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October 16, 2023 7:20 pm

Arundhati Roy and Kashmiri activist targeted by Modi government for criminal prosecution over 2010 remarks

By Kranti Kumara

India’s Narendra Modi-led, far-right government is targeting internationally acclaimed author Arundhati Roy and former Central University of Kashmir international law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain for criminal prosecution for remarks that they made at a conference held 13 years ago. This flagrant attack on free speech is part of the Modi government’s ever-escalating assault on basic democratic rights and non-stop campaign of Hindu communalist incitement.  

Arundhati Roy was awarded the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel The God of Small Things. In addition to other works of fiction, she has penned numerous articles and essays over the past quarter century scathingly critical of India’s capitalist “rise” under Modi’s Hindu supremacist BJP and the previous Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Hussain is well-known as a human rights activist in Indian-occupied Kashmir.

The attempt to jail Roy and Hussain for remarks they made in 2010 underscores that the Modi government is on an anti-democratic rampage. It is using the police and courts to systematically harass and try to silence all opposition, especially from the left, while mobilizing the BJP’s far-right cadre to intimidate and seek to split the working class through the promotion of Hindu supremacism. This is unfolding in the run-up to the five state assembly elections that are to be held before the year’s end and the national parliamentary elections slated for the spring of 2024.  

The strong support accorded the BJP government by Indian big business and by the US and other Western imperialist powers, which are cynically touting India as a “democratic” antipode to China, is feeding Modi’s sense of impunity. But his government’s actions are above all rooted in its awareness that there is seething, if as of yet inchoate, social discontent born of ever-widening social inequality, mass joblessness and hunger. According to a recent report authored by multiple UN agencies, including UNESCO and the World Health Organisation, a staggering 75 percent of India’s population cannot afford proper food.

On Oct. 10, Delhi Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena—acting on instructions from the Modi government which appointed him—gave police authorization to lay criminal charges against Roy and Hussain. This was one week after police mounted numerous raids targeting the left-wing website NewsClickand its personnel on spurious foreign funding charges, and then detained NewsClick’s editor-in-chief and its Human Resources manager under a draconian “anti-terrorism” law.

Roy and Hussain now stand accused of multiple “criminal offences” for speeches they gave at an October 21, 2010 conference organized by Kashmiri separatist groups, under the title “Azadi–the Only Way Ahead.” Azadi, which means “liberation” in several Indian languages, is employed by Kashmiri separatist groups as a slogan to denote their call for the region’s independence from Indian rule. Representatives of several ethno-nationalist groups from northeast India that advocate secession from the Indian Union also attended the conference.

In her speech, Roy called for “self-determination” for Kashmir, which was bifurcated into rival Indian and Pakistan-held “Kashmirs” in 1947-48 as part of the bloody communal partition of the subcontinent. In making this argument, she noted that India had agreed before the United Nations that Kashmir was disputed territory and not an “integral part” of the Indian Union.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, both New Delhi and Islamabad have run roughshod over the democratic rights of the Kashmiri people while placing the Kashmir dispute at the centre of their reactionary strategic rivalry, which has led to three declared wars, numerous border skirmishes and today threatens to ignite a nuclear clash.  

[This article was originally published by WSWS here on October 15, 2023]

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