Monday, November 8, 2010

My final thoughts on Arundhati Roy… by Venkatesan Vembu

My final thoughts on Arundhati Roy…
by Venkatesan Vembu

Thursday, October 28, 2010 16:06 IST Email

In my column published in DNA yesterday, I thought I'd said all I wanted to say about the controversy surrounding Arundhati Roy's recent pronouncements on Kashmir. I don't have the luxury of being called upon to write 20,000-word essays to flesh out my thoughts, but in most cases the 570 words I'm given on the Opinions page are more than adequate. But, as it turned out, this time I was called upon to say something more.

Late last evening, the BBC World Service's World Have Your Say producers called to say they'd come across my column, and asked if I would join a panel discussion on this topic, along with Outlook magazine's editor Vinod Mehta and a few others. The broadcast from London was to go live at an ungodly 1 am for me in Hong Kong, but I gamely sat up. And although the format of the moderated discussion didn't always allow for freewheeling interaction, I made the following points:

I'm not calling for Arundhati Roy to be arrested or tried for sedition. I also vehemently oppose the online outpourings of extreme right-wing lynch mobs. Nor do I defend the role of the Indian State in Kashmir.

However, Roy's delineation of the situation in Kashmir is overly simplistic, intellectually dishonest and wholly lacking in nuance or balance; in her reductionist worldview, the Indian State is Downright Evil; poor Kashmiri civilians are tortured without reason. But Kashmir's contemporary history is more complex than that. There are other geopolitical forces - including Pakistan-backed jihadi elements whose larger aim is the disintegration of secular India - that she does not acknowledge. That incomplete narrative amounts to a denial of history on her part. And in a volatile situation of the sort that exists in Kashmir, her selective outlining of history has enormous, dangerous real-life consequences.

Vinod Mehta defended Roy's right to free speech and noted that she was "entirely within her rights to say what she is saying" given India's "vibrant and robust" democracy. And in response to my question, he said that Roy's words reflected the "dominant view in the valley"; it wasn't she who coined the phrase azaadi, which in any case should be interpreted as "freedom from human rights excesses", not as a desire to secede from India.

The format of the discussion - with call-ins from listeners, and moderated by the producers - did not permit more intense interactions among the panelists. Which left me with a couple of points that I would have liked to make but couldn't.

The presence of Indian troops in Kashmir has come in for a lot of criticism, and of course human rights abuses - of which Kashmiri civilians bear the brunt - are never to be condoned. But as this blogger points out, for four decades from 1948, until jihadi violence started in 1988-89, you didn't hear azaadi war cries in Kashmir, nor was the State under "brutal military occupation". (Remember Shammi Kapoor shimmying in Kashmir? Remember seeing any "occupation army" in the background?) To fail to acknowledge that connection is downright disingenuous.

What do Kashmir people want for themselves? The answer would have been different at different points in time. Today, after more than 15 years of jihadi indoctrination and inept handling of the situation by successive Central and State governments, they may want azaadi, but if their jihadi fever were to subside, who knows that they might not reject that notion. Let's not forget: India faced a Khalistan separatist campaign in Punjab in the early 1980s. Today, who in Punjab wants to break free of India? And while we're on the subject, (and without trivialising the anguish of Kashmiri civilians), the characterisation of azaadi as merely "freedom from human rights abuses" and not secession is overly benign.

One last point: some commentators - including phone-in callers during the BBC panel discussion - have resorted to attacking Arundhati Roy personally and attributing motives to her extremely critical public positions on issues that go to the core of India's identity as a nation-state. But that's not where I come from: in fact, as I said on air:

"I'm not so cussed as to say that Ms Roy has it all wrong. She does an important job of holding up a mirror to Indian civil society and forcing us to focus on our failings. That's an important function. In 1998, when she declared herself an 'independent mobile republic', I met her at a public talk and I asked for citizenship in her 'republic'. So she's greatly admired, even by some of us who critique her work."

My criticism of her only springs from the fact that as someone who knows the power of words, and who uses them inventively, there's a case for her to offer a more intellectually honest and balanced historical narrative on Kashmir than she's offered so far.

Failing which, I just might be tempted to secure azaadi from the independent, mobile republic of Arundhati Roy...


By P. Nayak
Nov 4, 2010
VV is trying to salvage her image. Who cares for arundhati except a few pseudo-Congressmen. Vinod Mehta is trying to cash in on this controversy.

Kashmir is an integral part of India and belongs equally to Kashmiri Pandits and not just the so-called hyped separatist leadership and the media jokers.

