Activist and Novelist, Arundhati Roy, Faces Arrest over Kashmir Remark

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Activist and Novelist, Arundhati Roy, Faces Arrest over Kashmir Remark

Booker prize-winner says claim about territory not being an integral part of India was a call for justice in the disputed region

by
Gethin Chamberlain in Panaji

Arundhati Roy could face a fine or imprisonment if convicted of sedition. (Photograph: Jean-Christian Bourcart/Getty Images)

The Booker prize-winning novelist and human rights campaigner Arundhati Roy is facing the threat of arrest after claiming that the disputed territory of Kashmir is not an integral part of India.

India's home ministry is reported to have told 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 at the weekend.

Under Section 124A of the Indian penal code, those convicted of sedition face punishments ranging from a fine to life imprisonment.

Roy - who won the Booker in 1997 for The God of Small Things - is a controversial figure in India for her championing of politically sensitive causes. She has divided opinion by speaking out in support of the Naxalite insurgency and for casting doubt on Pakistan's involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

But in a statement the 48-year-old author, who is currently in Srinigar, Kashmir, refused to backtrack. "I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators, have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice.

"I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state."

After describing her meetings with people caught up in the Kashmir violence, she said: "Some have accused me of giving 'hate speeches', of wanting India to break up. 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.

"Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor roam free."

India's justice minister, M Veerappa Moily, described Roy's remarks as "most unfortunate".

He said: "Yes, there is freedom of speech ... it can't violate the patriotic sentiments of the people."

Moily sidestepped questions about the sedition charges, saying he had yet to see the file on the matter.

Others were less restrained. One person posted a comment on the Indian Express newspaper website calling for the novelist to be charged with treason and executed.

Roy made her original remarks on Sunday in a seminar - entitled Whither Kashmir? Freedom or Enslavement - during which she accused India of becoming a colonial power. Geelani also spoke at the seminar.

Last week police in Indian-administered Kashmir arrested the separatist leader Masrat Alam for allegedly organising anti-India protests. A curfew was also imposed.

More than 100 people are estimated to have died in violence in the valley since June amid continuing protests against Indian rule in a territory where many of Muslim majority favour independence or a transfer of control to Pakistan.

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