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India: Hands off Arundhati Roy!

Written by: Nick G. on 19 June 2024


Arundhati Roy was the youngest winner of the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 for The God of Small Things. Then aged 36, she emerged as an activist campaigning on behalf of India’s poor and marginalised, the same people whose lives she had written about in her novel.

They are also the same people largely responsible for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s humiliating failure to win outright victory in a promised electoral landslide. 

The Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha has 543 seats. Modi, whose BJP party held 303 seats prior to the 2024 general election, boasted that the BJP would break through the 400-seat ceiling and sweep to victory. However, the BJP lost seats, winning only 240 and losing its ability to govern in its own right. It has entered a coalition, but lost face at home and abroad.

The main areas where the BJP lost votes were those populated by the Dalits (Untouchables) and adivasis (tribal peoples who have been the main support base for the people’s war led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist)). 

How better to punish these people than to criminalise their fiercest champion, Arundhati Roy.

So, last week, 14 years after complaints about her references to Kashmir, Delhi's most senior official granted permission for Roy to be prosecuted under India’s stringent anti-terror laws. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) is notorious for making it exceptionally challenging to get bail, often resulting in years of detention until the completion of trial.

Roy was hated by the far-right Hindu nationalists for whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks. She also made an enemy of the revisionist Communist Party of India (Marxist), whose hold on state power in West Bengal and Kerala saw it serving the bourgeoisie and landlords, when she criticised their behaviours and lifestyles in her novel.

She has written one other novel, but mainly she has published collections of political essays and an account of her travels in 2010 through Communist Party of India (Maoist) liberated zones in the forests of Chhattisgarh with fighters of the Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army.

In October, 2010, at a conference in Delhi, organised by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, she enraged the far right by declaring that Kashmir “has never been an integral part of India.” Her opponents demanded that she be tried for treason. But she remained defiant.

In 2019 she delivered a lecture to an audience in New York just months after Modi suspended Kashmir’s autonomy and imposed a lockdown on Kashmir that included the withdrawal of mobile phone and internet services, and a curfew that saw thousands imprisoned. She said:

The horror that Kashmiris have endured over the last few months comes on top of the trauma of a thirty-year old armed conflict that has already taken seventy thousand lives and covered their valley with graves. They have held out while everything was thrown at them – war, money, torture, mass disappearance, an army of more than half a million soldiers, and a smear campaign in which an entire population has been portrayed as murderous fundamentalists. 

India is not the model democracy so beloved of people like Albanese and Wong.

Assassinations of Sikh supporters of an independent Khalistan have reached as far as Canada and the United States. Pogroms by right-wing Hindu mobs have seen hundreds of Muslims beaten to death and lynched in the streets. The disgusting caste system remains firmly entrenched.

Indian novelist and journalist Siddhartha Deb, who has also championed India’s poor, place the prosecution of Roy in context. Interviewed on Democracy Now on June 17, he said:

But the point isn’t really about Kashmir. The point is really about the fact that the Hindu right don’t want anyone like Arundhati critiquing the government, critiquing its policies, not just on Kashmir, but that it is completely — it’s a fascist political party. It is against all minorities. It is against women. It is against the poor. And that is what Roy has been speaking up and writing about for over 30 years. And that’s what they’re against. And they want to shut down not just speech. They want to shut down thought. And that’s what this is about.

The CPA (M-L) calls on the Indian government to cease the prosecution of Arundhati Roy.

The CPA (M-L) calls on Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong to convey to the Indian Government their support for the human rights of Arundhati Roy.

We encourage people to write to the Indian Embassy and to Albanese and Wong, in support of Arundhati Roy.




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