Arundhati Roy is dangerously wrong on Kashmir

(This column was published in DNA edition dated October 27, 2010.)

Venkatesan Vembu

There’s a mesmeric seductive quality to Arundhati Roy’s prose. For all its verbiage, it teases, tempts and torments the mind and lures it into the parlour of a contrarian world; it then persuades it, with the sheer power of its eloquence, that the natural order of things in the ‘real’ world as we know it is wholly unnatural and completely flawed.

“So you think India is a superpower in the making?” it says, and marshalls compelling arguments for why India is more in the “bhookey-nangey” category. “So you think big dams are great for development?” it asks. “Perhaps you’ll feel differently if it were your home, your village and your livelihood that needed to be sacrificed for the greater common good.”

A fair-minded person might concede that Roy has at least half a point, even if, once the seductive power of her prose has worn off, her polemical pounding of that half-point is grating in the extreme. Heck, she’s not even the only one who holds an unflattering mirror to Indian society and forces us to reflect on our failings rather than thump our chests in pride. The social historian Ramachandra Guha does it no less trenchantly, no less controversially – and no less eloquently; but he does it with a far greater sensitivity to the burden of history, and he at least has the intellectual honesty – and the good grace – to acknowledge the merits, such as they are, of India’s democracy, flawed though it is. 

But whereas the soundbite-savvy Roy’s polemics were once merely infuriatingly dishonest (even when they had half a point), her most recent public articulations on Kashmir, coming on top of her unvarnished defence of Maoist resort to violence, cross the threshold of what any self-respecting law-bound nation-state can tolerate. Roy may have declared herself an ‘independent mobile republic’, as she did after the 1998 Pokharan nuclear tests in order to dissociate herself from the BJP’s nuclear jingoism; but she’s still bound by the sedition laws of the decidedly immobile republic she inhabits.

Apart from being historically inaccurate, Roy’s words also betray an inadequate sensitivity to the enormous gravity of any loose talk of azaadi or self-determination at a time when the separatist campaign in Kashmir finally stands exposed before the world as having been propelled all along by Pakistan-backed jihadis who are playing for much larger stakes: the disintegration of secular India.

Perhaps in parlour room polemics, among calm and politically sanitised minds, there may be little risk from intellectual explorations of the merits of Kashmiri self-determination. But the Kashmir mind today is in a fevered state as a result of years of hot-headed jihadi indoctrination; only when that fever subsides can other cures be contemplated. Right now, given that inflamed state, Roy’s words have the potency to bestir indoctrinated minds into extreme action.

History doesn’t flow in straight lines, but in contours, and in Kashmir’s tortured history there are many contours to negotiate. The Indian state may not always have got it right in Kashmir, but Roy’s black-and-white delineation represents a colossal and intellectually dishonest oversimplification of the problem without sufficient appreciation of the fanatical geopolitical forces at work. It also takes her farther down the slippery slope of shrill and decidedly dangerous sloganeering which has enormous lethal consequences in the real world. Perhaps she should break the spell that her own hypnotic prose appears to have on herself and her increasingly fanatical flock of followers.

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22 Responses to Arundhati Roy is dangerously wrong on Kashmir

  1. Pingback: Arundhati Roy is dangerously wrong on Kashmir | indiarrs.net Classifieds | Featured blogs from INDIA.

  2. I agree with every word. She seems to be ignoring the impact of her ill-researched statements on those who attend her rallies and are not as well-equipped to form her own opinions and that is abuse of power or misuse of your right to express, whichever way you want to see it.

    Will be sharing this link.

  3. Hasmukh V Shah - Victiom of Bradford Riots, says:

    I am a victim of Bradford (UK) Riots, living in a state of siege just like the Kashmiri Hindus were living and hounded out of Kashmir by the expremist jihadists. Is Arundhati Roy supporting these jihadists who have raped, killed and massacred Kashmiri Hindus? Why does she not voice her opinion by going to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and report back from there why people of that part are so impoverished and lack any education? She seems to have ignored the genocide of Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan & vertually not allowing freedom of worship to Hindus in alomost all the Islamic countries. As opposed to this Muslims are growing in numbers in India, which Arundhati wishes to ignore.

    • Sumanth says:

      You see all the Human right activists were on a vacation when Kashmiri pundits were lynched, raped, tortured and eventually ethnically cleansed out of the valley.

