Serial sedition: Will Govt act this time?
Under pressure from the BJP to act against controversial Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy for her latest reiteration of Azadi for Kashmir, as the Congress-led UPA Government continues to weigh legal options, it turns out, social networking sites like the Facebook not only had the instant emergence of ‘Arrest Suzanna Arundhati Roy’ — like petitions no sooner than she made her opinion public a couple of years ago but also dished out the course of action.
The ‘arrest Roy’ petition on Facebook, addressed to the Government of India and the Prime Minister, demands arrest of the 49-year-old author-turned-political activist under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 (amended in 2008).
“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’,” the petition points out to back its demand.
Roy’s remarks on Kashmir aren’t new. She has been there and done that on earlier occasions too, only to invite customary rebuttals like “Kashmir is and will remain an integral part of India”.
But often dubbed by critics as the ‘one-book-claim-to-fame’ author, Roy does seem to have perfected the art of hogging the limelight courting controversies with her opinions perceived by many as “anti-national” and a direct challenge to the law of the land. Be it her espousal of the cause of Kashmir’s azadi or her support to the Maoists; be it her terming as “unconstitutional” the Supreme Court’s death sentence to Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru or her assertion that the Mumbai terror attacks were not akin to US’ 9/11 and could not be seen in isolation.
Not surprising then that pro-Pakistan websites and organisations have more than lapped up Roy’s remarks. In fact, much before her latest statements on Kashmir they had already gone around to highlight her reported assertions about how “Pakistan will win hands down” in case of a referendum in Kashmir in an interview to David Barsamian, her co-author of Checkbook & Cruise Missile: Conversations with Arundhati Roy.
Her statement to an English daily in 2008, when she visited the troubled State, that “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India”, too got circulated big time. Roy has been reiterating this assertion ever since.
“For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half-a-million heavily-armed soldiers in the most densely militarised zone in the world…. …Hadn’t anybody noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi?” Her opinion in an article in an English weekly magazine the same year saw responses ranging from demands for booking her on charges of sedition to praises of being bold enough to speak out her mind.
But that didn’t deter her from speaking aloud her mind, even on an issue as sensitive as the Mumbai terror attacks. “November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America…. The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns and cities this year. Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati, Jaipur and Malegaon have all seen serial bomb blasts in which hundreds of ordinary people have been killed and wounded…”
“In much the same way as it did after the 2001 Parliament attack, the 2002 burning of the Sabarmati Express and the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express, the Government of India announced that it has “incontrovertible” evidence that the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba backed by Pakistan’s ISI was behind the Mumbai strikes. According to the police and intelligence agencies the Lashkar operates in India through an organisation called the Indian Mujahideen. Two Indian nationals have been arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks. So already the neat accusation against Pakistan is getting a little messy,” she wrote in her piece in UK’s Guardian newspaper.
If she justified the ‘war’ waged by the Maoists against the corporates wanting to have control over natural resources like minerals, water and forests, she termed the Operation Green Hunt against them as a ‘war’ by the Government to move tribal people to ensure the hundreds of “secret” MoUs the States of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal signed with the corporates translated into real money.
Her run-in with the Chhattisgarh police establishment too was much publicised. When asked why the State Government did not act against her, Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwaranjan said, “I don’t want to comment on a person who has been discredited across the nation. She had visited Chhattisgarh and went around meeting hardcore Maoists and their sympathisers in Dantewada and other places. She keeps on refuting her statements and we don’t want to give her that much importance.”
In 2006, Roy, who was jailed for a day for contempt of court in 2002, yet again took on the judiciary. She said the Supreme Court’s ruling that Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru must be hanged ‘to satisfy the collective will of the nation’ though there is no proof of his involvement is in itself “unconstitutional”.
With the latest controversy surfacing, whether the Government will or can act now remains to be seen.