Posts Tagged ‘Arundhati Roy’

Kashmiris’ revolt against Indian occupation and military terror

October 2, 2009

The Socialist Worker, October 2, 2009

Arundhati Roy is the renowned author of the novel The God of Small Things, for which she won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1997. But Roy is equally well known as a determined social movement activist and leading voice of the global justice movement.

Roy’s new collection of essays, titled Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, examines the dark side of democracy in her native India. It looks at how religious majoritarianism, cultural nationalism and neo-fascism simmer just beneath the surface in a country that projects itself as the world’s largest democracy.

Here, we republish an essay from the book that provides a brilliant account of the summer 2008 uprising against Indian occupation by the people of Kashmir–a disputed region partitioned between India and Pakistan, and subject to Indian military rule in the section it controls.

Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers | Arundhati Roy

FOR THE past sixty 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 militarized zone in the world.

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Roy: What Have We Done to Democracy?

September 28, 2009

Of Nearsighted Progress, Feral Howls, Consensus, Chaos, and a New Cold War in Kashmir

Arundhati Roy, tomdispatch.com, Sep 27, 2009

While we’re still arguing about whether there’s life after death, can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By “democracy” I don’t mean democracy as an ideal or an aspiration. I mean the working model: Western liberal democracy, and its variants, such as they are.

So, is there life after democracy?

Attempts to answer this question often turn into a comparison of different systems of governance, and end with a somewhat prickly, combative defense of democracy. It’s flawed, we say. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than everything else that’s on offer. Inevitably, someone in the room will say: “Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia… is that what you would prefer?”

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Right time for the freedom of Kashmir: Arundati Roy

September 19, 2008


-‘It is the biggest chance Kashmiris have’

Source: Kashmir Watch

Srinagar, September 18 (Newsline Monitoring Desk):  Arundati Roy, noted human rights activist and writer, in an interview, has suggested “the time has come for the people of Kashmir to ask for Azadi (freedom) from India”

“I think it’s the biggest chance Kashmiris have had in their struggle for Azadi in a very long time” she however said she is skeptical that “a spontaneous uprising can ‘down-rise’ just as spontaneously as it ‘up-rose’ and hence the people need to act fast”

Calling the security forces as “state forces” Arundhati opined the minute people retreat, these forces will take back the streets. “People cannot go on forever without a clear idea of where it’s all going. Right now the Coordination Committee is very fragile and the Intelligence Agencies are trying very hard to break it up” she said.

Arundati said New Delhi has still not learnt its lesson and instead used the same old methods to deal with the situation in Kashmir. “I don’t think the Indian state is even now willing to listen to what people are saying” she said “It is trying to work out a way to defuse the situation and how to manage crowds and send them back home”

The booker prize winner writer believes India does not want the vicious cycle of violence to end in Kashmir. “The United Jehad Council has unanimously declared that militants must silence their guns. But the Deep State in India wants nothing more than the return of an armed militancy” she averred “So if real militants don’t appear, I think the Deep State will manufacture some”

Arundati maintained that as a right thinking person of the society she will always try to speak out and reveal the truth about issues. Emphasising that sentiments of Kashmiris be respected she said “Some people said I should be charged for the offense of sedition. If so it implies millions of Kashmir’s should be charged too. Instead if only I am charged and not them, it would mean a tacit acceptance of the fact that Kashmir is not a part of India”

While stressing that anybody who has ever walked the streets of Srinagar cannot but see the moral legitimacy of what people are demanding she said “It’s the least I could do for those who have faced so many years of terror, torture and disappearances. I don’t think there could be a single Kashmiri in the valley who has not been humiliated in some way by the occupation

What freedom means in Kashmir

September 16, 2008

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Srinagar

A pro-freedom procession in Kashmir

People have raised Pakistani flags in recent demonstrations

The newspaper headlines in the mainly Muslim valley in India-administered Kashmir say it all.

‘Freedom is sweet, no matter how it comes’, says one. ‘People pray for freedom,’ chimes another, reporting on Friday prayers in the valley.

A row over transferring land for a Hindu pilgrimage escalated into a nationalist upsurge in the valley in recent months. Some 30 people have died after security forces fired on protests here. Many say the relative calm at present is just the lull before another storm.

In the eye of the storm is the demand for azadi (freedom) for people living in the valley; the latest bout of unrest has brought the contentious issue back into the limelight again.

For many Indians the demand strikes at the heart of the ‘idea of India’, of a nation that is capable of handling diversity and staying united.

State of mind

But for many of the majority Muslims living in the valley, freedom is the only way to get their pride back. It is the only way, they say, India can redeem itself in the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri.

No wonder, the streets in the valley were agog with cries for freedom during the huge protest processions that the recent crisis triggered off.

People have waved Pakistani flags and belted out pro-Pakistani slogans although, as Booker-prize winning writer Arundhati Roy says, it “would be a mistake to assume that the public expression of affection for Pakistan automatically translates into a desire to accede to Pakistan”.

This time, the call for Kashmiri freedom is coming from a generation of young and restless men and women who grew up during the troubled 1990’s when the valley was wracked by separatist insurgency.