      Now the same human right activists are afflicted by selective Stockholm syndrome wherein those who say that even Kashmiri pandits are stakeholders of Kashmir, such people are conveniently brushed away in a stroke with the “term” right wing lynch mob.

      Today secularism is a word used to conveniently hide behind inaction against radicalism.

      I hate to hate, but I wish I could avoid but to hate these double speaking secular hypocrites, I shall however continue my spiritual journey to not to hate even these hypocrites.

      I have no such double standards, what we are seeing in Kashmir is the result of indoctrination of radicalized Islam in valley enabled by inaction, double speak and of course radical elements.

      India is still a young democracy and some details seem to get lost in multitude of problems, but very soon the entire nation is going to stand up for the the Kashmir cause, Kashmir is and shall remain an integral part of India.

      Jai Hind

  4. Pingback: My final thoughts on Arundhati Roy… | It's only words…

  5. C Ballav says:

    Thanks for being very reasonable. I would agree with you. And perhaps add.
    For those like Arundhati Roy who sound convincing, unless they abide by their responsibility of being ruthless in their allegiance to facts, their influence can be dangerous. Their otherwise respectable commentary to which we look up, becomes indistinguishable from that of a politician. And this is painful, because with her work so far she has accumulated a following: that enjoys reasoning but equally condemns biassed research.
    I am often taken aback by the flawed logic from which, I notice, even your blog is not free: You can not pitch one suffering against another. The plight of Kashmiri pundits can not validate excesses of Indian state if any. In the same tone exploitation of human rights in Pakistan, Middle east or China should have nothing to do in our interpretation of rights and liberties.
    I shall celebrate the day when the modern Indian youth starts defining national pride by how much our nation has achieved for its inhabitants, than by how much area remains within its borders. Humanity is absolute and should be prioritised over borders, flags and anthems.

    • Venky says:

      @Ballav: I’d be happy if you could point me to the “flawed logic” you see in my blog. I don’t think I’m pitting “one suffering against another”.

  6. And India is supposed to be the world’s biggest democracy? I understand how you could be annoyed by Roy’s showmanship, but I do hope you are not serious in your support for sedition charges? Just as Israel cannot call itself a democracy and bulldoze Palestinians at will, India cannot claim same and have its security forces using Gestapo tactics against civilians and journalists and then threaten to jail those who dare speak against such naked oppression. India’s Neocons make the Cheney family seem like a bunch of pot-smoking peaceniks. I am learning more and more about nationalism in India everyday.

    • Venky says:

      @Michael. You’re wrong to suggest I support sedition charges (see here) – which in any case the government has indicated it will not pursue. If you read my post, you’ll note that I’m only cautioning that unhindered free speech shouldn’t end up fanning jihadi flames.
      So you think India’s Neocons make the Cheney family seem like a bunch of pot-smoking peaceniks? What have you been smoking, Michael? Bad as they are, India’s neocons have miles to go before they get into the Cheney class.

      • Sid says:

        Venky,
        Don’t you think the problems they have created inside India and in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Northeastern States, and etc enough to atleast equate them with Cheney and gang? I am sure they have messed up millions of lives in these countries. Or do you think they still fall behind compared to Cheney’s achievements?
        Then do you honestly believe just Roy’s unhindered speech is the one that is fanning the flames?

        • Venky says:

          Sid
          Yes, I’d still say Indian neo-cons have miles to go before they get into the Cheney class. The most damage that the far-right in India has done is within Indian borders – in terms of polarising civil society on communal/sectarians lines. Their reach beyond their shores is very limited, which contrasts with what Cheney and Co have ‘achieved’ far from home.
          And it appears to me that your understanding of subcontinental geopolitical dynamics is a little flawed. What we saw of India’s ‘intervention’ in Sri Lanka and its shameful support for the LTTE (which, by the way, I’ve criticised here was driven not by far-right neocon politics as by ethno-linguistic nationalism in Tamil Nadu (which in fact springs from a Dravidian base that opposes far-right politics) . It was no less ruinous, but I hope you’ll appreciate the nuance because we’re discussing “Cheney-ism”.
          Over the decades, the far-right in India has of course muddied the waters (and, as I’ve noted here, contributed as much as Muslim League separatism to the Partition of India in 1947). But, I repeat, they are not quite in the Cheney class in terms of having a reach beyond India’s borders.
          And, yes, in that context, I would say Roy’s unnuanced narrative (which fails to sufficiently acknowledge the influence and perils of jihadism in current-day Kashmir) is fanning the flames.

