The increase in the cost of LPG cylinders, decline in the purchasing power of money, presence of adulterants in food stuff and absence of essential commodities, may be some of the issues that concern all and sundry. Yet, being mundane matters mainly applicable to the ever-complaining middle class, they don’t qualify as hot issues worthy of discussion or debate by the elite. It’s not intended to suggest that the intelligentsia holds the middle class in contempt, but only that intellectuals are more inclined addressing ‘larger issues’ – like the persecution of the LGBT community, invasion of individual privacy by the state, curbs on civil rights and institutionalized conspiracies to target minorities and the marginalized.
Intellectuals (who incidentally prefer to be described as ‘activists’ as they are not only thinkers but also doers) are undoubtedly playing a stellar role to ensure that our nation doesn’t lose its moorings and their indefatigable efforts in this regard are indeed praise worthy. But, while everyone has the right to freedom of expression, this entitlement cannot be unconditional.
For example, a proponent of vegetarianism has full liberty to express any reasoning, be it religious, ethical or scientific, to defend this view. Yet, no one has the right to demean or attack those who consume meat, and nor can anyone demand immediate cessation of this practice, on the grounds that it’s abhorrent. In short, well-grounded activists have to respect the old maxim about ‘one man’s meat being another man’s poison,’ and hence discard the ‘my way, or highway’ approach during discussions.
Unwritten rules for intellectual intercourse
Whereas the words of a ‘nobody’ isn’t taken seriously by others, but what an intellectual says means a lot to the people as they consider the same to be a well analysed and objective view, which coming from a more enlightened source would not be ‘uncontaminated’ by extraneous considerations. So, it’s incumbent for intellectuals not to betray this trust by shooting from the hip and accordingly, three definite ‘no-noes’ for genuine activists while expressing their views are:
- #1-Citing false or inaccurate data to buttress their arguments.
- #2-Using hackneyed excuses to evade responsibility for faux pas with utterances like “I’ve been misquoted” or “this is not what I meant.”
- #3-Propagating motivated agendas with insidious intent under the garb of expressing some genuine concern.
On account of her diverse experience ranging from screen play writing, acting, being an international award-winning author, raising fundamental and civil rights issues as well as taking up cudgels for those wrongly persecuted, Ms Arundhati Roy has all that it takes to qualify as a ‘thoroughbred’ activist. However, her tryst with controversy has been so frequent and blatantly ‘self-inflicted’ that it defies the probability of being coincidental; au contraire, it appears that the 1997 Man Booker Award winner for fiction actually enjoys the hullabaloo that her imaginative comments generate.
Parliament attack 2001
In an article on the 2001 Indian Parliament attack (Breaking The News; Outlook, December, 18, 2006), Ms Roy wrote “These questions, examined cumulatively, point to something far more serious than incompetence. The words that come to mind are Complicity, Collusion, Involvement. There’s no need for us to feign shock, or shrink from thinking these thoughts and saying them out loud. Governments and their intelligence agencies have a hoary tradition of using strategies like this to further their own ends. (Look up the burning of the Reichstag and the rise of Nazi power in Germany, 1933; or ‘Operation Gladio’ in which European intelligence agencies ‘created’ acts of terrorism, especially in Italy, in order to discredit militant groups like the Red Brigade.)
It’s obvious that through her articulate exposition, Ms Roy wants us to believe that since the burning of the Reichstag was orchestrated by the Nazi party, and ‘Operation Gladio’ had institutional involvement of intelligence agencies, the 2001 Parliament attack too was an ‘inside job’. Surely, an accusation as serious as this warranted some credible evidence and not a mere analogy based on her personal belief that BJP is a ‘reincarnation’ of the Nazi Party.
Doesn’t Ms Roy’s premonition have a striking similarity to the claim of a local seer from Unnao in Uttar Pradesh about more than 1,000 kg of buried gold on the basis of a dream he had? So, by making an assertion based on intuition and not proven facts, isn’t she guilty of violating rule #1?
Status of Jammu and Kashmir
In 2010, while addressing a seminar (‘Wither Kashmir: Freedom or nslavement’) organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, Ms Roy once again stoked controversy by saying “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact,” and went on to say, “Even the Indian government has accepted this.”
Once again, even though she claimed that this was “a historical fact,” neither did Ms Roy substantiate her assertion, and nor did she provide facts to prove her allegation that “Even the Indian government has accepted this.” Not many would have expected a person of Ms Roy’s stature to resort to ‘shoot and scoot’ tactics, but things didn’t end here!
On being booked for sedition she hit back by saying, “Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds.” Later, an unmistakeably exuberant Ms Roy told the Guardian in an email interview, “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.”
However, the government’s decision not to proceed against her must have come as a huge setback as it demolished her claims of having sent the establishment into a ‘panic mode’ and deprived her the opportunity of being seen as a ‘martyr’ who was punished for “speaking her mind”.
One appreciates her angst, but what defies explanation is that rather than throwing down the gauntlet by furnish facts to buttress her assertions, Ms Roy ducked the issue by trying to play ‘victim’ and exploit this development to revel in her ‘15 minutes of fame’! But isn’t it true that by using unsubstantiated facts to further her argument and structuring them in a manner that would stoke secessionist sentiments, Ms Roy violated rules #1 and #3?
