Thursday, 18 November 2010

the price of speaking out

i know we talk about freedom of speech a lot in this country, but we're lucky that we don't have very serious issues in this area. not that there aren't some - the release of personal information by the minister of social development in an attempt to silence beneficiaries speaking out against cuts to the training incentive allowance is one serious example.

i'd like to give details of some serious harassment happening to an activist in india at the moment. many of you will have heard of arundhati roy, the award-winning novelist of "the god of small things". also widely read was her opinion piece published in the guardian, back in 2001, against the invasion of afghanistan.

she has been a vocal activist for many years, often taking controversial positions - such as her defence of maoists which caused quite an uproar.

lately she has been in the news for a speech she gave regarding the situation in kashmir (see here & here for video of the speech). in the speech, she outlined opinions which she had voiced before. the indian government responded by considering sedition charges against her:

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. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

thankfully, the government thought better of it & didn't go ahead with any charges. however, the matter hasn't rested there. she is now being subject to harassment from another quarter:

A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson.

The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live. TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha (Women’s wing).

After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene’ in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me....

The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going.

i can't imagine how frightening it must be to live with this kind of pressure. regardless of how anyone feels about ms roy's view of the world, it's impossible not to admire her courage & determination, or her integrity.

in a week where we have celebrated the freedom of another courageous woman, aung san suu kyi, i hope that ms roy is kept safe. because it would be truly tragic if a voice like this one is silenced.

hat tip to verpal singh for posting a couple of these links to aen.

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