  7. Adam says:

    I find this entire issue quite fascinating. I have read Roy’s interviews, watched her speeches in Srinagar and read reports from various news organizations, and still I am waiting for someone to tell me the fine-print details.

    Many critique Roy for failing to offer up details to back up her opinions on the Kashmir issue, and yet none of these people seem ready or able to do the same. I just want some solid and objective information, so I can incorporate it and come up with my own viewpoint on the issue.

    What I have heard from Roy has sounded compelling, and I am especially interested in her critique of Indian democracy, as I have long critiqued other so-called democracies across the globe. Now what I’m waiting for is a cogent counter-point, which I have not yet heard. What I have read above seems to fall into the post-9/11 ‘fear the impending jihad’ line of thinking, which is fear-based and has failed to sway me whatsoever in the last decade when Bush et al tried to jam it down our throats.

    The point is, if a people want freedom, who am I or anyone else to argue against that wish? And who am I to critique how an oppressed people fight for their own liberation? I am not saying that you are guilty of this at all in the above article. I am simply showing that I am open to various solutions to the ongoing unrest in the region. Most of all, I really want to learn more about it.

  8. Venky says:

    @Adam. I appreciate the fact that you want to “learn more about” the issue. That’s a good starting point. I don’t have the time now to link to various reading material, but you don’t need me to give them given the material available in the public domain. You could begin by reading up on post-1947 Kashmir history, particularly the circumstances in which the princely state of Kashmir acceeded to India, and Pakistan’s repeated attempts to seize militarily, right up until the Kargil war of 1999, and through its sponsorship of jihadi terrorism, what it couldn’t otherwise. You could also read Bob Woodward’s latest book Obama’s War for a keener understanding of the perils of jihadi violence originating from Pakistan and the Pakistani state’s duplicity in combating it. India has been a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism since the early 1980s; the Western world (including the US and the UK) ignored it, and woke up to it only when they themselves were attacked.
    My point is that you cannot discuss Kashmir – or the presence of Indian troops in the State or the alienation of the local population – without discussing the role of jihadi terrorism. It is that lack of nuance in Arundhati Roy’s narration of history that I criticise.
    I urge you to reserve judgement on the merits of her argument till you’ve acquired a keener understanding of the subject, and not judge the issue merely on the point of “freedom of expression” – or by her undoubtedly powerful and persuasive point of view, which as I say is unidimensional.

  9. Ashish Mehta says:

    She only sees one side of the coin, actually she sees what she wants to see. Being sympathetic to poor and oppressed is not wrong. But she misses the larger perspective. The “jihadi” intentions( the term jihad itself is abused in this perspective). The so-called ajadi will not be long lived for kashmiris. As it will turn into a big school of terrorism. The same “oppressed” people of Kashmir will be instigated by the radicals to take revenge from India. After Kashmir they will try to decend further down. But Arundhati refuses to see this.

    If at all she is really so sympathetic and pure at heart that she cannot stand the plight of those people, I will compare her to the innocent child who sees a begger at the roadside and asks his father to take him home. Please mind that the analogy here is only between Arundhati and the child and not between the begger and Kashmir or Kashmiris. But I doubt that such is the case, otherwise there are other places to show your big heart other than the controversial, popularity attracting issues and everything which is anti-establishment.

  10. Diviya says:

    I say that she should simply be ignored! She is getting way to much attention, which only serves her purpose and wastes everyone’s energy.

  11. Hariharan says:

    > It is India’s wealthy elite that is turning its back on the nation and its people, not Arundhati Roy

    It’s not just India’s wealthy elite, but sadly, the so-called intellectuals have also turned their backs on the people. And that includes Arundhati Roy. She’s is in Kashmir to make controversial remarks only for her own publicity. It’s about her alone, not Kashmiris.

