Arundhati Roy should have acted more responsibly. But, so should have we

Cover photo: Manish Swarup/AP Photo

If you happen to follow news outlets on social media, chances are you have already read the headlines about Arundhati Roy’s controversial comments about the Indian and Pakistani armies. Arundhati was heard saying in a 2-minute clip snipped from a lecture she delivered in 2011 that unlike the Indian army “the Pakistani military was never used against its own people”.

Naturally, there was a massive outrage from people in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, followed by a backlash to the outrage. As the controversy unfolds in real-time, it’s worth examining just what happened in the span of the last few days that put Arundhati Roy, a well respected social activist, in hot water with the press and the public.

The controversial speech

Arundhati Roy probably should have acted more responsibly. But so should have we

The 2-minute clip where she apparently made the statement was widely circulated on social media this week. She was heard claiming that since India’s birth, the country had been waging war on its own people and that Pakistan had never deployed its army against its people the way India had.

The repercussions were almost immediate. People wasted no time in pointing out the Pakistani army’s role in massacring over 3 million people in the then East Pakistan in 1971 and the sustained poverty and the plunder of the resource-rich Balochistan province.

She was branded a liar, hypocrite and pseudo-intellectual.

Some said her selective blindness to the bloody genocide through which Bangladesh emerged was appalling and that she was desperately in need of a history lesson. Many in the press tore into her supposed anti-Indian sentiments.

The issue lies with her ill-conceived idea to contrast the severity of the force used by the Indian and Pakistani armies on the people of their own country. In trying to illustrate the severity of the Indian state’s crimes against its own people, she unintentionally reduced the struggles of Bangladeshis who fought hard to obtain their freedom as well denigrated the continued oppression of the Baloch people as they are deprived the riches of their own land.

Read more: Kashmir, a paradise lost?

Unintended though it may have been, to many people who still grieve over the indelible trauma of the past (and for the Baloch, the present), she seemed like an apologist for the Pakistani army.

Roy’s humble apology

Arundhati Roy probably should have acted more responsibly. But so should have we

On Wednesday, Arundhati Roy said people unintentionally “say something thoughtless or stupid” at some point in their lives, adding that what she devoted to words in her writing was far more significant than what she “might say extempore in the course of a freewheeling talk”.

The author said further that her opinion on what Islamabad was doing in Balochistan and the “genocide that the Pakistan Army committed in Bangladesh has never been ambiguous” and were reflected in her writings. To support her claim, she referenced two examples of her literary works, one of them being the novel ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ published in 2017. In it, one of the main characters, an Indian Intelligence Officer, Biplab Dasgupta aka Garson Hobart, who has served in Kashmir, says:

“It is true we did—we do— some terrible things in Kashmir, but… I mean what the Pakistan army did in East Pakistan—now that was a clear case of genocide. Open and shut.

But are we asking the right questions?

Arundhati Roy probably should have acted more responsibly. But so should have we

At the risk of sounding like the devil’s advocate, I would wager that Arundhati Roy never explicitly intended to malign Bangladeshis or the Baloch. Her comments lacked nuance and were disappointing given the standard to which we hold the wordsmith, but with that said and done, I do question whether they deserved such intense scrutiny at the cost of omitting what the rest of her 90-minute lecture was about from the discussion.

Read more: What is happening in Hong Kong? Answers you need to know

The now infamous 2-minute clip of hers that went viral was extracted from a 90-minute lecture from 2011. Arundhati, who was reading out from her essay ‘Democracy’s Failing Light’ at a conference on Democracy and Dissent in China and India at the University of Westminster in the UK, talked about the way the Indian state became a colonizer immediately shaking off the shackles of colonialism itself. She named place after place that the Indian state has waged war on within its boundaries since its inception, from Kashmir and Telangana to Manipur and Mizoram to Goa, embarking on a campaign of suppression to consolidate its rule over the lands.

Anyone who watches the full video will understand that she is trying to make a point here about the bias of the international community in giving Pakistan its fair share of negative coverage for the brutality of its militarism, while simultaneously shying away from depicting India as anything but a bastion of democracy when many of its own people have been reduced to second class citizens.

In this context, her contention that India has ‘perpetually been at war’ with its own people does seem to make sense.

Furthermore, this 2-minute snippet miraculously resurfaced a few days after Arundhati Roy penned a searing opinion piece in the New York Times against PM Narendra Modi’s ambitions in Kashmir and India at large.

