdie pointed out,

it's not as if, in the absence of Godhra, Kashmir, Babri Masjid, there would be no terrorism.
I mentioned this explicitly in my post - that these were not Indian Muslims taking revenge. These were 'paid' jihadis of the ISI as is now clear (even before Headley's confession) - with or without Godhra, they were determined to attack India's soft underbelly. Most of the article is on those lines. Here is a classic line "in the business of terrorism, victims and perpetrators sometimes exchange roles". I suppose that's true - if I could only understand what it meant.

Even the beginning sets your teeth on edge. Here is one "We're told one of these hotels is an icon of the city of Mumbai. That's absolutely true. It's an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day." Yes, of course various people and parts of India are obscenely rich, living cheek by jowl with slum dwellers. But is it not absurd to juxtapose these kinds of iniquities with 26/11? Is she suggesting that because these people were so rich, they deserved to be killed? Because it sounds a hell of a lot as if that is precisely what she is implying. In fact I wish I hadn't read this article again -- it makes furious, and makes me feel that I was way too mild in my post.

Anyway thanks for all these links. Most of what I wrote was from memory. It now appears I shouldn't have -- her views are far worse than what I remembered them to be. (To say nothing of large parts of these articles which are incomprehensible to me -- I would guess one requires far more grey matter than I possess to understand a Booker prize winner).

Rahul Basu said...

The URL in the previous comment got truncated. Here is a short version

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Well, let's just say I don't quite agree with your characterisation of her article in this comment, and totally disagree with how you described it in your previous comment and in the main post - but I agree she's a polarising writer. And, I think, an over-rated one.

Rahul Basu said...

Rahul: You are welcome to disagree with me, with Government policies, with whatever. We live in India, not China. But what does one make of such statements from this lady:

"British imperialism was replaced with Indian colonialism which "continued to subjugate the people of India"."

I can't help feeling that making outrageous statements is her way of being in the limelight. There are significantly more sober ways to get a point across, assuming she has some point to make.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

First, that's a reporter's paraphrasing of what she said, and second, you and I are not subjugated but I think millions of tribals (and others) don't feel quite the same way... Ms Roy generally makes the point in the worst possible way, but generally the point is lurking there somewhere.

jyotsana said...

Rahul Sid,

AR is not the first person to parley with the Naxals/terrorists/thugs or whoever. But she is definitely one of the dishonest ones to do so. JP, Vinoba Bhave, Baba Amte, Medha Patkar, and Nanaji Deshmukh (there are many others) have all done their bit to quell dissatisfaction witht he Indian state in its deepest reaches. And none of them ever compromised on the issue of violence. They were insistent to the point of bluntness that moral legitimacy of any grievance begins when violence is rejected - no ifs or buts. Kanshi Ram, whom you know was a Sikh kept Khalistani supporters out of the BSP when they sounded him out for an alliance in Punjab. There are 1000s of people today who work in their own small ways to transform at least their corner of India into a more compassionate place for the least among us. Does Udavum Karangal's Vidyakar go about making cause with the LTTE? Does the Ramakrishna Mission in NE India and in Bangladesh resort to violence when terrorits (in the former) and jihadis (in the latter) attack them? This is much more than AR, it is about what choices we have to change our country, and what choices some of us make. Is baba Amte and enabler of the state for not supporting Naxal thugs in Ghadchiroli and instead rehabilitating leprosy patients? Is Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak a casteist-corporatist-Brahminical-Hindu for building public conveniences and rehabilitating sanitation workers and not organizing them to blow up Parliament?

AR is a crusader of convenience and very comfortable with supporting any group that undermines her pet hates - which currently is India's Hindu-corporate-state, Azim Premji must be relived! That day in Delhi she was sharing a stage with S.A.Geelani who kindly informs us that independent state of Kashmir will impose sharia only on its Muslim citizens! Read this interview by Yoginder Sikand to learn what a poisonous ideology the man upholds,

Q.4]But do you really see Indian Hindus and Muslims as two separate 'nations'? After all, they share so much in common.
[A]They are totally separate nations. There is no doubt at all about this. Muslims believe in just one God, but Hindus believe in crores of Gods.

vbalki said...

I think Rahul's original post just about says it all, as far as Ms. Roy is concerned.

1. As a writer, she seems to have shot her bolt with "Lesser God". One expected more from her after that fairly high-class debut, but she has sorely disappointed her readership.

2. She seems to have set herself up as some sort of instant expert on all manner of fairly intricate subjects: nuclear energy and anthropology, among others. Her pronouncements on these matters don't inspire much confidence in her expertise.

3. In her eagerness to bash the establishment, she uses the obvious trick of making patently outrageous remarks
to get attention. But this can only divert one's attention for a couple of seconds.

As your commentators have pointed out, she desperately needs to be ignored. Maybe she'll then go back to developing her talent as a novelist, which is perhaps what she should have been doing all along. But of course her life is hers to choose.

Rahul Basu said...

vbalki: I think in one of her numerous essays, this time on India's Nuclear Tests she gives her excuse for not writing another book:

The last question every visiting journalist always asks me is: Are you writing another book? That question mocks me. Another book? Right now? When it looks as though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature - the whole of human civilization means nothing to the fiends who run the world - what kind of book should I write?

Wonder why all the other writers of the world have continued to write despite the fiends.

Sourendu said...

Wikipedia says this of A. Roy's obscure life: "Until made financially stable by the success of her novel The God of Small Things, she worked various jobs, including running aerobics classes at five-star hotels in New Delhi." I discern a new nursery for social justice in this sentence.

Arun said...

However a bad writer AR is, she brings topics like this into discussion, and I think we need people like her who can bring opposing views to the public sphere, without simply buying the establishment view. For example,t hat Hari Singh signed the accession etc is enough for being Kashmir being part of India even when majority of the people there do not want to, is debatable IMHO. Debatable.

And she would not have had such a strong voice had it not been for her hyperbolic prose. I think that kind of prose (or speech) helps in invoking people.


Anant said...

Why do I get that feeling of deja vu all over again? Maybe because of the following from Annie Hall:

Alvy Singer: [narrating] After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.