Arundhati Roy, Kashmir, and Justice


Recently, six of us Mantle bloggers were asked to discuss the one story we were going to keep an eye on for 2011. Because of space restrictions I could not fully explain the reason for my choice, that is, Arundhati Roy's stance toward Kashmir. Here then, is that explanation.

It has taken about two decades of continuous verbal and nonverbal combat with a jingoistic media and the grip of a nationalistic administration to convey the “already existing” and “ever growing dissent” in Kashmir against Indian rule, much to the unshakeable disbelief of Indian multitudes and to the chagrin of Indian political elite. For a few years now, especially since the growing grassroots protests for Independence in Kashmir which have more been about show of solidarity than violence, the conversation centered on the dispute in mainland soirees are shifting. Many of India's intelligentsia are rethinking the Kashmiri stance, which is distanced from the shadow of gun (and emerging as more indigenous than previously thought) and the contamination of Pakistani allegiance.

Many Indian intellectuals have begun airing concerns over Kashmir, albeit with some restraint, and some have  thrown their no-holds-barred support behind the beleaguered Kashmiris; Arundhati Roy being one of the latter. Roy, the Booker prize winning writer of the celebrated and somewhat “controversial” debut novel The God of Small Things, is a growing pain in India because of her unequivocal solidarity with resistance movements that span from  Northeast India to Kashmir (and of course the huddled masses globally). She is increasingly bringing Kashmir into the conversation, especially since the 2008 mass uprising which brought to surface the popular dissent harbored by Kashmiris against India, but which had been drowned in the shrill political and media tirades that strung it into an unrecognizable mass by conflating it with Islamic fundamentalism, Pakistan and terrorism. Roy famously endorsed Kashmir’s struggle for independence by saying “India needs azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi (freedom) from India."

Recently she visited Kashmir in a show of solidarity with the family of two young women in whose rape and murder the Indian forces have been implicated. She recounts her experience in the New York Times about one of the girl’s father who gifted her warm boiled eggs; an unadorned thanks for her support which she has for the bruised but not battered Kashmiris, killed, but not dead Kashmiris. She considers this gift of the simplest order the epitome of a reward for a writer. And why not? A writer, after everything is said and done,  is a forceful repository of words, the meaningful sounds which differentiate us from animals; when they emerge for the cause of justice, they enchant, they endear, and they make miracles by making audibly manifest the deepest of overshadowed emotions.

Like the unpretentious gift of eggs, Roy’s view point has always been straightforward; bordering on minimal on the side of pretentions. She is often accused of Manichean simplicity, an imperfect lens in which to view struggles like those of Kashmiris; that is, struggles for  breath, dignity, liberty, and freedom - ideals which are scarce to non-existent under the draconian laws and camouflaged military rule. The fact is quite basic: either there is justice or there isn’t.

In the year 2011 it will be interesting to watch the Indian stance with Roy regarding Kashmir. Recently there were invocations for charges of sedition against her when she brought into question the Indian hold on Kashmir. With her and other’s of her ilk in the Indian domain restive about the situation in Kashmir, and importantly with the Quit Kashmir movement that has been underway in the valley since spring 2010, the aura of nationalistic quietude that India so seeks to maintain may be in jeopardy.

It should be a telling trajectory to watch where the warmth of the subversive eggs reaches and which icy cold ramparts it thaws.

Arundhati Roy, India, Kashmir, Pakistan