Almost a radical chic

By Rijo Jacob Abraham | Updated: Nov 03, 2010, 16:37 PM IST

Arundhati Roy’s remark that “Kashmir is not an integral part of India” drew various reactions – flak, endorsement and, worst of all, exhortations to ignore it. The government of India chose the latter, out of fear of international attention of imprisoning a Booker Prize winner on charges of sedition. Though, the official reason given was, of course, that jailing Roy would give her undue publicity.
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One reason may also have been commonsense and rationality, however.
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It need not be said that punishing a writer for speaking her mind-out regresses our democracy by more almost four decades to the days of Emergency. In fact, the essence of writing in a democracy is to offend. It must prick and, when needed, should draw blood too. Charges should be made against the writer when it is malicious and intended to harm someone; not for hurting commonsense of the masses and shaking them out of their slumber.
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And if it wasn’t for the above, none of India’s progressive writers would have been free.
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Roy made explained her remarks in a leading newspaper:
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“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.”
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Discussions on television channels on the issue, at certain times, wandered into the suggestion that those who raise objections to her remarks put in black and white their opinion as to why it constitutes sedition. The idea was that this would bring about some clarity on what constitutes sedition. (And why not, may be a good point of starting Kashmir dialogue near in future.)
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More than anything else, what spooks me is the fact that Roy, in defending her remarks, is playing with a fire that can consume the entire forest.
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“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.” she said in the newspaper.
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Strong and moving words indeed. Strong enough to pull people even from the North-East into the ‘Kashmiri cause’. She is high on “love and pride” but low on concrete facts. I am yet to understand how emotional-polemics, writing and activism are linked.
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When she wrote the 32-page emotional outpouring on Maoists in a leading magazine, even hardened communists shunned it -- not just because it would bolster Maoism, but also because of its adverse impact on the socialist movement itself.
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That article lacks balance of basic-reporting and dwells on the fringes of fiction.
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With a deep-set perpetual melancholy on her face, Roy seems confused in many ways. One, on what her actual role now is: a writer, an activist, writer-activist or a journalist? Two, she is not sure which issue to choose. If activism was a corporate job, then I am afraid, Ms Roy would have a hardtime getting it, for she looks no better than a job-hopper.
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On the flip-side, the confusion may be among the audience rather than within her. Her isolated statements on different issues, in different spaces are getting promptly highlighted and vigorously discussed. But with emotion dominating her writing, she ends up giving nothing short of a celebrity endorsement to causes despite her right intentions.
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Despite her intellect, she ends up being like Chetan Bhagat “the middle-class poster boy”, albeit at a different level altogether. This brilliant wordsmith often degrades herself to the level of a radical chic by her hit-and-run write ups and comments. This is not a case of bad PR. She must delve deep into issues if she is serious about her activism and then stick with it.
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The thin line between activism, journalism and writing can be breached. But it should not be at the cost of reason. She first jumped into the fray when India tested the nuclear bomb in 1998. Essays and issues later, she is still unsettled. May be it is an urge to understand the world and her existence that she needs to continually expose herself to challenges.
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But isn’t it narcissism?