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Reports suggest that Arundhati Roy, the acclaimed Indian novelist who won the Booker Prize, may face prosecution for a speech she delivered in 2010 regarding Indian-administered Kashmir. According to sources, a high-ranking official has given the green light to this action.
At 61 years old, Roy is one of India’s most renowned contemporary authors. However, her literary work and activism, which includes outspoken critiques of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, have rendered her a divisive figure within the country.
Since its initial filing in 2010, a criminal complaint alleging sedition against Roy and several others had been stalled in India’s famously slow-moving criminal justice system.
The initial complaint alleged that Roy and others delivered speeches promoting the separation of Kashmir from India. India exercises partial governance over the contested region and asserts full sovereignty over it, alongside neighboring Pakistan.
Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena has granted approval for the prosecution of author Arundhati Roy and retired Kashmir professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain in connection with a 2010 case, accusing them of delivering speeches that advocated for the separation of Kashmir from India.
According to an official statement, Saxena has determined that there is sufficient evidence to support charges against Roy and Hussain under Sections 153A, 153B, and 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for their speeches at a public event in the national capital.
Section 153A pertains to offenses related to promoting enmity between different groups based on factors like religion, race, place of birth, and residence. Section 153B deals with offenses concerning imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration. Section 505 covers offenses related to the dissemination of false statements, rumors, or information with the specific intent of causing mutiny or fear among military personnel, inciting offenses against the state, or disrupting public tranquility.
The approval from the Delhi LG was necessary because the initiation of prosecution under Sections 153A and 153B requires prior authorization from the government. This is a prerequisite before the trial, not during the preliminary investigation phase.
The official statement also clarifies that permission has not been granted to prosecute the accused under sedition (Section 124A), one of the IPC sections mentioned in the FIR. However, it notes that a case under this section can be made.
The LG’s decision was influenced by a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court last year, which directed that all pending trials, appeals, and proceedings related to charges filed under sedition be put on hold.
On November 29, 2010, the First Information Report (FIR) was filed based on a complaint by Sushil Pandit, a social activist from Kashmir. The complainant alleged that during a conference organized by the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) under the banner of ‘Azadi – The Only Way’ on October 21, 2010, the speakers delivered speeches that were deemed “provocative” and advocated for the “separation of Kashmir from India”. Pandit further asserted that these speeches were incendiary in nature, posing a threat to public peace and security.
According to the complainant, Roy stated that “Kashmir was never part of India and was forcibly occupied by the Armed Forces of India, and every possible effort should be made for the independence of the State of Jammu & Kashmir from India”.
The other two individuals implicated in the case, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a Kashmiri separatist leader, and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a Delhi University lecturer who was acquitted in the parliament attack case, have since passed away.
In response to the authorization for the prosecution of author Arundhati Roy granted by Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena, Congress leader P Chidambaram remarked that this sanction unmistakably indicates that “under the rule of the LG (and his masters)”, there is no space for tolerance.
He emphasized that when speeches are made, even if many disagree, the state should demonstrate tolerance and forbearance. Chidambaram expressed his support for freedom of expression and voiced his opposition to the colonial-era sedition law, suggesting that Section 124A has often been misused and should therefore be abolished. He noted that there are other legal provisions that are sufficient to address incitement to violence.
Chidambaram held the position of Union Home Minister in 2010 when Arundhati delivered the speech for which she is now facing prosecution. He affirmed that he stands by his statement from 2010, reiterating that there was no justification at the time for filing treason charges against Arundhati Roy. Back in 2010, Chidambaram had stated that the decision by Delhi Police not to pursue a case against Arundhati Roy was in line with both the letter and the spirit of the law.
The issue of Kashmir is highly delicate and contentious in public discourse within India. The country has engaged in two wars and numerous smaller conflicts with Pakistan over control of this Himalayan territory. Since a rebellion against Indian authority erupted in 1989, tens of thousands of individuals, including Indian troops, militants, and civilians, have lost their lives in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Since 1989, a rebellion against Indian rule in Indian-administered Kashmir has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, including Indian troops, militants, and civilians. In 2010, protests besieged Roy’s residence in New Delhi when her remarks from a panel discussion were made public.
Roy achieved the distinction of being the first non-expatriate Indian to win the prestigious Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed debut novel, “The God of Small Things,” in 1997. She is also renowned for her impassioned essays on the struggles of the impoverished and marginalized in India, at times drawing criticism from the country’s privileged class.
In recent times, her work has positioned her as one of the most prominent critics of Modi’s government. This government has faced allegations from rights organizations and others of targeting activists for legal prosecution and working to stifle freedom of expression.
Reporters Without Borders has issued a warning that “press freedom is in crisis” in India. Since 2014, India’s ranking in media freedom has dropped from 140 to 161, including an 11-place decline from the previous year.