On Kashmir streets, the yearning for freedom is a state of mind.

In a middle-class neighbourhood in Budgam where two young men were killed by security forces during recent protests, Sheikh Suhail, a 24-year-old mass communications student, makes no bones about it.

“We want azadi,” he says, days after he buried a friend who was shot down in the protest.

A Srinagar resident being frisked by Indian troops

People say they want ‘freedom’ from Indian forces

“Nobody quite knows what it will mean for us. We don’t know whether we will survive it. I only know that we want freedom from both India and Pakistan,” he says.

Across town, in the bustling Dalgate area, Sayed Zubair, a government school teacher, is seething after the security forces shot down his elderly neighbour during a recent curfew.

“We live in fear. A free Kashmir is the only solution to make us feel safe,” he says.

His neighbour, Hilal Ahmed, a bank manager, says freedom can help Kashmiris get rid of a twin “stigma”.

“India says it is the biggest democracy in the world. Living in Kashmir, we do not get any sense of that. Being a Kashmiri is a curse, being a Muslim is a crime. So we are doubly disadvantaged in these troubled times.

“The only way to set things right is to India get out of our lives and leave us free.”

So what does freedom mean for most Kashmiris?

Does it mean a sovereign state? Or does it mean greater autonomy? Many people here say that they prefer a form of self-rule. Does freedom from India mean accession with Pakistan? Or does freedom mean India pulling out its half a million or so troops in the state?

Eroded autonomy

For people like Suhail freedom is an intense sentiment. It is, they say, a breaking off from the “oppressive shackles” of the Indian state. For others like political scientist Dr Noor Ahmad Baba and women’s activist Dr Hameeda Nayeem, it is something more substantial.

Many analysts say that the autonomy that Kashmir enjoys under the Indian constitution has been eroded considerably and it is time that the Indian government worked out a new deal for its people.

Dal Lake in Srinagar

Tourism is a big draw in Kashmir

Dr Noor Ahmed Baba says that when most Kashmiris say they want freedom, they do not necessarily mean seceding from India.

“The overwhelming people here want independence. But it does not mean a sovereign state. It could be a higher degree of autonomy rooted in a larger understanding with India and Pakistan, both of whom who would pledge not to interfere.

“For us freedom also means more choices about reviving our old trade, cultural and economic roots. We want to come out of seclusion,” he says.

Dr Hameeda Nayeem says Kashmiris want self-governance and great internal sovereignty – that is what freedom could essentially mean.

“Let us define self-governance. Whether it will be more autonomy or self-rule. Our borders could be jointly managed by India and Pakistan. We want soft borders and free flow of goods.”

She points to the example of the tiny kingdom of Bhutan and wonders why Kashmir cannot have the status of a “protected state” of India like Bhutan.

How could a beautiful valley – with an approximate area 15,520 sq km, only a sixth of the size of Bhutan – cope as an independent country?

‘Not realistic’

Omar Abdullah, head of the mainstream National Conference party, admits that that “freedom sentiment” is serious, but has grave doubts about its feasibility.

“How realistic is it? Will Kashmir ever be really free even if it becomes independent, surrounded as it is by India, China and Pakistan?” he wonders.

A pro-Kashmir protest in Kashmir

Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir

“How free can it be? What happens to Pakistan-administered Kashmir?

“Freedom is not an option. I have yet to see a model of freedom which convinces me that Jammu and Kashmir as a viable independent entity”.

The irony is that nothing that is being debated in the valley is new.

The builder of modern India and its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, spoke about a plebiscite in Kashmir and independence for the state with its defence guaranteed by both India and Pakistan.

And Mr Nehru’s letter to the maharajah of Kashmir four months after India’s independence in 1947 was also chillingly prescient.

“It is of the most vital importance that Kashmir should remain with the Indian Union,” he wrote.

“But, however much we may want this, it cannot be done except through the goodwill of the mass of the population.

“Even if military forces held Kashmir for a while a later consequence may be a strong reaction against this.

“Essentially, therefore, this is a problem of psychological approach to the mass of the people and of making them feel they will be benefited by being in the Indian Union.

“If the average Muslim feels that he has no safe and secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere. Our basic policy must keep this in view, or else we fail.”

MEDIA-INDIA: Columnists Support Kashmir’s Secession

September 4, 2008

Analysis by Rita Manchanda | Independent Press Service,

NEW DELHI, Sep 4  – “Anti-national” is the charge hurled in India at the usual radical suspects who argue for the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.

But the recent outcrop of media columnists asking Indians to, “think the unthinkable”, “let Kashmir go” and “we’d be better off”, are respected mainstream editors of leading national dailies and top columnists. They include Vir Sanghvi of the mass-circulation the Hindustan Times, Jug Suraiya of the Times of India, popular columnist Swaminathan A. Aiyar and activist-writer Arundhati Roy.

Moreover, according to a recent public opinion survey, these writers are reflecting growing popular sentiment. A Times of India survey of young professionals conducted across nine cities revealed a sizeable 30 percent polled feeling that if the economic and human costs were so high, India should not hold on to the Kashmir, though 59 percent felt they should hold on at any cost.

