It is interesting how authors are elevated to positions of moral authority in society. This is the reason they become particular targets for censorship when they stray from the socially conservative orthodoxy.
Two stories of writers being censored in India have crossed my desk (a metaphor for ‘appeared in my inbox) today. First, we hear that Rohinton Mistry’s book Such A Long Journey has been cut by Mumbai University’s reading list, adter complaint from Shiv Sena, the unpleasant nationalists who seem to be at the heart of most of the stories of intolerance that emerge from India. From the Guardian report comes this Tea Party-style rhetoric:
It is our culture that anything with insulting language should be deleted. Writers can’t just write anything. They can’t write wrong things,” said Rawale, who admitted not having read the book.
While Mistry’s right to free expression is clearly under threat here, he is not in the same position as Arundhati Roy, who may be deprived of her liberty in the near future. Reports from India suggest that Roy (who is the author of Booker winner The God of Small Things) will be charged under ‘sedition’ laws, for comments made about the conduct of the Indian government in Kashmir. In an English PEN press release I make the point that “laws of sedition are a sinster part of Britain’s colonial legacy – India should not be using such laws to silence debate.”
Here’s today’s statement from Arundhati Roy, reproduced in full
I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.
Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’-justice-from India, and now believed that Azadi-freedom- was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I travelled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.
In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.