Thursday, 28 October 2010


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

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 was 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

Under section 124A of the Indian penal code, those convicted of
sedition face punishment 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.

The 48-year-old author refused to backtrack. In an email interview
with the Guardian, she said: "That the government is considering
charging me with sedition me has to do with its panic about many
voices, even in India, being raised against what is happening in
Kashmir. This is a new development, and one that must be worrisome
for the government."

More than 100 people are estimated to have died in violence in the
Kashmir valley since June amid continuing protests against Indian
rule in a territory where many of the Muslim majority favour
independence or a transfer of control to Pakistan. Hundreds of young
protesters have been imprisoned in a string of clashes with security

"Threatening me with legal action is meant to frighten the civil
rights groups and young journalists into keeping quiet. But I think
it will have the opposite effect. I think the government is mature
enough to understand that it's too late to put the lid on now," Roy

Earlier the author, who is currently in Srinagar, Kashmir, said in a
statement: "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, Moodbidri 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 said she was not aware of the calls for her death, but said the
comments were part of a "reasonably healthy debate in the Indian

"The rightwing Hindu stormtroopers are furious and say some pretty
extreme things," she told the Guardian.

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.

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

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