Saturday, October 23, 2010
Privilege of being Arundhati Roy
Since Arundhati Roy believes in a world of equals, why should she be more privileged than Chhatradhar Mahato?
If consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative, as was famously (and tad bitchily) declared by the flamboyant Irish writer Oscar Wilde, then Arundhati Roy qualifies as an author-activist-anarchist lacking in imagination. For she has been consistent in denouncing the Indian nation, questioning the quality of democracy in this country, casting aspersions on the judiciary, promoting secessionism and justifying the murderous campaign by Maoists to capture state power. Outraged as most people are by her passionate espousal of azadi for Kashmir at a convention in the heart of Lutyens’s Delhi last Thursday, they appear to have forgotten her previous assertion of the Kashmiris’ “right to secede” from the Union of India, not once or twice, but many times over. Similarly, this is not the first time that she has ridiculed the nation and the state or poured scorn over India’s democratic credentials which are universally acknowledged as among the best in the world.
“India needs azadi from Kashmir and Kashmir needs azadi from India,” she told an appreciative crowd of secessionists and their supporters, carted in from Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi University and other such taxpayer-funded institutions of learning that double up as fast-breeders of Muslim separatists and Left extremists for whom nationalism is as offensive as their nationality. But this is not the first time Arundhati Roy has outraged sensitivities. Two years ago, on August 19, 2008, after attending a rally organised by separatists in Srinagar, she had excitedly told mediapersons eager to record her pearls of wisdom: “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.” She had then added with a flourish, as is by now her established style of exaggerating a point to sheer banality, “If no one is listening then it is because they don’t want to hear. Because this is a referendum… People don’t need anyone to represent them, they are representing themselves.”
Nor is this the first time that Arundhati Roy has questioned the quality of democracy in India; she has done so repeatedly. Invited for a book-reading session at New York’s Town Hall, she had stunned the gathering by suddenly launching a vitriolic attack on democracy in India. “The biggest PR myth of all times is that India is a democracy. In reality, it is not… There is no real democracy in India. Several States in India are on the verge of civil war… In Iraq, there are 1,50,000 military personnel, whereas in Kashmir Valley there are some 7,00,000,” she had said. Not surprisingly, she got a standing ovation. Who is to tell the Americans who applauded her that had India not been a democracy she would have been frog-marched to Tihar Jail immediately upon arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport on her return?
On another occasion, while berating the police for arresting Maoists and charging them with murder, Arundhati Roy had lashed out at democracy in India for not tolerating terrorism in the name of Chairman Mao’s blood-stained ideology. “The concept of Indian democracy is the biggest publicity scam of this century. Holding elections every five years does not necessarily mean that our country enjoys democracy.” Her notion of democracy, presumably, is a system that allows unrestricted lawlessness so long as laws are being followed in the breach by her ilk — deracinated, English-speaking, cliché-mouthing ‘intellectuals’ who wax eloquent on the plight of the unwashed masses but recoil in horror at the very suggestion of being counted with those on whose behalf they claim to speak — and their rage boys who kill and maim, rape and loot, burn and destroy to satiate their perverse desire to see India suffer. It’s fashionable for them to intersperse their accented English with deliberately mispronounced words in Hindi. Hence Arundhati Roy’s description of India as “bhookhey-nangey Hindustan”; she, of course, has known neither dehumanising hunger nor the indignity suffered by a woman in tattered rags. India’s well-heeled radicals who own farm houses built on illegally ‘acquired’ tribal land are not expected to sully their manicured fingers with desi daal-roti.
The issue, therefore, is not about Arundhati Roy trying to shock Indians who are proud of their nation and nationality, Hindustanis who are perfectly at ease with Hindustan, a billion people who wouldn’t want to swap their democracy with a Talibani social order and political system which she obviously admires because she was inconsolable and in unrestrained grief after Mullah Omar and his thugs were chased out of Kabul. Only the naïve and the uninitiated would be offended by her crudity which is designed to infuriate the most tolerant and liberal among us who believe free speech is one of the defining features of democracy. The real issue is the discriminatory attitude of our state which fosters a system where the law, in theory, is the same for all but privileges, in practice, are different. Nothing else explains why Chhatradhar Mahato, a flashily dressed, dimwitted blabbermouth from the boondocks of Lalgarh in West Bengal, should be in jail for aiding and assisting Maoists in waging war on the state and helping propagate their destructive ideology, charged under the amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, while Arundhati Roy, a sophisticated self-publicist and articulate propagandist of every conceivable anti-national ‘cause’, should remain untouched by the proverbial long arm of the law.
The UAPA says “secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union includes the assertion of any claim to determine whether such part will remain a part of the territory of India”. The offences listed under this law include any assertion or statement “which is intended, or supports any claim, to bring about, on any ground whatsoever, the cession of a part of the territory of India or the secession of a part of the territory of India from the Union, or which incites any individual or group of individuals to bring about such cession or secession”. Prima facie Arundhati Roy is guilty of these offences when she endorses the separatists call for azadi, incites Kashmiris to break away from India, and urges impressionable young men and women to get “involved in this cause which is their future”.
There’s more. Section 18 of the amended UAPA lays down that “Whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites knowingly facilitates the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” Section 18B says, “Whoever recruits or causes to be recruited any person or persons for commission of a terrorist act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
If the law of the land were truly applicable to all, then Arundhati Roy would have been in jail by now. Or, if we were to put it another way, had India’s democracy been perfect and not flawed, she would have been denied the presumed right to undermine the Indian state in so brazen a manner. Ironically, what she so crudely berates also affords her the freedom to abuse the very system of which she is a privileged beneficiary. The elite that is India’s bane would be incomplete without Arundhati Roy.
[This appeared as my Sunday column Coffee Break in The Pioneer on October 24, 2010.]