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Mainstream, VOL XLVIII, No 50, December 4, 2010

’Fear of Accusation Cannot Justify Silence’

Sunday 12 December 2010

by Anand Swaroop Verma

If telling the truth is a crime then Arundhati Roy should be definitely penalised for what she said on Kashmir. I would like to quote a few paragraphs from the veteran journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea’s article ‘Reaping A Whirlwind In Kashmir’ which was published on August 22, 1990 in The Tribune (Chandigarh):

When Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan was in New Delhi for the second round of Indo-Pakistan talks, he based his case on excesses committed by our security forces in Kashmir on material entirely taken from reports in the Indian press and findings of Indian human rights groups. This will undoubetedly be represented by some as conclusive evidence of the ‘anti-national’ attitude of the writers, irres-pective of whether their reports were accurate or not.
Such charges are easy to make but fear of accusation cannot justify silence. If on the basis of solid evidence, one learns of attacks on entire villages by the so-called security forces in retaliation for terrorist attacks in the vicinity should such information be hidden from the country because it embarrasses the government or does not serve the purposes of some communal political parties?
Incidents of retribution are occurring too frequently to be regarded as isolated. They either belie official claims that security forces are in the Valley to protect the innocent, or the civil administration has lost control over these forces. An even more sinister reason has been advanced: that the real objective is to terrorise the inhabitants into subjection—the classic role of an Army of occupation.
The censors and communalists base their charges on a highly partial view of the nation. For official censors, the nation is equivalent to the government of the day. Parties trying to excite and exploit Hindu communalism eqate nation with the majority community; others deserve what they get if they refuse to fall into line. They forget that if this were true, the justification for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India in 1947 falls to the ground.

So, the fear of accusation cannot justify silence. What Arundhati and other speakers too spoke at a recent meeting in New Delhi meeting was full of a humanitarian approach to a problem which has been plaguing the Indian society since the last 63 years and which has cost thousands of precious lives. Their hearts were full of deep anguish and they wanted an amicable solution to the Kashmir problem. Of course, they were in favour of the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination. They were in favour of repealing the draconian AFSPA. Even the hardliner Hurriyat leader Geelani, who has been seen on many occasions raising the slogan of Pakistan, had to speak in a moderate tone. I was present at that gathering and I found Geelani unbelievably soft. Barring his choice for an Islamic state which he could not conceal, to me, nothing seemed objectionable. Moreover, Geelani is not the sole policy-maker of the future political structure of Kashmir. Apprehending that if right to self-determination is given to the Kashmiri people they may opt for an Islamic state or they may join Pakistan, you deprive a huge population to fulfil their aspiration of azadi by that you are doing not only injustice to them but also insulting their intellect. Some Hindu fundamen-talists were also present at that meeting and they were utterly disappointed with Geelani’s moderate approach although they managed to grab some moments by shouting Vande Mataram and anti-Geelani slogans and demanding justice for the Kashmiri Pandits. ‘The aspiration for azadi cannot be crushed by force or violence’—this was the general tone of the speakers as well as the mood of the audience at large.

SO, it would be wrong to say that Arundhati and, for that matter, almost all the speakers gave seditious speeches. If you feel concerned with the plight of the common masses, you write in their favour, you participate in their struggles and want to break the status quo, you are doomed to indulge in activities that can be easily termed as ‘anti-national’. I think most of us, with our writings and actions are involved in ‘seditious’ activities. When the nation becomes the synonym of the ruling class, any action against the ruling class amounts to sedition. Sedition is not an abstract term—it changes from time to time. In 1942 my father, who was a staunch Gandhian, was arrested under the Defence of India Rules (DIR) because he was propagating the Gandhian philosophy of resistance and it was sedition in the eyes of the British rulers. In 1974 I was terminated from All India Radio because those were the days when the shadow of the Emergency was looming large and the slogan ‘Indira is India’ was put up by the able chefs in the cauldron to serve the masses. Today if one speaks against the neo-liberal path of development adopted by the government and opposes the illegal mining operations in the hills of Niyamgiri, Orissa or projects like POSCO or the killing of Adivasis in Chhattisgarh by the state sponsored terror, it amounts to sedition.

I urge the rulers of this country to understand that if you are arresting a well-intentioned intellectual for ‘sedition’, you are moving one step towards totalitarianism. The day will not be far away when your jails will have no space to accommodate the ‘anti-nationals’, your courts will be short of files to keep the case-sheets of the rebels and the Home Ministry will be short of the almirahs to keep the dossiers of anti-national elements. In that case you would have no choice but to dismantle the courts, get rid of the judicial process and start summary trials in kangaroo courts. As many elections you conduct every five or six years, you would be no different than a banana republic and you will embrace fascism with the connivance of all sorts of fundamentalist forces.

Don’t compel the people, particularly the concerned citizens of this country, to opt for sedition as the most pious virtue of today. Remember George Orwell who said: ‘At the time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ If good sense prevails, please listen to Arundhati, I repeat listen, not ignore as has been suggested by some of the members of the ruling class parties and indicated by P. Chidambaram.

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