Arundhati Roy - A rebel in need of a cause

The debate rages on in India about whether or not Arundhati Roy deserves to be thrown in jail on charges of Sedition due to her alleged subversive statements about the Kashmir territory.  With the current state of affairs in Kashmir, if she is charged of Sedition, the implication here would be that she is stirring up a rebellion against a democratic goverment in power.  Not the same as treason which is joining hands with the enemy to conspire against your country, but a notch below that.  The notion of charging someone for Sedition in this day and age is really archaic.  Whether she deserves it or not is now a matter of opinion.  I am of the opinion that it is unwarranted, not because I have much of a sympathy for Roy or her activism, but because it is somewhat silly for the government to fixate on a single writer’s remarks while parts of the country are going up in flames, even if the perception is that she is adding fuel to that fire.  Perhaps after winning a Booker prize, and receiving an almost universal critical acclaim for her subsequent publications of prose, the only greater thing to do in her mind was to become a constant pain in the butt of the establishment, but that is her prerogative in a democractic setup.  She shouldn’t be banished for that.  She might not be centered in her opinions, and from my perspective she isn’t, but India is not a monarchy like the UAE where there is no freedom of speech.  It is not an utterly chaotic and unruly country of warlords like Afghanistan.  It is not a communist state like China, even if Roy is a great sympathizer of its followers in her country and neither is it a completely shambolic pseudo-democracy run by religious extremists like Pakistan.  Even with all its flaws and failings, India is the largest freaking democracy in the world, and a dubiously stable one at that.  It should be able to put up with controversial statements from its own, because after all, it is wry irony that Roy herself is a product of a young, growing nation thrown to the wolves, still trying to survive its way through the jungle.

Arudhati Roy with Narmada Bachao Andolan

Is the essence of activism now to scream blue murder against establishment on everything?  Seriously, how difficult is it for you to find flaws in India?  With widespread poverty, uneducation and corruption at every level, do we need a Booker-prize-winning, rather painfully dubbed, “conscience of the nation” to point them out?  If you are that insightful, how about presenting a viable solution for your causes to add to your outcries that might lend more credence to your attempted campaigns.  Roy spoke up against both the Pokhran-II nuclear tests and against building the Sardar Sarovar dam across Narmada river in Gujarat aiding the Narmada Bachao Andolan around the turn of the century.  A noble cause for the environment and its habitats, but what of modernization?  Don’t young, aspiring writers who want to grow up and be just like Arundhati Roy deserve a light in their rooms to hone their skills of verbosity?  The words ring hollow even if they read beautiful when there is a lack of balance and insight.   They end up sounding like juvenile rantings without a steady perspective.

Arundhati Roy with Maoists

She went on to support Naxalism and her Maoist “comrades” because she believes they are there to support the cause of the poor and downtrodden.  I know she has written many a scathing essay highlighting the dark side of democracy and resultant marginalization of religious and tribal minotiries.  There is a need for someone to provide this transparency and awareness for a nation to mature and fix its wrongs.  It took more than 40 years for the US government to officially apologize for the Japanese Internment Camps during World World II.  Even that wouldn’t have happened if not for the media highlighting the wrongdoing and forcing the government to act.  Roy deserves all the accolades she gets for her writing, but I don’t know what her core beliefs for a governmental structure in the country are?  No one including Roy herself can clearly identify what she believes in?   She can and should highlight her country’s flaws, but ideologically, does she even believe in a Democratic setup for the country?   Does she think it is not a good fit for India?  Or does she prefer the communist principles of economic and political governance? Is she all for forcing an agrarian communism by backing these comrades preaching “Maoist revolution.” If this was a totalitarian regime, does she think she can enjoy the privilege of making such scathing remarks of promoting secession and sitting back and observing an intellectual debate in the media?  Her most recent statement was along the lines of “Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds.” She is right, but what does she think the goal of gun trotting militants that call themselves “Maoists” are – to promote democracy and free speech after they take over the country?  Where is her sympathy for the thousands of innocents killed by these comrades of her and a systematic cleansing of the minority Kashmiri Pundits from Kashmir in the past two decades?  Are her ideals and outcries only convenient for the next cause she decides to pick up?
The fact is, the message she sends behind her activism is one of contradcition of the privileges of freedom, liberty and free speech that she ejoys currently. Anyone can sit there and rip the status quo, but it seems to have lost on her that in her grandiose quest to be India’s Joan of Arc, she is latching onto causes that would put an end to the same freedom that allows her to be a clueless rebel currently. That still doesn’t make her a traitor or a treasonist or a seditionist or any such silly accusations she is facing now, just another good writer whose core values behind her activism are confused, nebulous and unsound. She still deserves to speak her mind freely and not feel persecuted.  Whether you believe that she is factually wrong with her statements or whether you just disagree with her opinions, merely tolerating her unruly ramblings can reveal what she either fails to realize or takes for granted. The worst thing that the government can do is to bury her with charges of Sedition under this wave of patriotic populism triggered by her actions.  That would be such a shame at so many levels.