Arundhati Roy interviewed by Amit Sengupta
Kashmir is a twilight zone. The Parliament attack is layered with half-lies. And pre- and post-Gujarat, Muslims are being targetted all over India. Arundhati Roy in conversation with Amit Sengupta orignally appeared in Hardnews .
On December 13, 2001, the Indian Parliament was attacked by five (some say six) armed men. Five years later we still do not know who was behind the attack and the identity of the attackers. Civil society groups have pointed out that the police violated legal safeguards, fabricated evidence and extracted false confessions. Even the Supreme Court rejected the ‘confession’ of Afzal Guru, which was repeatedly telecast by irresponsible TV channels and presumed as stage-managed media plants by the Special Police. Earlier, a Delhi-based academic, Professor SAR Geelani, was falsely implicated and almost led to the hangman’s noose, despite stunningly thin evidence against him. There was a big campaign against the death penalty, led by novelist Arundhati Roy, social scientist Rajni Kothari, among other eminent citizens. He was acquitted. Till today, as Roy asks, no one knows the identity of the five (or six?) attackers. Was it an inside job, this interview puts this question to Roy? No one knows and no one can claim anything with clear evidence, because a huge web of propaganda, lies and half-lies have been fabricated by the establishment, police, intelligence agencies and the media in India.
Is the ‘fundamentalist’ Islamic threat a real or fake one, or has it been invented by the Indian establishment’s propaganda machinery and intelligence agencies? It’s not entirely fake nor is it entirely real. Robert Pape, in his book Dying to Win, talks of how an overwhelming majority of suicide bombers are actually fighting neo-colonial military occupation. I think this is very revealing. What we see as the threat of ‘Islamic terrorism’ or ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ has a lot to do with liberation struggles in which Islam is used as an instrument of mobilisation — extremely effectively. Using religion or ethnic identity to mobilise people in liberation struggles is not new. The other aspect of Islamic ‘fundamentalism’ is that when people, who see themselves as belonging to a particular ethnic group or religion begin to feel oppressed, occupied, unfree, dominated by the ‘other’, it often radicalises them and they turn inward. ………
The third more complex aspect of it is that ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ now has such a bad name that it is used to discredit those fighting an occupation. And therefore, actually cultivated by the ‘occupier’. This happened early on with Hamas in Palestine, which was used to discredit the more secular Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). It happens in all sorts of complex ways in Kashmir, because if they can portray the resistance as a bunch of mad, fanatic terrorists bent on the destruction of the world, then that’s most of the battle won. For all the talk of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ in Kashmir, you see more women in burqas (veils) in Mumbai or Old Delhi than you do in Kashmir. You see women more oppressed in rural Bihar than in the Kashmir Valley. But the harder and more brutal the army boot, the more people are going to retreat into intolerance and obscurantism.
What is your take on Islamic ‘terrorist’ organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammad?
I’m not an expert on the Lashkar or the Jaish. All I can say is that in Kashmir not everybody looks at them as ‘terrorist’ organisations. Many see them as part of a liberation struggle. Obviously they are viewed here (in Delhi) differently from the way they are viewed there.
How will you react if school-going children are killed in the heart of Srinagar by a bomb blast?
With unmitigated horror. But I would have absolutely no idea who did it by reading/watching the press/media reports. It could be militants, but equally, it could be the security forces, the police or the renegades, or surrendered militants often working with the police. That’s how things have become. It’s hard to know what to believe anymore. What’s worse, it’s hard for people to tell the truth anymore, they’re just too vulnerable. Kashmir is a valley that is awash in soldiers, militants, weapons, ammunition, spies, double agents, intelligence agencies, NGOs and unimaginable sums of unaccounted for money. The strangest things happen. The army runs orphanages and sewing centres.
The Union home ministry of the central government has a television channel. It’s hard to tell who’s working for whom, who’s being used by whom. Sometimes people themselves don’t know who they’re working for or who they’ve been set up by.
Do you think Muslims are being systematically targetted in India?
Yes. Isn’t that what the Sachar report has exposed, unambiguously (The Sachar report, constituted by a prime ministerial committee, has documented that Indian Muslims are one of the poorest, most backward, unrepresented in high or middle jobs and extremely illiterate and impoverished community.) As for Gujarat, what’s going on there now ought to count as a crime against humanity. After the bloodbath of 2002 (there was an anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat, organised and executed by right wing Hindu forces led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also controlled the central and federal state government), in which more than 2,000 Muslims were systematically slaughtered in broad daylight, and 1,50,000 driven from their homes, now Muslims, far from being rehabilitated, are being ghettoised and systematically ground down and driven out of the state. And there’s dead silence from our current ‘secular’ government (United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress backed by the Left). Dead silence from the Left Front. The 2002 violence was visible. This invisible, non-physically-violent form of fascism is equally horrifying. We seem to be rapidly moving towards talking of Muslims only as either victims or terrorists. I think we’re sitting on a time bomb.
Do you think the December 13 attack on Parliament was an inside job?
That presumes we know what’s ‘inside’ and what’s ‘outside’. I don’t think we do. If you journey through the layers that are laid over each other, starting, say, from the clearly distinguishable ones — the Parliament, the judiciary, the mass media — by the time you get to the lower layers of the security apparatus in Kashmir, the Special Task Force (STF), the Special Operations Group (SOG), they become porous, osmotic; they blur into the universe of renegades, surrendered militants, informers, spies… Eventually there’s a sort of exchange of bodily fluids.
This is what is being revealed in the case of the Parliament attack. We don’t know who was behind it. What we do know is that the official version just doesn’t hold up. What we do know is that arrest memos were fabricated, evidence was tampered with, lies were told and confessions were extracted under torture. Why? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess that when someone lies, they’re trying to cover something up. We’d like to know what that is. We have a right to know.
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