India: Free Speech Or Sedition?

Arundhati Roy protests against dams on Indias Narmada River. Image by Flickr user International River. CC BY-NC-SA

Indian novelist, essayist and activist Arundhati Roy has more often been highlighted in media not for her writing but because of her outspoken criticism against the Indian state. Since her Booker prize winner novel The God of Small Things, she has devoted herself mainly to nonfiction and politics voicing issues related to social justice and economic inequality.

Her support for Kashmiri separatism has recently stirred a debate across India. She was speaking at a conference titled “Whither Kashmir- Freedom or Enslavement?” organized by JKCCS in Srinagar on October 24, 2010. Roy said, “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact.” Here is a video of that speech uploaded in Youtube by Wahidfayaz:

Salil Tripathi at Index On Censorship Blog summarizes reactions of the Indians:

If sentiments expressed on the Internet — through Twitter and Facebook — are an indicator, her remarks have outraged many Indians. Some want her to be sent away to jail for a long time. One even tweeted that she should face capital punishment, although the maximum punishment under the sedition law is life imprisonment. For its part, the government has not said it will prosecute Roy, although a lawmaker of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party from the northern state of Uttarkhand has filed an official complaint, which could set the stage for some legal action.

Along-with Indian media, the Indian blogosphere has exploded with reactions for and against her statement. Rajan Venkateswaran thinks that freedom of speech should be within limits and writes:

It is sad that Government decided not to prosecute her. I really wish someone would file a PIL and the Supreme Court put her in a slammer, and make an example for others of her ilk.

Travails and Travels criticizes Roy's stance:

Is there injustice in India? Yes. Corruption? Yes. Favoritism, Nepotism, Communalism, Criminal behavior, Oppression? Yes, Yes, Yes…. But, India is not bad as you make it sound to be. You make it sound as though a bunch of upper class elite wake up every morning with a JD that says, “prey on the poorest of the poor, rape a few adivasis, oppress a few more, trample on human rights with an attention to detail.”

Arundhati Roy speaking at Harvard University in April 2010. Image by Flickr user Jeanbaptisteparis. CC BY-SA

Chinmay Kumar defends Arundhati Roy:

Did she misuse freedom of speech? May be, may not be. If it stirs political disaster then it is of course a misuse. Kashmir has always been a catastrophic political issue, starting from the day of freedom if India. Her statement was enough to cause hullabaloo as India has been protecting Kashmir for a long time, which she stated as the colonialism of the country. [..]

There are voices that will rise again and again and there will be attempts to crash them. That happened hundreds of years ago and few decades ago. From Socrates to Suu-Kyi and today Arundhati Roy.

K.R. Surendran from Kerala informs:

Arundhati Roy has made a statement pitying the attitude of our nation for speaking out without fear and she has made it clear that whatever she said is out of love for our nation. Listen leaders…….

Rahul Basu at As I please disagrees with virtually everything that Arundhati Roy says or writes, however, he opines:

Is her speech worthy of a case of sedition being slapped on her? I am astounded that there has been so much discussion about this issue in the media.

Blogger and writer Dilip D'Souza at Death Ends Fun concludes in his post on this issue:

I urge you too to get used to the idea that there are people who disagree profoundly with things you believe and hold dear.

Yes, that includes Kashmir. Get used to it.

And that there exist those differing views, that they are expressed, does not by any means equate to sedition. It is instead the definition of being Indian. Get used to that too.


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