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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Sri Lanka attack: A common enemy and the resurgence of ISIS

Little less than three years ago on July 1, 2016 – IS attackers invaded the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in a diplomatic enclave of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Gunmen killed 20 hostages many of who were tourists, foreign dignitaries and two police officers before authorities raided the restaurant and terminated the nearly 12-hour standoff. Soon after, ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack.

Time may have elapsed but Dhaka did not forget dismay of that dark night.

We did not forget the precious lives of the two Bengali students who came to visit their motherland. Nor did we forget the nine Italians and seven Japanese men and woman who lost their lives in our acreage.

Dhaka remembers with immense trepidation and utmost concern as yet another horror of ISIS is unleashed upon our cousins in Sri Lanka.

Horror sweeps the land of Lanka

From the latest news received from The Guardian, the explosions at eight sites across Sri Lanka have now left the death toll at 350 and above. More than 500 has been injured.

On Sunday 21 April a series of synchronized bombings took place in Sri Lanka. The explosions targeted Christians at Easter Sunday church services in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, and sightseers staying in hotels in the capital.

On Tuesday 23, two days after the tragedy Islamic State released a video claiming responsibility of these premeditated attack.

The capitals that have been hit by the joint attack includes:

Colombo – Where six out of the eight explosions were carried out

Negombo – Explosion at St Sebastian’s church

Batticaloa – Blast at the Zion Church

A timeline of events

21 April 2019 8.45 am – Explosion at Shangri La hotel in Colombo

21 April 2019 8.45 am – Explosion at St. Anthony’s Church in Kotahena, COLOMBO

21 April 2019 8.45 am – Explosion at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in NEGAMBO

21 April 2019, 8.45 am – Explosion at Kingsbury Hotel in COLOMBO

21 April 2019 8.50 am – Explosion at Cinnamon Grand Hotel in COLOMBO

21 April 2019 9.05 am – Explosion at Zion Roman Catholic Church in BATTICALOA

21 April 2019 1.45 pm – Explosion at New Tropical Inn in Dehiwela, near the national zoo. This was the seventh explosion.

21 April 2010 2.15 pm – Explosion at a house in Dematagoda, COLOMBO, during a police raid where three police officers were killed. This was the eighth and the final explosion for the day.

Within noon, the country was consumed in a pandemonium of destruction, damage and loss.

Widespread hysteria engulfed the entire country forcing the Government to block all major social media networks and messaging services, such as Facebook and WhatsApp by 2.20 pm.

Later within the hour, the government declared an indefinite islandwide curfew. By evening, it was learnt through the Tourism chief, that the outbreak of bombings caused the death of at least 32 foreigners and severe injury of 30 more among who many were Bangladeshi.

The bombers

According to Reuters, a combined effort of nine suicide bombers created the entire operation among which, one was a woman who blew herself up in front of two of her children. Killing them all with several police officers, informed a Sri Lankan investigator.

The Sri Lankan authority further added that they continue to investigate whether Islamic State (IS) who claimed responsibility for the coordinated blasts, had provided more than symbolic support, such as by training the attackers or building the bombs.

On Tuesday, 23 April – a group of eight men who appear to be the Sri Lanka bomb attackers is seen at an unknown location at an image taken from video uploaded by the Islamic State’s AMAQ news agency.

Standing in front of a black flag of the Islamic State, the eight men announce their devotion to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

“We pledge allegiance … and to obey him on everything either in easy or difficult conditions,” they say, before praising the God.

All the men in the video had their face covered in black scarves except one. The one man who appear to be the mastermind of the entire attack and who also had his face uncovered is known as Mohamed Zahran.

The Sri Lankan intelligence has deduced that Zahran is a Tamil-speaking preacher from the east of the Indian Ocean island country. It looks like he is well known for his militant views, according to Muslim leaders and a Sri Lankan intelligence report.

Rendering to Reuters, leaders of three prominent Sri Lankan Muslim groups voiced that they had held several meetings with Sri Lankan defence and intelligence officials in the past three years to warn about Zahran’s radical beliefs after he began posting content that included messages supportive of Islamic State.

They also informed that Zahran was at a time, an individual with less than 200 followers. However as soon as he began posting extremist videos on his Facebook page in 2016 that called for violence against non-Muslims, his name became more alarming among the Muslim community.

The resurgence of ISIS?

After this barbaric tragedy, many questions have bubbled to surface. ISIS’s influence and ideological strongholds were perceived to have declined over the years.

They have been driven out of Mosul surely but the recent atrocity goes on to show that ISIS is not at its end after all.

Whatever their motives may be, their acts have prompted strong apprehension that has spread from our minds and around the world, leaving us feeling quite deserted and exposed to yet another dose of attack.

Possible link to Christchurch attack

“The initial investigation after the Sri Lanka bombing has revealed that this was in retaliation for the New Zealand mosque attack,” junior minister for defence Ruwan Wijewardene of Sri Lanka told the parliament.

He did not elaborate on why authorities believed there was a link to the two tragedy that has occurred in a span of thirty –eight days. The New Zealand mosque shooting involved the murder of 50 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch during Friday prayers on March 15. A gunman single-handedly carried out those attacks.

This is yet to be proven whether this is indeed retribution of the earlier attack at Christchurch, New Zealand. However, given the nature of the tragedy and the extensive loss of lives, it is one of the primary notions that must be addressed.

As the argument continues to rise, officials say that the deadly attack would have taken weeks to organize and New Zealand Prime Minister Adern expresses serious scepticism to the idea that these two attacks are if indeed interlinked.