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Arundhati Roy, Freedom of Speech and the Right to Dissent

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

18 June 2024

Arundhati Roy.

Arundhati Roy, the famed author of The God of Small Things is to be prosecuted in India , under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, over remarks she and academic Sheikh Showkat Hussain, made about Kashmir.(1)  What she said was that Kashmir had never really been an integral part of India.  This is a clear case of the blindingly obvious.  Kashmir is divided in three, between Pakistan and India, on the one hand, following partition in 1947 and another part that is ruled by China, with them taking more land from both Pakistan and India in 1962.  Even the United Nations has not agreed that it is an integral part of India and various resolutions have called for a democratic plebiscite to determine the status of nation and whether it should form part of India or Pakistan.  The case against Roy has been bubbling since 2010, but the decision to go ahead with it comes at a time when governments around the world are suppressing Palestinian protests, criminalising thought crimes through hate speech legislation, clamping down on movements opposed to the NATO proxy war in Ukraine and Julian Assange remains in prison for daring to expose US crimes.

Arundhati Roy is famous as a novelist but is perhaps better known to some as an activist, having published more nonfiction on political matters than novels and engaging in campaigns in India and abroad.  She has spoken out on many occasions about and supported both Edward Snowden and also Julian Assange, meeting both of them(2) something some of the liberals who like to quote her ran a mile from and have stayed a safe distance from ever since.

She has never backed down from controversy and has stood up to Hindu nationalism and the reactionary BJP on many occasions.  In the same year as her remarks on Kashmir she ventured into a large area of India controlled by Maoist guerrillas, publishing and essay Walking with the Comrades, bringing both national and international attention to this little know but remarkably powerful and resilient group.(3)  In 2011, a year after the remarks she is now being prosecuted for and for which BJP activists laid siege to her home, she published alongside Tariq Ali and other authors a book titled Kashmir: The Case for Freedom.(4) In it, she and others argued for Kashmiri independence and against the Indian state, which Roy has frequently and accurately described as not being a democratic state, despite how it is lauded by the western media as the “largest democracy”.  In 2014 she republished an annotated edition of Ambedkar’s speech The Annihilation of Caste, with a lengthy introduction from herself The Doctor and the Saint in which she eviscerated the figure of Gandhi, exposing him for the reactionary he was and correcting the historical narrative surrounding the figure and his politics.(5)

Now she is being punished for her ideas.  The Modi regime clearly believes that the moment is ripe to strike.  At a time when the West is doing the same to Palestinian activists and India supports the Zionist regime, Modi knows that the West will say little to jailing a woman who advocates the break-up of the Indian state and an end to repressive laws when it also supports the suppression of national liberation movements.

She has a somewhat favourable press amongst western liberals due to her environmental activism, her support for Snowden and Assange may have put some off her, but is a sign of her commitment to standing up on issues regardless of what liberals think of her.  The move against her in the Indian courts is not an isolated incident.  India as she has repeatedly pointed out is not a democracy, its repression in Kashmir includes not just occupation, martial law, but rape as a weapon, displacement and the disappearance of opposition leaders.  There are over 700,000 military, police and paramilitary forces occupying Kashmir (with a population of about 13 millions) and there are an estimated 8000 to 10,000 disappeared.(6)  People are not the only ones to disappear, the stories about them and other aspects of repression also disappear with India forcing editors to remove stories from their website.  It has also raided offices and destroyed hard copies as well as confiscating journalists’ computers and erasing information and articles they had written.(7)  The move against Roy is just one more push against freedom to dissent from a thoroughly despotic regime.

But it has to be placed in the context of western powers pursuing Palestinian activists in Europe and the US, banning marches, attempting to criminalise demands for boycotts and even criminalising arguing for a Palestinian state.  Western states have also seen a flurry of attempts to introduce hate speech legislation, frequently with the support of liberals and reformist left organisations.  Such legislation targets gender critical feminists and was promoted on that basis with the support of the left, it is now quite clear that the intent is to use it against Palestinian and other solidarity activists.  It is the criminalisation of thought and India’s foremost thinker finds herself in the crosshairs of the thought police.  There is no room for complacency or tolerance for cancel culture.  In and of itself, it is thoroughly reactionary, and it is particularly pernicious in that it provides the ideological basis for the persecution of the left, something sectors of the left have, depending on the issue, being willing to participate in and promote.

Arundhati Roy deserves the solidarity of all.  It would mark a new low were a state able to imprison an author and activist of such note and would embolden other states around the world to intensify the clampdown on Palestinian activists, and in general limit the right to dissent, which includes the right to be in solidarity with Palestine, Kashmir and other oppressed nations or the right to be gender critical.


(1)  The Guardian (15/06/2024) India: autor Arundhati Roy to be prosecuted over 2010 Kashmir remarks. Clea Skopeliti.

(2)  Roy, A. (02/08/2016) When Arundhati Roy met Ed Snowden and Julian Assange.

(3)  Roy, A. (2010) Walking with the Comrades. Delhi. Outlook Magazine

(4)  See Ali, T et al (2011). Kashmir: The case for freedom. London. Verso.

(5)  See, Ambedkar, B.R. (2014) The Annihilation of Caste. London. Verso

(6)  See SWK (20/08/2021) Enforced disappearance in Kashmir.

(7)  See Aakash Hassan (23/11/2021) Kashmir’s vanishing newspaper archives.

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