Arundhati minced no words saying, “Given my views on what is happening in Kashmir now, it is not surprising that Hindu Nationalists are rushing to generate outrage over this exciting new/old canard they have dug up about my supposed denial of the genocide in Bangladesh and the deeds of the Pakistan Army in Pakistan.”

The Yellow Press

With distrust in the media growing by the day, one must be ever vigilant of the content one comes across online. The yellow press relies on clickbaity headlines which draw us in to confer upon us details of the juiciest sort. The resulting outrage encourages us to share more and more, thus motivating these outlets to concoct headlines that are even more removed from reality.

Even reputable news outlets have their slip-ups, quoting people out of context and sometimes downright misquoting them. Only by admitting when one is mistaken and taking actual steps to correct said mistakes can these outlets regain the trust of their readers.

In this day and age, we must be conscious of both how we consume information and what information we put back out into the world. Let’s not let our outrage get the best of us.

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Kashmir, a paradise lost?

Midnight is remarkably intertwined with the fate of India. It was the wee hours of midnight when India overthrew its colonisers of 200 years and won its freedom almost 72 years ago. It was the past midnight on 5th of August, 2019 when India unforgivingly discarded everything its founding fathers believed in and decided to tear down Jammu-Kashmir. 72 years later, complete darkness has now engulfed the paradise on earth.

Kashmir’s struggle

Before 1947, Kashmir was a princely state called Jammu and Kashmir. The lush green mountains with the backdrop of the Himalayan range and forever blessed with clear blue skies had rightfully earned its name of Paradise on Earth. But Kashmir was troubled. It has always been.

During partition, thanks to Kashmir’s then-ruling King Hari Singh, Kashmir had joined India instead of Pakistan under few special conditions, all of which were met. According to these conditions, Kashmir remained the only specialised state in India, complete with its own flag, constitution and prime minister. Kashmir had the freedom to make its own laws and decisions, except for foreign affairs, military moves and communications which remained under the central’s control.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Thanks to this certain degree of autonomy, Kashmir could make rules regarding property ownership and fundamental rights, even bar Indian residents of other states to buy properties in Kashmir, a law which protected the locals from being outnumbered by their own countrymen from different states.  

Many aspects of this autonomous facility of Kashmir became a futile gesture under the Indian state in the years to follow.

Prime Minister became Rajyapal. Its constitution became merely a booklet in the corner shelf.

But Article 370 still protected the residents of Kashmir. It protected the ownership rights and the constitutional autonomy of the only Muslim majority state in India, at least formally in papers.

Revoking Article 370 was in the 2019 election manifesto of BJP. But few had thought it would actually get implemented. Few had assumed that BJP would have the audacity to tear down the only string that still kept the troubled Kashmir bound together with India and risk riots, communal turbulence and to speak of the worst, outright war with Pakistan.

The fall of Kashmir

But it happened. The sign was clear from the first few days of August. Thousands of additional troops were deployed. An emergency was declared. Tourism, schools, pilgrimages were called off. And when everyone was assuming that only section 35A of the constitution, which allowed special rights to Kashmir, would be scrapped, Modi’s Government revoked almost the entire Article 370, stripping Kashmir completely of its autonomy.

Kashmir will also be divided into two federally governed regions. One will combine Muslim majority Kashmir and Hindu majority Jammu. The other will be the Buddhist majority and Tibet influenced Ladakh.

Kashmir lost its flag, its constitution. Kashmir’s leaders were put under house arrest. Its people are now susceptible to general Indian laws and rules. Any Indian national can now buy property in Kashmir and Kashmiris no longer hold the right to decide their own fate.

BJP’s complex relationship with Hindu right-wing

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Hindu nationalist and right-wing groups are welcoming it while protests are breaking out in Kashmir. Amit Shah says the move amends “mistakes in the past” and that will pave the path for development in Kashmir. But in reality, it’s a catastrophic decision. Especially considering the fact that Kashmir has had a troublesome history with Indian ruling since the last 30 years. Separatists sentiment had been growing steadily with movements and unrest breaking out every now and then.

Many fear that the new move will allow Hindu right-wing majority to take over native Kashmiri land and turn the locals into a minority group. Some go even further assuming an ethnic cleansing on the plate, given BJP’s extremist sentiments in the past.

Midnight’s children no more

Kashmiris had long been dreaming of and fighting for an “Azaad Kashmir”. With this new move in place, that dream is long gone. With populism quickly rising in world politics, India has sealed its fate for the foreseeable future. First with the landslide victory of BJP in the 2019 elections and now with the stripping of Kashmir’s autonomous status. India has put the final nail in the coffin and is on its way to becoming the monster it defeated 72 years ago.