Before sounding intellectual, media jokers should study the actual history of Bharat and not history written by Marxist and communist historians.
By Sahaya Rani
Nov 4, 2010
I congratulate you for your well defined and humanistic stance on the issue. Ms. Roy should realise that a person of her calibre has freedom at the same time accountability and responsibility towards the nation.
By Ramachandra
Nov 4, 2010
I agree with Venkatesan's point of view. I find Ms. Roy tends to go to an extreme like Indian politicians on their opposition. Balance is missing.
By Gorki
Nov 4, 2010
Very balanced and agree with it. It is hard not to get the impression that Ms. Roy is trying to use her by now half-a-celebrity status to stay in the news and extend her stay in the limelight, but she doesn't have anything substantial to say. However, that by itself is not a crime. People like her are the price India has to pay to be a democracy, but so be it. Let her speak...

By Venkat
Nov 3, 2010
I agree with Vembu. Dishonesty and selfish predilection for publicity in the garb of pseudo intellectuality is Arundhati Roy. She can join the Maoists and like the dacoit queens roam around in a wayward life. She is a blemish on what is Indian. Our freedom and sovereignty are mocked by her words. I see no substance in Vinod Mehta's support. He wants 50% importance by contrarian views. He may try to bring out many facts, but subtly like an Indian coward he is also putting same-side goal for selfish thoughts.

By Srihari
Nov 3, 2010
Hail V Mehta, A Roy, N Ram... these idiots decide how the nation is run and disintegrated. It's in their interest to see that Indians are divided — for their funds are channelised by these Jihadis and religious bigots from the West. Their funds stop no sooner they present the facts. Keep the issue burning and get some more media space you s--- of small things and a--- mehta.
Nov 2, 2010
Madam Arundhati Roy is working for outsiders. She is non-patriotic and must be prosecuted. She has a habit to open her bad mouth against India for cheap publicity. We have many traitors like her e.g. Lalu, R.V. Paswan, Bukhari, A.R. Antulay, Mulayam. They all need to be punished.
By Amit
Nov 2, 2010
The lady supports Maoists, separatists, and anything that is against national sovereignty out of fashion. Misleads the world at large and harms the image of our democracy. She says the govt. does not reach out to a large population, does excesses, people are backward. If she was given her say and India were to have the form of govt. she wishes, can she give a guarantee no corruption, 100% (or even 60%) equality to all in all respects? She should stop kidding! If people are so agitated and willing to pick up the gun, why can't they stand up for elections, or file PILs, or use RTI? Only democracy allows you all this, no alternate format in the past, present or future allows all of that!
By Karanth K V
Nov 2, 2010
Dear Venkateshan,

Your article aptly describes the true wisdom of majority of educated intellectuals across this GREAT COUNTRY. It is only in India where anything could be uttered and media could publish it in the name of freedom of expression. I feel that Indian constitution gives authority for all to express freely and enhance their TRP ratings in the country. Even GOI and home ministry have taken a stand that outburst of Smt Arundhati Roy (Man Booker sponsored writer, I suppose) would be neglected and she would not be tried under existing sedition provisions. Had this happened in Muslim countries or our neighbour China or Myanmar, she would have had to undergo minimum of 10 years jail. I suppose a great writer like her must have lost her balance or she conspired with somebody to tell like that in order to please Muslim radicals in Kashmir. May GOD bless Smt Arundhati Roy wisdom to support affected citizens of J&K in particular & India in general.
By Prashant
Nov 2, 2010
I can't understand why there is such a hue and cry for Mrs Roy. Let her speak what she wants to, why are we even discussing it? Mrs Roy grants all her support to anyone who is against Indian Democracy, she has sympathy towards killers of hundreds of innocent people. Oh yes! she is free, she can do it. Venkatesan Vembu, you are a man to devote a million dollar blog to such a public irritant. Let's not talk about her. Delete all this stuff...
By Prakash
Nov 2, 2010
I believe any idea of a plebiscite should be taken into consideration only after all the affected parties are involved, which should include kashmiri pandits as well. Weren't they a part of the State of Kashmir? The Central & State Govts. might conveniently forget that, Arundhati Roy chooses to forget that, Geelani & his ilk will never agree to that. But they have been an important part of Kashmir, and an important identity factor for it.

Sadly, today the Center and Omar Abdullah would not all have them in the scheme of things for reasons best known to them. There are lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits living across the rest of India as refugees — having had to leave their homes (as part of the State govt. and pakistan-sponsored agenda).

Too bad the Islamic population of Kashmir has failed to understand the game. Pakistan & China would never allow a stable India to flourish and progress, hence they aid the Maoists, Kashmiri separatists, earlier Khalistan terrorists.

Same goes for the US — they can never let India become a major power in this region. How else can we explain them turning a blind eye to whatever wrongdoing Pakistan is accused of?
Then we have people like Arundhati Roy from our own — who would love to be in news everyday — even if it is for the wrong reasons. She opposed the Narmada dam construction in Gujarat; however Modi stuck to his guns and made the dam, and look at what that region has become today. The people of that area have jobs, water, growth all due to industries coming in after the Dam was built. So for her, I feel it is all about staying in the news.

