Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, has been threatened with arrest today by the Indian government after claiming that the disputed territory of Kashmir is not an integral part of India.
India’s home ministry is reported to have told the police in Delhi that a case of sedition may be registered against Roy and the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani for remarks they made over the past weekend, in a seminar entitled “Whither Kashmir? Freedom or Enslavement”.
In a recent statement, Roy, who is currently in Srinigar, Kashmir, refused to backtrack on the comments.
“Some have accused me of giving ‘hate speeches’, of wanting India to break up,” she told the Guardian. “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 fingernails 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.”
In an essay published in the New Statesman this month, Roy stressed the alarming state of civil liberties in India.
Those who have risen up are aware that their country is in a state of emergency. They are aware that, like the people of Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland and Assam, they too have now been stripped of their civil rights by laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, which criminalise every kind of dissent – by word, deed and even intent.
During the “Emergency”, the saying goes, when Indira Gandhi asked the Indian press to bend, it crawled. And yet, in those days there were instances when national dailies defiantly published blank editorials to protest censorship. This time around, in the undeclared emergency, there’s not much scope for defiance because the media are the government. Nobody, except the corporations that control it, can tell the government what to do.
The Indian justice Minister, M Veerappa Moily, described Roy’s remarks as “most unfortunate”, but sidestepped questions about sedition charges. On the issue of free speech, Moily said, “Yes, there is freedom of speech . . . it can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people.”
It remains unclear what will happen to Roy: under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Act, those convicted of sedition may face anything from a small fine to life imprisonment.