From the best-selling author of My Seditious Heart and the Ministry of Utmost Happiness, a new and pressing dispatch from the heart of the crowd and the solitude of the writer’s desk.
The chant of “Azadi!”—Urdu for “Freedom!”—is the slogan of the freedom struggle in Kashmir against what Kashmiris see as the Indian Occupation. Ironically, it also became the chant of millions on the streets of India against the project of Hindu Nationalism.
Even as Arundhati Roy began to ask what lay between these two calls for Freedom—a chasm or a bridge?—the streets fell silent. Not only in India, but all over the world. The coronavirus brought with it another, more terrible understanding of Azadi, making a nonsense of international borders, incarcerating whole populations, and bringing the modern world to a halt like nothing else ever could.
In this series of electrifying essays, Arundhati Roy challenges us to reflect on the meaning of freedom in a world of growing authoritarianism.
The essays include meditations on language, public as well as private, and on the role of fiction and alternative imaginations in these disturbing times.
The pandemic, she says, is a portal between one world and another. For all the illness and devastation it has left in its wake, it is an invitation to the human race, an opportunity, to imagine another world.
Readers here may be more surprised by the ferocity of her criticism of India’s governing party, the BJP, and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party is, she says, the political wing of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the high-caste Hindu movement founded in 1925. On Independence in 1947 India was declared to be a secular socialist republic, but the ideals of the Congress Party and Jawaharlal Nehru have been betrayed and cast aside. Roy does not hesitate to describe the RSS and the present government and prime minister as fascist. “India,” the RSS declares is “a Hindu nation; this is non- negotiable.” For its hundred and more million Muslims, the choice is “Pakistan or the graveyard.” Roy compares the BJP’s Citizen Amendment Act and its National Register of Citizens to Hitler’s Nuremberg Laws which decreed who was, and who could not be, German. In its discrimination between racial and religious groups, and its rigid upholding of the caste system, the BJP makes India today look depressingly like apartheid South Africa. Meanwhile its ruthless imposition of martial law in the disputed province of Kashmir – a running sore ever since independence – recalls Saddam Hussein’s treatment of the Kurds. Roy remarks that “while many countries are dealing with a refugee crisis, the Indian Government is turning citizens into refugees.” Here, she says, is “a continent trying to shrink itself into a country. Not even a country, but a province. A primitive ethno-religious province.”
Her indignation is searing and indeed there seems to be little to be said for Modi, the BJP and the RSS. In their narrow and violent sectarianism, they represent a denial of the liberal principles on which the republic was founded.