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  Opinion   Columnists  21 Jun 2024  Farrukh Dhondy | Modiji... Please stop persecution of Arundhati: It’s a blot on India

Farrukh Dhondy | Modiji... Please stop persecution of Arundhati: It’s a blot on India

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Jun 22, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Jun 22, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Appeal to PM Modi to safeguard Arundhati Roy's freedom amid concerns over potential persecution under subversive laws

In an open letter, concerns are raised over the potential persecution of writer Arundhati Roy under subversive laws, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to uphold free speech and protect democratic values. (Image: PTI)
 In an open letter, concerns are raised over the potential persecution of writer Arundhati Roy under subversive laws, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to uphold free speech and protect democratic values. (Image: PTI)

“Oh… reason not the need

Our wants are the lyric

On what the senses feed

All victories are Pyrrhic!

Don’t reason with illusion

Deception of the sight

Waking and dream in fusion

The gifts of day and night?”

From The Lota Rota, by Bachchoo


Dear Narendraji,

Pranam! Congratulations on winning a third term in the largest democracy in the world. This thrice-blessed factor puts you in historical parallel with Jawaharlal Nehru.

In the ithihaas that succeeding generations will read, our leaders will not just be remembered for their longevity in office. They will be judged by what they did while there.

Mention Henry VIII, for instance, and the name conjures up a vision of six wives with divorces and a couple of beheadings. Anything else? Yes, converting Britain to Protestantism and the genocide of monks and Catholics. Not positive.

Think then of Herr Hitler, who persecuted Jews, millions of them ordinary working-class Jews, in Germany, Poland and wherever his Nazi armies spread their venom. “Persecution” is a sort of excuse word. He oversaw their execution in the cruellest concentration camps. Six million?

I am sure, Narendraji, you must be wondering why I begin this open letter to you with these examples of the negative or horrific memories that humanity inherits through historical records.

History gets revised. For centuries that pagan vandal, Alexander of Macedonia, was known as “Alexander the Great!” Only recently have historians realised that that there was no “greatness” attached to plundering and destroying civilisations like the Persian Empire and sacking Persepolis. Alexander the Brute?

But let me, Narendraji, get to the point. I am absolutely confident that you are preoccupied with the governance of our great Bharat Mata, but perhaps you occasionally give some thoughtful space, now that you are bound to go down in India’s history as a thrice-elected PM, to how history will record your tenure.

You are undoubtedly familiar with the names and works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Pablo Neruda. They were both great Nobel Prize-winning writers and both of them were brutally persecuted by the dictatorial regimes of Russia and of Chile -- the nations some of whose governmental policies they opposed.

These are the martyrs of literature and they will long be remembered for being such, after Videla and Pinochet who exiled and murdered Neruda will be remembered for doing only that. Stalin, who persecuted Solzhenitsyn, will remain, like Hitler, a poisonous villain of history.

Being something of an undistinguished writer myself, I am, you will understand, on the side of Solzhenitsyn and of Neruda. I also know, that putting pen to paper, or fingers to computer keys, may produce analytically critical works, but I truly wonder in my waking hours -- and occasionally in my dreams -- whether writing ever really has a determining political effect.

For instance, would anything that Solzhenitsyn wrote have caused the overthrow of the Soviet regime? Is the pen really able to undermine the sword, the handcuff and the starvation in Siberia?

Which brings me, Sirji, to an alarming piece of news I came across recently. This is the fact that the Indian writer of some renown, Arundhati Roy, is being investigated under some law about subversive writings fifteen years ago, and will now possibly be arrested and tried and face a sentence of imprisonment.

What Ms Roy said all those years ago was to do with oppression in Kashmir to which she was, as any civilised person should be, opposed.

Of course, in the case of Kashmir and even of India, religion should never be the force which determines political allegiance. That, in my humble opinion, Modi Sahib, belongs to the medieval era and to states that call themselves this-or-that religious “republic”. What you think of the “Islamic Republic” next door is public knowledge.

Narendraji, perhaps you are unaware of this victimisation of Ms Roy who is universally known for her books and opinions. The point of this letter is to urge you to immediately intervene in this case and ensure that Ms Roy is free from any shadow of persecution and is free to say what she wants in word and print within democratic laws.

By this I mean that any person who spreads messages of hatred or instigation to attack minorities should surely be prosecuted under your, now historically notable, “third term” regime. My reading of the opinion that Ms Roy seems to be being held to account for does not spread hatred or any instigation to violence. It’s an opinion with which you – or even I -- may profoundly disagree.

But it should be allowed as “free speech”.

The international reputation of India matters deeply to me as I am sure it does to you. In this year of significant worldwide elections, with those of the UK and the United States pending, history has to record that they are, as the cliché goes, “free and fair”.

The election in Bharat clearly has been. India has set the tone that even US presidential candidate Donald Trump, much against his obvious inclinations, can’t violate.

Mukhya Mantriji, it is clear to me that the persecution on any level of writers and journalists, in immediate view that of Ms Roy, will certainly detract from the reputation of our democracy and will cast a dark blot on our history. I implore you to stop it.

Tags: prime minister narendra modi, arundhati roy, human rights, freedom of expression, india in democracy