Some two-thirds of those polled said ‘No’ to the question whether the state of Jammu and Kashmir [or part of it] should be allowed to secede. Poll analysts explained that contradiction as indicating that, while thinking on Kashmir remains unclear, Kashmir’s possible secession has, for the first time in years, ‘’become a matter of common debate.”

What has produced this unsettling in the public perception of restored normalcy in the insurgency-wracked Himalayan valley? Kashmiris are back on streets in tumultuous numbers, defiantly chanting “We want freedom” and with equal intensity, “Long live Pakistan”.

The crisis which began two months ago over the proposed transfer of 100 acres forest land in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley to a Hindu religious Board based in Jammu has shattered the myth of Kashmiris being reconciled to integrating with India. A new twist is the communalisation of the intra-state Jammu- Kashmir divide posited as Hindu nationalists v/s Islamist separatists. It has buried faith in ‘Kashmiriyat’ (or Kashmiriness), the cultural syncretism of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir.

Indian administered Kashmir consists of three distinct regions: Hindu dominated Jammu, the Muslim majority Kashmir valley and Ladakh, which is largely Buddhist. Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas are administered by Pakistan.

Muslim Pakistan and largely-Hindu but constitutionally secular India have, ever since they were created by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent on religious grounds, been in dispute over the possession of Kashmir. Three wars fought over the issue have not succeeded in altering the fact that two-thirds of the territory is administered by India and one third by Pakistan.

‘Kashmir fatigue’ appears to be driving the new sentiment behind the emerging public debate. “It is not being driven by the recognition of the legitimacy of the Kashmiri people’s right to decide, but by a sense of exasperation at pampered and mollycoddled Kashmiris remaining anti-Indian,’’ says leading Kashmir human rights campaigner Tapan Bose. “Shining India does not want to have the blot of coercively holding onto resentful and alienated Kashmiris,’’ he added.

Sanghvi’s article on Aug. 16 succinctly strikes these several chords — “What does the Centre get in return for the special favours and billions of dollars spent?” ‘’Far from gratitude, there is active hatred of India. Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights”. “We have the world to conquer, and the means to do it. Kashmir is a 20th century problem. We cannot let it drag us down and bleed us as we assume our rightful place in the world.”

Swaminathan Aiyar and Jug Suraiya have a more liberal perspective. Aiyar acknowledges that “democracy (in Kashmir) has been a farce for almost six decades”. There are uncomfortable parallels with colonial rule over British India and the quasi colonialism of India’s rule “over those who resent it” in Kashmir. Suraiya tweaks the argument of Kashmir’s secession fatally wounding the idea of India as a pluralist polity and democratic society. “India can survive without Kashmir, if it has to; it can’t survive without the idea of India, central to which is the idea of democratic dissent and the free association of people”. This is being eroded in holding Kashmiris against their will.

Arundhati Roy, writing in the ‘Guardian’ on Aug. 22, gives it a radical twist: “India needs azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India”. Roy asserts, that “the non-violent people’s protest is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression”. Drawing a wider frame, she warns that “Indian military occupation makes monsters of us and allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged in Kashmir’’.

Expressing surprise at such articles by people who (except Roy) have never campaigned for azadi, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, executive editor of the respected ‘Kashmir Times’ newspaper said: “We have always campaigned for ‘azadi’. This is just the wrong time. Nobody thinks about the repercussions of the disintegration of the state on communal lines (especially, Doda, Rajouri and Poonch). Whose azadi are they talking about? The need is to douse the fires and begin dialogue at different levels.”

Among the flurry of reactive articles, representative of the national security line is strategic analyst K. Subrahmanyam writing in the Times of India on Aug. 22 is adamant against any redrawing of borders. Subrahmanyam, a known nationalist, warns that if Kashmiris are allowed to secede, ‘’there would be consequences that have to be anticipated’’.

‘’During the partition of the subcontinent in 1947-48, such consequences were not foreseen and the result was a bloodbath resulting the death of a million people and ethnic cleansing involving 15 million,’’ Subrahmanyam argues.

Appealing for greater responsibility and efforts to retrieve ‘Kashmiriyat’, eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar warned in the ‘Deccan Herald’ on Aug. 29 that the independence of Kashmir would mean a takeover of the territory by the Taliban or terrorists. Political editor of ‘The Hindu,’ Harish Khare, has on Aug. 28 cautioned against “over reacting to provocative slogans in Lal Chowk’’ and said there is ‘’no need to be apologetic about our democratic values and practices”. Kashmir society could still be “weaned away from violence, distrust and suspicion.”

Sultan Shaheen, editor of the website ‘New Age Islam’, has decried the ‘irresponsibility’ of public intellectuals arguing for letting Kashmir go. “What about the nationalist Muslims of Kashmir? It was the vision of secularism and pluralism that had brought them to India in the first place. Kashmir is important for common Indians because Kashmiriyat is a prototype for Hindustaniyat — a unique blend of unity in ideological diversity.”

(END/2008)


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