More likely given her line of thinking, she was talking of the emotional non-integration of Kashmir with the rest of the nation. Maybe, the observation was her way of underlining the Kashmiri people's alienation, which she blames on the behavior of India's security services in the State as "an occupation force"
Two subjects are almost never out of the news in India : Kashmrir and Arundhati Roy. They make a deadly combination when hitting the headlines together, as they have been doing for the past several days. The frenzied reaction to a recent reiteration by the writer-activist of her ideas on the most intractable of India-Pakistan issues shows the strength of the powerful forces arrayed in the country against South Asian peace.
Arundhati raised a storm with her reported observations on October 24 at a seminar in Srinagar, capital of India-administered State of Jammu and Kashmir, on ‘Whither Kashmir: freedom or enslavement?', organized by the Coalition of Civil Societies (CCS). Repeating her arguments for 'azadi' (freedom) for Kashmir, she was quoted as saying, "Kashmir has never been an integral part of India ."
She may have been alluding to the fact that creation of the State was a consequence of the Instrument of Accession signed by a ruler of Kashmir who did not really represent it. She may have had in mind Article 370 of India's Constitution, which confers a special status on Jammu and Kashmir - a provision which has elicited opposition only from the far right with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its political front (though the governments led by the party in New Delhi never attempted to alter the statutory scheme in this regard).
Or, more likely given her line of thinking, she was talking of the emotional non-integration of Kashmir with the rest of the nation. Maybe, the observation was her way of underlining the Kashmiri people's alienation, which she blames on the behavior of India 's security services in the State as "an occupation force".
Now, it can be no liberal's case that Arundhati is above all criticism. Her statements can be subjected to a serious critique on certain counts. The 'azadi' she has upheld, it can be pointed out, means different things to different people - to her and to some others who shared the dais with her on that day, perhaps - and needs, therefore, to be defined. Attention can be drawn to the unmentioned facts in her summary of Kashmir's post-1947 history - to the preservation of communal peace in the Valley during the Partition, to the Pakistan-backed invasion of Kashmir by Pushtoon tribesmen, and to popular and non-royal leader Sheikh Abdullah's post-Independence advocacy of India as the preferable option for Kashmir . Deserving of dispassionate examination is the claim that the plight of uprooted Kashmiri Pandits gets inadequate attention from activists like Arundhati.
Many of those feign indignation about Arundhati sharing the stage with "fundamentalist" Syed Ali Shah Geelani and thus betraying her feminism or cause of gender justice. They would carry greater conviction if thy were also not allies and admirers of Shiv Sena fuhrer Bal Thackeray who calls Congress party leaders "hijras" (eunuchs) for following "a woman" like Sonia Gandhi. Still, the company, into which her campaigns throw her sometimes, can be a point of criticism.
Not so reasoned and restrained, however, was the response to her remarks. No sooner had the first headline on the seminar appeared on the television screen than all hell broke loose. It was as though a long-awaited opportunity had come the way of those listening to all the recent talk of a political dialogue in Kashmir with increasing indignation. They were seething with 'patriotic' rage as the media published and broadcast stories of anti-people atrocities in Kashmir by the armed forces, without observing self-censorship strictly in national interest. They could get it all off their chest now, with Arundhati challenging the unofficial fiat against freedom of speech on subjects relating to 'national sovereignty'.
"Sedition," they screamed. "Arrest her", they ordered the government. TV channels called to their studios commentators of impeccably jingoistic credentials, and they condemned her in a chorus. She had preached "secession" and must pay for this under the law, said the media-appointed mock jury (including journalists, of whom their profession must be profoundly ashamed). They didn't seem to bother about the countless instances, where the law has not been allowed to take its course against perpetrators of large-scale crimes like communal riots and pogroms.
This is not the first time Arundhati has voiced such views. She articulated them, for example, in a magazine article in August 2008. She argued: " India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as - if not more than - Kashmir needs azadi from India ....The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all."
Returning from Kashmir where a revolt was raging, she did no give the readers a rhapsodical account. Reported she: "Everywhere there were Pakistani flags, everywhere the cry, Pakistan se rishta kya? La ilaha illa llah. What is our bond with Pakistan ? There is no god but Allah. Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah. What does Freedom mean? There is no god but Allah. For somebody like myself, who is not Muslim, that interpretation of freedom is hard, if not impossible, to understand."
She agonized over other chants as well. "The slogan that cut through me like a knife and clean broke my heart was this one: Nanga bhookha Hindustan, jaan se pyaara Pakistan (Naked, starving India, More precious than life itself is Pakistan)....it was painful to listen to people who have suffered so much themselves mock others who suffer in different ways, but no less intensely, under the same oppressor. In that slogan I saw the seeds of how easily victims can become perpetrators."
The self-proclaimed "nationalists" have no use for such nuances. Her remarks then did cause a ripple, but it was nothing comparable to the wrath she has now incurred. The intolerance, which India is being taught to see as a sign of its status as a regional "superpower", has registered a noticeable increase over two years.
In August 2008, too, appeared a newspaper article advocating 'azadi' for Kashmir . Titled "Think the Unthinkable," the article by then Hindustan Times editor-in-chief Vir Singhvi did not call for "azadi" directly. Singhvi asked for a referendum in Kashmir, almost assuming that the Kashmiris would vote for leaving India . In that case, he argued, "surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives, and our honor as a nation?"
If he did not draw the flak Arundhati did, the reason was obvious. His argument could appeal to the ultra-nationalists as well, up to a point.
But can India advance significantly towards a Kashmir solution, if we must wait indefinitely for its endorsement by political forces with fundamental stakes in perpetuating the problem?
J. Sri Raman is a freelance journalist and a peace activist, based in Chennai, India. He writes regularly for US web journal Truthout. He also contributes to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Chicago, US and the Japanese newspaper Chugoku Shimbun, Hiroshima. He likes to think of himself as an India-Pakistan journalist. He contributes a fortnightly column to the Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan. He also writes for the Tribune, Chandigarh, The Hindu, Chennai and The Hindustan Times, Delhi, India. He is also author of the book Flashpoint published by Common Courage Press, USA. He is the convener of the Journalists Against Nuclear Weapons and the Movement Against Nuclear Weapons, Chennai. He is a member of the National Coordination Committee of India’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.