Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don't pity us, Arundhati Roy- not yet

Don't pity us, Arundhati – not yet

Anshul Chaturvedi 27 October 2010, 06:37 AM IST
Insofar as putting thoughts into words go, I guess I'm not really qualified to take up an issue with Arundhati Roy; she's a globally acknowledged, indeed, acclaimed writer, while I am no more than an inconsequential rarely-read salaried cog in the gigantic wheels of the print media. Having said that, I am very clear that I don't want my share of the accumulated pity that she thinks the nation collectively merits. So, here's my inadequate submission: 

Arundhati has said that she "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."

I disagree with the effortless branding of Kashmir as "one of the most brutal military occupations in the world" – it is not pleasant, today, I am sure, but from 1948 to say, at least 1988, a period of well over four decades, Kashmir was a part of what we consider India – merged, integrated, acceded, depends on whom you ask – and for those four decades it was not part of India on the strength of a "brutal military occupation". Unlike German soldiers marching into Poland or Chinese troops invading Tibet, India did not have to "invade" Kashmir and then hold it from Day One by administering martial law or its equivalent. I don't mean to sound cheesy, but for years and years Bollywood didn't churn out those scenes of a beautiful, peaceful, idyllic Kashmir on the strength of shooting  crews backed by hundreds of 'brutal soldiers' trying to create a pretence of normal, peaceful life. That's just how it was. Someone worked to change it. The question is – who?

Punjab, too, faced a decade of insurgency, something which we forget all too easily today. But it wasn't 'occupied' prior to that, it isn't 'occupied' today. Kashmir has faced more than a decade of insurgency, agreed, but to portray it as if everyone in Kashmir for all time has been subject to "one of the most brutal military occupations" does no justice to the intellect which Arundhati obviously possesses – more so in the context of the fact that the other friendly democratic states that border Kashmir, namely Pakistan and China, have no noticeable tradition of tender loving care extended by their respective militaries to people who question whether they belong to those states. 

Having lived and worked in J&K for many years, as an editor, I have carried stories about remote hilly villages where terrorists surrounded hamlets of Gujjars and slit the throats of two dozen villagers to indicate the price of 'cooperation' extended to security forces patrolling the hills. When Bill Clinton came to India, we saw the carnage of 36 Sikhs in Chatttisinghpora – something which Arundhati's comrade in arms, Syed Ali Shah Geeelani, incredibly enough, still reiterates was 'done by India to defame Kashmiris'. There is no dearth of such instances – I quote only a couple to remind us all that Kashmir's brutal occupation is not quite as much of an innocent-lambs-being-led-to-slaughter scenario as Ms Roy perhaps sees it as.

When Arundhati says that she speaks for justice "for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland", it is too ridiculous to even merit comment, given that she wants that justice to come while she shares a dias with Geelani. They were 'driven out of their homeland', Arundhati, by the brutal military occupiers of Kashmir, or by someone else? Driven out by whom? Why leave it to delightful ambiguities here? I do not know if Kashmiri Pandits give any weightage to her speaking ostensibly on their behalf. And the statistical chances of Pandits returning to Kashmir if the brutal military occupation ends tomorrow are slimmer than of Arundhati joining the BJP. 

Arundhati seeks justice, too, "for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore." This is slick if you are writing a column for a foreign audience, the way Aussie 'experts' wrote on the caste composition of the Indian cricket team during the Bhajji-Symonds spat, but, hello, "Dalit soldiers" killed in Kashmir die in situations different from upper caste soldiers or Sikh soldiers or Muslim soldiers – or local, Kashmiri Muslim policemen? Don't insult our intelligence, and the Army's basic DNA, with this line of argument. You wish to be the defender of the rights of those oppressed in Kashmir, of the Pandits, and of the "Dalit soldiers" from among the troops who die there day in and day out? Sorry, this is just not real, it's just not genuine, even if it is possibly good homework for global awards coming your way as defender of the rights of all oppressed sections in this part of the world. 

Arundhati's also looking for justice "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", but I have little comment to offer on this because, frankly, it is a little too esoteric for me to understand the point. I understand that India is in selective ways and selective zones a police state of sorts, but how insensitive policing in interior Bihar is attributable to Kashmir's status – and how Azadi will address that – must have a subtle connect which my everyday, non literary mind has singularly failed to grasp. But then, we are all not blessed with equal talents.

Anyway, this is not one of Ms Roy's essays, so I daren't type away endlessly. I'll conclude.

You say, Arundhati, "pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free." I say, you are jumping the gun. Neither have you been silenced at any point for speaking your mind – distasteful as it may be to many when it veers towards applauding anyone willing to kill an Indian soldier, be it a Naxal in Chattisgarh or a terrorist in Kashmir – nor does the nation need to be pitied. Yet. Writers and dissidents are silenced, in friendlier and I suppose less 'brutal' societies such as Pakistan, China, Myanmar, but the very fact that you can issue statements and notes challenging the same to be done here is, perhaps, the strongest negation of those statements. Yes, many murderers, scamsters and rapists still roam free, and no, we aren't proud of that in the least, but no, you haven't been jailed for asking for justice. And I don't see that happening. Truth be told, I think you don't see it happening either.

So while one gives all credit to your intellectual prowess, I don't think this overdose of pity for the nation is quite deserved. It's a lot of hyperbole. As part of 'the nation', even if just one-billionth, I respectfully wish to return my proportion of pity offered by you, Ms Roy. Please accept it. And while you're at it, pass it on to Mr Geelani; I daresay he needs it more. 


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