    RTI (Right to Information Act) activists have been threatened and murdered by wealthy elites. Why hasn’t Roy not written a single piece on such a serious issue? Syed Masood (India’s Bernie Madoff) pulled off a huge investment scam worth thousands of crores of rupees. Every penny has been seized from Madoff (who is now in prison). Why is Syed Masood not yet convicted for defrauding hundreds of thousands of people of their life savings? Why haven’t law enforcement officials followed the money trail to recover huge sums of money laundered overseas? Why was Syed Masood’s wife and daughter let go to the US and there’s no call for extradition of criminals? Why hasn’t Roy written a single article on the largest ponzi scheme in the history of India? These are just two examples and there are dozens of such issues plaguing India — the 85% of India’s population shut out from the economic miracle. Why has she not focused writing constructively on issues that matter?

    > Roy’s work with the anti-dam campaign in Gujarat, which after years of struggle was unable to prevent hundreds of thousands of tribal people being forced off their land.

    Roy can’t be headless enough to be anti-progress. Unfortunately, she has taken such a stance over and over again. China is not going to wait for any country as it ascends to superpower status. Building dams is not for anyone’s personal pleasure. It creates jobs for thousands of people, provides water for irrigation, and the electricity powers millions of homes. An adequate solution would be just compensation for those who lost land in the process.

    > And yes, on the Kashmir issue…

    Kashmir is named after an ancient Indian sage — Rishi Kashyap. Kashmir is and has always been an integral part of India for over 5000 years. Was Pakistan not a part of India not too long ago? And why did the maharaja of Kashmir sign the letter of accession with India? Or maybe millions of Kashmiri Hindu pundits never existed? Or perhaps, inside Roy’s twisted little brain, among the dozens of Muslim-majority regions within India, none was actually a part of India, ever? Or in her viewpoint, maybe India never existed, and therefore every state should call for independence? What’s all this nonsense? What’s the point of continuous hysterical diatribes against all things Indian and India?

    What does she really want? Dissolution of the union? Or starvation and death of millions on the Indian subcontinent in the future by carving out yet another state, just to please some intellectually deficient folks like her? Does free press means a journalist should write how he or she ‘feels’ depending on mood swings? How does anyone know that Roy didn’t secretly get foreign cash to put on a show of whistleblower while openly engaging in seditious writings? If anyone were to take Roy’s arguments seriously, we’d have hundreds of Muslim-majority regions in the world that will need to be carved out for Muslims. That’s just plain ridiculous!

    Consider this — say journalists in China were to call for an independent Tibet, they’d be quickly thrown into prison, and if lucky, avoid broken bones. Here you have an ordinary journalist, Arundhati Roy, who goes on to write that Kashmir was never an integral part of India! Really? Liu Xiaobo is a true scholar and wrote to his government about reforms on free speech guaranteed by his country’s constitution. Roy’s behavior is the exact opposite — she is taking undue advantage of free speech and free press to trample on India’s constitution and sedition laws (section 124A).

    With journalism in particular, there is a difference between scholar and squalor. To cite another example, Roy says Maoists are “Gandhians with Guns.” Anyone who knows even an ounce of Gandhi will tell you that the phrase is an oxymoron and an insult to a great man who courageously stood up for a non-violent freedom struggle. There’s no reason why squalor should be encouraged in the name of free press. If democracy isn’t working all that well with a billion plus people, a new model of “socialism with Indian characteristics” might be a wise option to current anarchy.

    Content matters. A free press is great but what’s missing in India is constructive solution-oriented journalism, which is a byproduct of intellectualism. The underlying foundational problem needs to be fixed through strong education. Pity the nation that produces journalists like Arundhati Roy who’re just publicity-seeking anti-nationalist traitors.

    > We’ve become the repressive, authoritarian society she suggests we already are.

    She’s Prannoy Roy’s cousin. That’s her ladder to star power. Who is she with an IQ of a peanut to pass judgement on the state of Indian society? Folks, express yourself freely without kowtowing to the anti-nationalist nobody Roy.

  12. Sandip Dev says:

    Someone please give Roy the Nobel Peace Prize, that she so deeply craves, so that she shuts up and the country can go about its business.

  13. DEVONECO says:

    Classic example of a person thriving on conflicts of the world just to get a little attention and seem to go to any extent to get it – including supporting terrorism. These elements are nothing but the “cud” of Freedom of Expression that should be “vomited” instead of being swallowed again!

  14. Pingback: The Economist joins lunatic fringe, talks of Kashmir Nobel | Firstpost

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