'An independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed entity, but is independent India perfect?'
As a section of the political class and the media bays for her blood, author Arundhati Roy tells SHOMA CHAUDHURY why her opinions do not amount to sedition
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.
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, I guess, 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.
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 platform.)
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 State?
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 criticise the mass killing he presided over… they backed him. They said he would make a great Prime Minister. That's okay, is it?
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?
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 nation state?
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 freedom?
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.)
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 that?
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.
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?
Your critics are accusing you of not being sensitive to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.
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 with India?