Did Arundhati Roy Incite Rebellion?

Posted on December 4, 2010 in Specials

By Sapan Kapoor:

Arundhati Roy has posted the transcript of her Delhi seminar speech — for which she has, apparently, been booked under sedition — in Dawn News of Pakistan. There she asked her readers whether her speech amounts to sedition or not. Naturally, I also tried to reply to her by commenting on her post to explain my point of view as to why I feel the speech she made at the seminar was highly seditious. As was not expected from Arundhati Roy; she didn’t publish my comment. I tried many times to post my opinion but all in vain. Obviously she can’t curtail my ‘freedom of speech’ anyhow so therefore I decided to write an article on this serious issue which affects us all.

The question everyone asking today is whether the speech made by Arundhati Roy at a seminar in Delhi amounts to sedition or not. The Indian judiciary, though, certainly believes that it does amount to sedition and this is why a local court, on the petition of Sushil Pandit- who alleged that Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a separatist of Kashmir, and Roy made anti-India speeches at a conference on “Azadi-the Only Way” on October 21- directed the Delhi Police to book Roy and five others under sedition.

The Delhi Police followed the orders of the court and booked them under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between classes), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 504 (insult intended to provoke breach of peace) and 505 (false statement, rumour circulated with intent to cause mutiny or offence against public peace).

Arundhati Roy since then has been defending her speech by saying she had only opined that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India and even Indian government accepts this fact. I wish things were as simple as she explained in her defense. Having read the entire transcript of her speech I can say for sure that had it been only about her Kashmir remarks, she would still be able to escape charge (there is nothing seditious about her remarks on Kashmir). However there is much more to her speech than what it seems prima facie.

After reading the whole speech I certainly think the local court took the correct decision.

First of all let us understand what sedition in India is. According to section 124A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) sedition embraces all the practices whether by word or writing which are calculated to disturb the tranquility of the State and lead an ignorant person to subvert the Government. Mere criticism of the government does not amount to sedition, if it was not calculated to undermine the respect for the government in such a way so as to make people cease to obey it and so that only anarchy follows.

It defines the offense of sedition as follows: “Sedition. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”. But Explanation 3 says “Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offense under this section”.

The law clearly explains if anybody tries to bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, he or she should be punished for sedition.

Arundhati Roy was speaking in the seminar to an audience which was largely anti-India except some. Among the speakers of the seminar were separatists from Kashmir including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Dr. N. Venuh- a separatist from Manipur, Malem Ningthouja-  a separatist from Nagaland, SAR Geelani- a lecturer in Delhi University who was accused in the Parliament attack but later set free, Harcharanjit Singh- president of Dal Khala and a Khalistan supporter- and many other anti India elements.

Obviously the people present there including Arundhati Roy, who had an anti India ideology, made an anti India speech at that seminar. But let me, specifically, describe what Arundhati exactly said on that day.

First, she urged all anti India elements like Naxalites- who wish to over throw the Indian state by the use of power- and Khalistani, Manipuri, Naga and Kashmiri separatists to form an alliance to actually fight or initiate a civil war against India. I quote her speech,

“But the reason that I said what we need to do is to deepen this conversation is because it’s also very easy for us to continue to pat ourselves on the backs as great fighters for resistance for anything whether it’s the Maoists in the forests or whether it’s the stone pelters on the streets– but actually we must understand that we are up against something very serious and I’m afraid that the bows and arrows of the Adivasis and the stones in the hands of the young people are absolutely essential but they are not the only thing that’s going to win us freedom, and for that we need to be tactical, we need to question ourselves, we need to make alliances, serious alliances…”

By saying so she tried to justify the violence that has been taking place in the form of stone pelting in Kashmir and she also promoted the violence committed by the Naxalites. She was actually trying to incite the people to take up arms against the Indian state.

She further says and I quote her,

“There should be deep solidarity between the struggles in Manipur, the struggles in Nagaland, the struggle in Kashmir, the struggle in central India and in all the poor, squatters, the vendors, all the slum dwellers and so on.”

Here she is again trying, through her speech, to unite all anti India elements and urging them to forge an alliance or to come under a single platform in order to fight against the government.

Analyze her speech carefully and you will know what her real intentions are. The speech suggest initiating a civil war. If we pause and look at the violence committed by Naxalites in the last five years then an RTI reply by the Home Ministry says, “Naxal violence has claimed the lives of over 10,000 civilian and security personnel in the last five years with significant rise in the number of killings in Left-wing extremism-hit States. Out of a total of 10,268 casualties between 2005 and May 2010, 2,372 deaths have been reported in 2009 as against 1,769 in 2008 and 1,737 in 2007.”

Can Arundhati Roy justify these killings committed by the Naxals?

The speech made by her in the seminar was not only highly objectionable but also amounts to sedition for which she has, rightly, been booked. To be fair to Roy, perhaps she wasn’t aware of the fact that she had crossed her limits while giving her speech but this in no way can justify what she said in the seminar. Yes indeed it is nothing but sedition. Period.

The writer is a Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz. A freelance journalist, with interests ranging from serious socio-political issues to sports and culture, Sapan still clings to the belief that the pen is mightier than the sword.