I as an Indian just hope that we manage to keep our country in one piece — we have enough on our hands with the states fracturing every now and then!
By Rajeev Dubey
Nov 2, 2010
Freedom of speech and human rights are close to the heart issues that an author carries along.

However, Arundhati does not seem to be doing that, she rather presents herself as a person out to create an identity that has forced labels of 'greatness'... — not as an author but as a leader. This makes one feel dejected.

Her position on Kashmir is untenable.
By Rohit
Nov 2, 2010
Sellouts like Roy should be exported to Pakistan, where they can be happy seeing how well the Muslims are treated. Overall, India has positive inflows of Muslim migrants and Kashmir and Pakistan has negative flows of Hindu migrants. That tells you the story of the plight of people. Roy's anecdotalism is the most common tool of telling convincing lies. People need to get smarter and start to look at the broader picture.
By gangai
Nov 1, 2010
Arundhati Roy — who was she until she won a booker prize? — a seemingly unknown entity without a cultural identity. I have been following her statements and speeches and writings; I sum up that she is one with a flair for explosive writing.

This evening Chidambaram gave an explanation as to why GOI chose not to prosecute her by stating that GOI was acting in the spirit of the words and not the law of the words. He quoted that the spirit of the particular clause is that unless a person directly entices a population to rise to violence, no action is to be initiated. Was her statement not an encouragement to Jihad and Azadi which goes against the constitution of India? Chidam long ago lost his senses when he decided to rejoin the Congress after deserting it.

Well, no wonder if his government pleads for setting free Kasab as what he and his terrorist group did was not pre-planned killings but was doing justice to the minority community's conditions in the country ruled by Chidam.

As Vembu says, Arundhati should "offer more intellectually honest and balanced historical narrative" on anything that she states and advocates. Her crime is that she read only one side of the coin which has a head and declared it had no nominal value without seeing the other side. This is what happens to anyone who grows up without a cultural identity like AR.

Onlooker Vinod Mehta, he is an opportunist journalist and does not speak truth. He wants his weekly to be sold, no matter what he writes. He said AR was right in what she said because she is an independent person. Would he accept, in the same breath, if one slanders VM and accuses of him molesting his lady staff since whoever does so does it as an independent person?

Today's Kashmir problems originate from the cardinal mistake of having given the region a special status by the first Govt. of JN. Why Kashmiris are allowed to own property anywhere within the Union of India when other Indians are not allowed to buy an inch of land in J&K? Why when the rest of Indians bear the brunt of inflation, Kashmiris continue to get their ration at ridiculously low prices like Rs2 for a kg sugar or Rice or Atta for Re1 per kg?
By sri
Nov 1, 2010
send chavan and adarsh residents there. they will fix kashmir problem. believe me they are great nationalists.
By yatikesh
Nov 1, 2010
Sentimentality is one of our biggest enemies. Rather than sitting down and deciding on a solution amicable to everyone involved we tend to feed our sentiments. Besides, the people entrusted with finding a solution have a kind of symbiotic relationship with the Kashmir issue. They are there in the limelight only because they are 'trying' to find a way out of the Kashmir problem. The day this problem is solved quite a number of people would find their lives changed for the worse.