Indian state ‘waging war’ against its citizens
In a 2011 video, Ms Roy can be heard spewing venom at the Indian state and the army during her talk with Professor Dibyesh Anand on ‘Democracy and dissent in China and India’ and her comments had shocked even the most insensitive India-baiters.
She contended that the Indian State “has waged war since 1947 in Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Telangana, Punjab, Goa and Hyderabad,” and then went on to give her observation an indubitably communal hue by adding, “If you look at who are these people that the Indian state chose to fight, in all the North-Eastern states they were tribal people, in Kashmir it was the Muslims, in Telangana it was the tribal people, in Hyderabad it was the Muslims, in Goa the Christians, and in Punjab the Sikhs.”
Doesn’t presenting such a dismal picture with a blatantly communal hue by distorting facts violate rule #1, and doesn’t it tantamount to fear mongering amongst minorities and arousing communal passions (In violation of rule #3)?
Ms Roy tried to peddle her wobbly communal hypothesis, by saying “So, you see this upper-caste Hindu state that is perpetually at war.” Not only this, she went on to claim that “India deployed its military against its own people” and even compared the situation to Pakistan by saying, “The state of Pakistan has never deployed its army against its own people the way the democratic Indian state has.”
Whereas her reference to India as an “upper-caste Hindu state” and her view that the Indian government is deploying the army against its own people is laughable, and so, one can give Ms Roy the benefit of doubt.
But her observation that “Pakistan has never deployed its army against its own people,” is intriguing because it’s inconceivable that the erudite Ms Roy who is even aware of an obscure cloak and dagger war like ‘Operation Gladio’ that took place in faraway Europe, is ignorant of two month long ‘Operation Searchlight’ of 1971 that took place next door in which Pakistan army committed the genocide of its own people in erstwhile East Pakistan.
An ‘apology’ of an apology
Though Ms Roy did subsequently apologise for her humungous “Pakistan has never deployed its army against its own people,” faux pas, but in doing so she did no favour because this time she broke all the three unwritten rules for civil debate and discussion. Furthermore, while apologising, she showed complete lack of spunk, which is the hallmark of every principled activist as is evident from an extract reproduced below:
“… a nine-year-old video clip has surfaced on the social media, in which while speaking of the endless wars the Indian government has waged against its own people, I seem to be saying that Pakistan has never deployed its army against its “own” people the way India has. We all, at some point in our lives, might inadvertently say something thoughtless or stupid. This tiny clip of the video in no way represents what I believe, or indeed what I have written over the years. I am a writer, and what I commit to words is far more important than what I might say extempore in the course of a freewheeling talk. Still, it is a matter of enormous consequence and I apologise for any momentary confusion the clip may have caused.”
Ms Roy’s clumsy attempt to wriggle out of a hopeless (and self-created) situation is hilarious. By stating “I seem to be saying,” she wants us to believe that we were the ones who got it wrong because what we did interpret wasn’t what she said, but only what she seemed to have been said. Next, would Ms Roy kindly clarify whether we should take her admission that “what I commit to words is far more important than what I might say extempore” seriously?
Lastly, isn’t Ms Roy being extremely magnanimous to herself by saying that all she did by giving Pakistan army a ‘clean chit’ was to create “momentary confusion”? Come on Ms Roy, stop playing with words and have the gumption to accept the fact that your insensitive remarks did much more- they impudently mocked the thousands of innocent and unarmed civilians (men, woman and children) who butchered by Pakistan army in former East Pakistan, as well as in the ongoing massacres in Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Ms Roy’s recent interview to DW (Deutsche Welle) News proves that the old adage about leopard not changing its spots still holds good, as the central theme of her argument of India always having had a government dominated by Hindus persists.
While she is accusing the Modi government of orchestrating a “genocide against Muslims,” and considers the situation to be “approaching genocidal,” there’s no reason for the Congress to rejoice, because she hasn’t been very generous to them either.
In fact, whereas she has accused the RSS-BJP combine of only creating “a crisis of hatred against Muslims,” she has in gone on record to dub India under Congress rule as an “upper-caste Hindu state” and accused it of waging war against various religions in different parts of the country-Muslims in J&K and Hyderabad, Christians in Goa, Sikhs in Punjab and Tribals in the North East and Telangana. By her account it emerges that between the BJP and Congress, the former is the lesser evil as it is targeting only the Muslim community, unlike the Congress government which has since 1947 been “waging war” with not only Muslims, but also Christians, Sikhs and tribals as well.
The RSS-BJP ‘plot’ uncovered (or put together?) by Ms Roy has an uncanny resemblance to the happenings in pre-world war II Germany. For the sake of brevity, the same is not being narrated here, but suffice it to say, replace the name ‘Hitler’ with ‘Modi’ and the ‘Nazi party’ with ‘RSS-BJP’ and you’ll get it. Unfortunately, even though one does come across such precise similarities in both events and personalities in movies (when a screen play writer has the same actor playing two roles in a single production) and works of fiction (like Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’), but certainly not so in real life.
Tailpiece: When obsessive compulsions come into play, reasoning is the first casualty. Perhaps that’s the reason why Ms Roy’s analogy that “if you look at the way in which they (RSS and BJP) are using COVID (against Muslims), it was very much like typhus was used (by Nazis) against the Jews to ghettoise them, to stigmatise them,” makes no sense. But you can’t deny that this insanely weird and grossly out of place comparison nevertheless reveals the genius and creativity of an acclaimed international ward winner for fiction!