November 9, 2015
K. S. Venkatachalam -Independent journalist and political commentator
In her scathing criticism of the BJP-led government, “Why I Am Returning My Award”, Arundhati Roy protests against the “lynching, “shooting, burning and mass murder of fellow human beings” that have occurred in the past year or so. Although my intention is not to take up cudgels with her, I think a few facts need to be straightened out before one arrives at an unfair assessment about the present government. The fact is that she is known for her prejudice against the present government, especially against the present Prime Minister.
First of all, it is true that there have been some clear cases of intolerance in the country. But many such incidents, like the smearing of ink on Sudheendra Kulkarni’s face and the cancellation of Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai are the handiwork of some zealots belonging to the Shiv Sena, and not the BJP.
Even in the unfortunate lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri, certain fringe elements have been implicated, and not the BJP directly. However, the hateful rhetoric of a few BJP leaders has brought a bad name to the Modi government. In addition, more than the ranting of some BJP leaders, it is the deafening silence of the Prime Minister that has led many to surmise that there is a level of official sanction for all the vitriol.
Now coming back to the diatribe of Arundhati Roy.
I would like to remind her that more riots have taken place in the Congress-led government both at the Centre and the state. The complicity of a few Congressmen, supported by the police, in engineering the 1984 riots against Sikhs is well known. It is also understood, such as in this editorial by Khushwant Singh, that members of the BJP and RSS came to the rescue of many Sikhs. The Muzaffarnagar riots happened during the UPA rule.
The killings of innocent Kashmiri Pandits, and the pogrom against them, also happened during the Congress rule. It has become a fashion for the so-called liberals to speak against the government. Perhaps they are not able to stomach the fact that a person from a less privileged class has become the prime minister. Perhaps they would have been happy if the prime minister was a graduate of a prominent Delhi college if not a Cambridge-educated economist.
Ms Roy has always been known for her anti-establishment views, and has made several statements against the government in the past. In a 2010 op-ed in the New York Times, she made disparaging remarks on the human rights abuses in Kashmir, specifically the role of Indian army. “Indian nationalists and the government seem to believe that they can fortify their idea of a resurgent India with a combination of bullying and Boeing airplanes. But they don’t understand the subversive strength of warm, boiled eggs.”
In an essay titled “Peace is War”, Ms Roy equates India to a banana republic, and highlights the death of over 80,000 people in Kashmir, mostly Muslims, most of them at the hands of the security forces. She has been openly supporting the cause of separatists in Kashmir, and is a strong votary of independence of Kashmir. Roy perhaps suffers from selective amnesia, as there has not been a word of sympathy for the tens of thousands of Kashmir Pundits who were driven out of their homes by terrorists, with the support of the locals. She also chose to remain silent on the great sacrifices made by the soldiers in combating terrorism.
In her lecture given on the topic “The Doctor and The Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate” as part of Walter Sisulu Memorial Lecture organized by Nelson Mandela Centre of Peace and Conflict Resolution at Jamia Milia Islamia on March 2014, Ms. Roy did not even spare the father of the nation.
In her lecture she questioned Gandhi’s status as a “Mahatma”. How could a privileged-caste Bania (Gandhi) claim that he, in his own person, represented forty five million Indian untouchables unless he believed he actually was a Mahatma? Highlighting how he looked at the blacks in South Africa, Ms. Roy pointed out: “The reason Gandhi was outraged and the reason Gandhi was sitting in a white-only compartment was he believed that it was below the dignity of privileged-caste Indians to be sitting with black people… The man who could not even bear to share the entrance to a post office with ‘kaffirs’ [blacks] now had to share a prison cell with them.” It is no surprise that Ms. Roy was trying to please a particular constituency at Jamia.
First, Ms Roy should be grateful to have been born in a great country like ours which has allowed her to make controversial statements in many fora and get away with it. Even in highly liberal countries, her remarks on Kashmir and Gandhi would have gotten her into trouble. I remember an incident when she made a statement that “Kashmir was never an integral part of India.” There was move to press sedition charges against her, but the then central government, in its own wisdom, decided to let the matter pass.
Ms Roy you should realise that your scholarship, activism and your so-called courage to speak on many controversial issues could flourish only in a country like India, where the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of speech.
I was greatly disturbed when many writers and artists recently returned their awards, which I felt was an insult to the country, but I’m glad that you chose to return yours, because you didn’t deserve one at the first place.
Disclaimer:The views expressed above are the author’s own