Corporate power, women, and resistance in India today
Arundhati Roy interviewed by David Barsamian Part-IV
ARUNDHATI ROY is the celebrated author of The God of Small Things and winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. The New York Times calls her, “India’s most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence.” She is the recipient of the Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom. Roy is the author of many books including The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, and Walking with the Comrades. She spoke to DAVID BARSAMIAN of Alternative Radio in Chicago on March 17, 2013.
The court is trying to be lofty and correct, actually write down that this evidence was fabricated, this cannot be on record, the confessions are extracted in custody and therefore do not constitute legal evidence. All of it is down in black and white in the judgment. And then it goes on to say that we don’t have any direct evidence to prove that he belonged to a terrorist group. And then a little bit later it says, but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, we are sentencing to him death. It’s such a brazenly shocking thing for someone to say, for a supreme court of a supposedly great democracy to say.
You see how the media behaved. The anti-terrorism cell of the Delhi police actually extracted many versions of the confession from him, some of them on video. The court says you can’t use custodial confessions, but the media television channels, even supposedly secular and liberal channels, are showing this confession without saying it’s in police custody. And you can see the jingoists sending in their comments, saying “Hang him by the balls in Lal Chowk” and “Cut him into pieces and feed him to the dogs.”So in this kind of amphitheater of this “great democracy,” with every institution playing a part, last month suddenly they just hanged him. That, too, was illegal, as the solicitor general said. In fact, this particular solicitor general was the amicus curiae in a case that was pending before the Supreme Court in which Afzal’s case had been taken up because he had already spent twelve years in solitary confinement. There was a case in the Supreme Court saying, for people who spend inordinately long sentences in jail, the court should rethink the death penalty. This was pending in court; the court had reserved its judgment. And before it could give its judgment, the government just hanged him, denying him the rights it has given to all other prisoners who have faced the death penalty.
So it’s caused a huge underground fury in Kashmir, because what was heroic about Afzal was that he was just an ordinary Kashmiri who had faced what tens of thousands of ordinary Kashmiris have faced, which is brutal torture. In fact, in the book that we’ve brought out there is an interview by Parvaiz Bukhari with Davinder Singh, who was the deputy head of this interrogation of the Special Task Force. And he just openly says, Yes, before the parliament attack, Afzal was regularly picked up and tortured, money was extracted from him, as is done with all such people. And this man says, Yes, I poured petrol in his ass, and, yes, I applied electricity to his genitals. But he didn’t have anything to reveal. And this is months before he is then framed in this.
Just the brazenness of doing this to somebody. He has been portrayed as this Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jesh-e-Muhammad, Islamic fundamentalist who attacked democracy, as they say. But Afzal’s son was called Ghalib. Anybody who knows anything about Ghalib’s poetry knows that Ghalib was not a Muslim fundamentalist of any kind. The point is that you have a man who was tried not even for being the mastermind or anything, just for being a foot soldier, and hanged, while the court says there is no direct evidence; and everyone is saying, “Eleven years after Indian democracy was attacked, justice at last.”
I’m asking, when thousands of Muslims called illegal Bangladeshis were massacred in Nellie in Assam in 1983, wasn’t it an attack on democracy? When 3,000 Sikhs are killed in 1984 under the Congress, after Mrs. Gandhi was killed, wasn’t that an attack on democracy? When in 1993 the Shiv Sena massacred Muslims on the streets of Bombay, wasn’t that an attack on democracy? When Narendra Modi was chief minister and thousands of Muslims are killed and raped and burned and driven from their homes, wasn’t that an attack on democracy? And there’s the Srikrishna report directly indicting the Shiv Sena, so much evidence indicting the BJP machinery in Gujarat, and cases like Ehsan Jafri in which Modi has still not been entirely cleared. So would you ever imagine that the Indian system would imprison Bal Thackeray or Modi for even a week, let alone for eleven years, or let alone sentence them to death? But Bal Thackeray, head of the Shiv Sena, who died recently, who has never, ever held public office, was given a state funeral. And, of course, Modi, as we know, will be probably running for prime minister.
ELECTIONS IN India are to take place next year. Are you concerned about what may be in the offering between what can only be described as a very discredited and rather unpopular Congress party and the so-called alternative, the BJP?
I DON’T know what will happen in the elections. But I think what is most worrying is that the Congress party, discredited as it is, and the BJP in shambles politically because of its infighting, are both trying to regroup. As I said, the fact is that the economy has somewhat frozen; there are millions of this new middle class whose exhilaration has turned into panic. And both the BJP and the Congress are trying to force politics back into the bottle. This new middle class, its aspirations, its acquisitiveness, its aggression, is not wanting to accept politics as it used to be. And this is not necessarily in a progressive way. It’s in a slightly frightening way. Whereas the BJP, Congress now want to uncork the genie of communalism.
Last time the BJP’s election slogan was, “The nation is ashamed because Afzal is still alive.” So now they will have to find another slogan. The Congress was trying to sort of out-BJP the BJP. In trying to do that, the hanging was aimed at Kashmir, knowing full well that it would unleash outrage there, knowing full well that in 2014, when the Americans pull out of Afghanistan, the whole equation in that area is going to change. So everybody—Pakistan, India, Congress, BJP—would be quite happy with a little war. But can you have a little war with two nuclear powers? Everybody would be happy with polarizing the Muslims and Hindus.
One of the things that many of us are very frightened of right now is the fact that one of the aggressive moves by the Indian government is the Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir, where hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims go to this Amarnath Cave in the Kashmiri mountains, and they are protected by the army. It’s a very, very tense and aggressive situation there. One of the worries is that now, as we know, there are these Hindu terror outfits, who explode bombs and do blasts and pretend that they are Muslim groups. So a lot of people are very, very worried about the fact that one of those Hindu organizations will do an attack on the Amarnath Yatra. The fallout of that would be to immediately polarize, and the Hindu vote would then kind of unite behind the BJP.
So a lot of dirty games. Even this parliament attack was a dirty game.
… to be continued….