As far as Ms Arundhati Roy is concerned i never understood why we get so affected by one person's ideas. Where has our common sense and reason gone? Giving attention to her 'radical' ideas is not going to help anyone. Listen to the people of Kashmir. Their words would be much closer to reality.
Nov 1, 2010
Ms Roy intentionally forgets about Kashmiri minorities when empowering 'azaadi'. She claims pandits to be fraud and never thinks about tibetan kashmiris residing in larger chunk of kashmir known as ladakh. She fights for minority against state of india and supports majority in state of kashmir.
By Maddy
Nov 1, 2010
You are absolutely right Mr Vembu. She has the right to express her opinion and so does the government to say that she is totally wrong. Where were the Jihadis before 1988 and hazratbal issue? where were they during Kargil saga? Let us focus on settling the kashmir issue once for all. As for Ms Roy, neglect is the best form of contempt.
By b bali
Nov 1, 2010
Dear Vembu,
i did hear the conversation on bbc, you have a valid point. My request is everything should be fair, so journalists also should be fair in thoughts. one question comes to my mind, why not Mr. Vinod Mehta never ever voiced his opinion on article 370. If Mr. Mehta believes majority of Kashmiris want azadi, on same grounds revoke art. 370 as majority Indians want it. If we are democratic, truly secure, let's have honest open discussion. hope Mr Mehta has his opinion on this.
By Ray
Nov 1, 2010
Any anti-Indian activity should be dealt with stern action without any hesitation. No special status — no Khalistan, no Telengana, period. Please don't forget the slogan — Jai Jawan and Jai Kisan! Jai Lal Bahadurji.
By Enkey
Nov 1, 2010
In a democratic country like India, rich with contradictions, abuse of fundamental rights is not an exception. It is no wonder how she could prove her stand taller than her words.
By Yogesh
Oct 31, 2010
Dear Venkatesan, please accept my compliments on the two successive balanced articles on Kashmir and Arundhati Roy. Intellectual freaks like Arundhati Roy actually make democracy more meaningful. She is an independent citizen and since her views have no official locus standi, why should we be unduly worried by them? Arundhati's views on Kashmir and self-determination are provoked in the present circumstances (the rise of the intifada) and she fails to put the issue in a broader perspective. As you have rightly pointed out, the effective impact of jihadism sponsored by Pakistan and also the purging of Pandits from the valley are factors that she fails to include in her narrative. There was no movement for self-determination or azaadi when Sheikh Abdullah was in command as the Sher-e-Kashmir. In fact it was his considered decision to remain aligned with India. The fundamentalists took over the agenda much later, with solid support from across the border. The people who have managed to hijack the agenda again are the same breed, who remain on the jihadi payrolls. The Kashmir tangle is not as simplistic as Mrs Roy would like to believe. Kashmir is complicated and it will take some complicated diplomacy and statecraft from all the involved parties to resolve it. The four-point agenda enunciated by Mush-Manmohan could be a starting point.
By Surinder Puri
Oct 31, 2010
Democracy imposes a sense of responsibility on its ciitizens to maintain itself. Unless it is observed any democracy can descend into chaos, confusion and eventually barbarism. It is then compelled to use force for its survival. Punjab was a good example. While there are several differences between the Punjab of 1980s and J&K there are several similarities too. Successive weak governments, this one included, have allowed the situation in J&K to slide so much that the Kashmiris of the valley have started to see Azadi at the end of the tunnel. By allowing Geelani and Arundhati Roy to go unpunished the government is likely to unleash a monster. Indian government is creating unnecessary international and Kashmiri pressure against itself as it does not have a firm policy towards Srinagar. This allows Pakistan to maintain unrest in the valley area. America fought its deadliest war, the civil war, to maintain its integrity. That war caused more casualties than nearly all their other wars put together. But it planted peace for the next 200 years to come. Is PM Manmohan Singh listening?
By enrgti
Oct 31, 2010
she is a disgrace to India and Indians; especially Hindus who have given ultimate sacrifices for the freedom of iNDIA (Subhas, Bhagat Singh,...). She should be expelled from India. Some of these so-called intellectuals and artists of Indian heritage (remember Husain the painter?) think they are not Indians; so be it... throw them out of India NOW!
By menaftha
Oct 30, 2010
If you start giving azadi, everyone wants it. even the BLACK CROW Arundhati created her mobile republic so that she alone could live there and meddle in Indian affairs! About azadi to kashmir, before that you have to perform TIME TRAVEL to 500 BC, where Hinduism's greatest stories were written, where Emperor Ashok established Srinagar, where Amarnath caves are formed, where rishis and Buddhist monks used to spread the message of love and oneness. Arundhati is biting the hand which gave her FOOD, FAME and BOOKER. AZADI? NO WAY! The government has to abrogate Art.370 and allow all Indian citizens to buy land, settle in and promote tourism so that the state develops. But before that we have to fix Pakistan which is the ROOT cause of all this PROBLEM. Kashmir is NOT the problem. Jihadis are the problem.
By S. P. Singh
Oct 30, 2010
The way we are giving importance to Ms Roy is unfortunate. Instead of wasting time discussing her comments let us see the real story. What is the per capita expenditure Indian Govt. makes in Kashmir? How many migrants are living beyond Kashmir? Where are Kashmiri Pandits, At present, how are they living? The only solution is change of demographic structure of Kashmir. Let all Indians be allowed to settle in Kashmir and give free access to resources and infrastructure and win the hearts of people. The person who visited Srinagar will find the hospitality of Kashmiris in Dull Lake on shikaras and the way they treat the people. When protection from terrorists is assured, lot of Kashmiris will come out in protest against terrorism and against the views of people like Roy. Please look at the ground reality and the job which the Indian Army is doing in Kashmir, their hardship and commitment and the way they are handling the situation. It is time we resolved to remove terrorism from not only India but from Asia itself, and got ready for hard decisions which our political leaders are unable to take.
Oct 30, 2010
Intellectual poverty and verbal diarrhoea just about sums it up. Why are we discussing Arundhati Roy?

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