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ARUNDHATI ROY INTERVIEW
CHAUDHURY: 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.
ROY: 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 internationalizing 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
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.
CHAUDHURY: 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
ROY: 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
SHOMA CHAUDHURY: 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
ROY: 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
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 criticize the
mass killing he presided over… they backed him. They said
he would make a great Prime Minister. That’s okay, is
CHAUDHURY: 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?
ROY: 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 don’t agree about
everything. But I speak about the Maoists and about what is
happening in Kashmir precisely because it’s 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 everybody’s head. This is not theoretical stuff, it’s
about peoples’ lives and safety and dignity. It doesn’t
get more crucial than this.
CHAUDHURY: 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
ROY: 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
CHAUDHURY: 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).
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?
CHAUDHURY: 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 don’t 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
ROY: 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 defense 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? SHOMA CHAUDHURY: 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.
ROY: It doesn’t 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, let’s begin the process at home. Let’s
dismantle the nuclear arsenal, roll up the flags, stand down
the army and stop the crazed nationalistic rhetoric… then
we can preach to others.
CHAUDHURY: 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?
ROY: 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. It’s lazy, it’s
convenient and it’s vicious. In many cases, it is deliberate.
The Pioneer reported in banner headlines that I advocated
Kashmir’s 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 brutalizing them. I said that to me this
was blinkered, shallow politics. Of course, I know that this
clarification will not make The Pioneer apologize.
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 nation’s 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
CHAUDHURY: Your critics are accusing you of not being sensitive
to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.
ROY: 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 Kashmir’s 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. Let’s also not forget that there are a few
thousand Pandits who have lived in the Valley through these
troubled years, and unharmed.
CHAUDHURY: 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
ROY: I’m bored of my critics. They can work it out for
themselves: I’m not going to explain my relationship with
this country and its people. I am not a politician looking for
published with the permission of ZNET.
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