x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

India to close chapter on author Roy's case

India decides against filing sedition charges against the acclaimed writer Arundhati Roy for remarks on Kashmir.

The Booker Prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, was targeted by Hindu nationalists for her comments on Kashmir.
The Booker Prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, was targeted by Hindu nationalists for her comments on Kashmir.

NEW DELHI // Indian authorities have decided against filing sedition charges against an internationally renowned writer who called for Kashmir independence, despite pressure from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu nationalist groups, local media reported yesterday.

In a speech in Delhi last week, Arundhati Roy said India "needs freedom from Kashmir and Kashmir [needs freedom] from India."

The BJP seized upon her comments, launching street demonstrations and demanding that authorities arrest and charge Ms Roy, winner of the Man Booker Prize and author of The God of Small Things.

As recently as Monday, the Indian home minister, P Chidambaram, assured the BJP that an investigation had been ordered into the case and action would be taken if grounds were found to prosecute Ms Roy.

But yesterday, local news organizations, quoting anonymous government sources, reported that the Congress Party-ruled government had ruled against pressing charges against Ms Roy.

Many analysts said the decision stemmed from fears that prosecuting Ms Roy would trigger new series of protests in Kashmir, overshadow next week's scheduled visit by US President Barack Obama and undermine efforts to quell unrest in the Himalayan and majority-Muslim region that is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan.

"The government feared that if it took any action against them it would end up adding fuel to Kashmir's fire, which would have been difficult to be tackled easily. So it chose to ignore the remarks," said analyst Zafar Agha, a television and print journalist.

Ms Roy made her remarks at a conference sponsored by a local rights group, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. About 20 activists, writers, artists, academics and politicians from across India, including Ms Roy and Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The participants signed a statement calling on their rulers to admit that "Kashmir is an internationally recognised disputed issue" and urged "all democracy-loving people around the world to pressurise the Indian government to take immediate steps to resolve the dispute".

In her remarks at the conference, Ms Roy challenged conventional wisdom in India about the disputed area.

"Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact," she said.

BJP leader Arun Jaitley said on Monday that his party was stunned that the separatists were allowed to "promote sedition" in India's capital.

"In the garb of freedom of speech the group is publicly demanding secession from the country. It cannot be tolerated in a democracy," Mr Jaitley said.

Added BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar: "The speeches [by Roy and Mr Geelani] threaten the integrity of the country and reflect perfect cases of sedition. [The] government should arrest and sue them."

The controversy over Ms Roy's remarks come amid renewed efforts to bring an end to violent protests in Kashmir, in which at least 100 protesters have been killed by police bullets in the past four months.

"Government has sent its interlocutors to Kashmir recently and is hoping for a breakthrough in dialogue with the separatists. Congress leaders and government knew that, at this point any action against Ms Roy and Mr Geelani involved the risk of botching up the government-initiated process for peace," said Ghanshyan Shah, a professor at the Shimla-based Indian Institute of Advanced Study.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae