The silence is the loudest sound: Arundhati Roy condemns Indian crackdown in Kashmir

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The historic Indian city of Ayodhya is in lockdown after India’s Supreme Court ruled that Hindus could build a temple on a site considered holy to both Muslims and Hindus. In 1992, more than 2,000 people died after right-wing Hindus destroyed a 16th century mosque at the site. The Supreme Court ruling is seen as a victory for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hard-line Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, which has long pushed for building a temple on the contested site. Modi hailed the court’s decision.

There should not be any place for fear, bitterness and negativity in new India. During the hearing on this case, the Supreme Court heard all sides with a lot of patience, and it is a matter of happiness for the entire nation that the decision came with the consent of all.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, India’s crackdown on Kashmir continues. Over the summer, massive protests erupted after Modi revoked the special status of the Indian-controlled part of the Muslim-majority region. Human rights groups say Modi’s government then carried out widespread torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and other crimes in Kashmir. On August 5th, a complete communication blackout was imposed on Kashmir. The internet is still cut off, and only some phone lines have since been restored.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk about these and other issues, we’re joined by the award-winning writer Arundhati Roy. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her first novel, The God of Small Things. Her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, was longlisted for the prize in 2017. In 2002, she received the Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Prize. Her most recent book is a collection of her nonfiction essays, titled My Seditious Heart.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s always a pleasure to have you with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for spending this time with us before you give this major address in New York, the Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture. Let’s start with Kashmir. Especially for people outside of the region who don’t follow what’s happening, lay out for us why this is an issue that is so close to your heart, why it is so critically important right now.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I don’t — I mean, my heart doesn’t have much to do with it. But, so, today is the hundredth day of the sort of information and internet shutdown in Kashmir. It’s been under curfew for most of these hundred days. Now the curfew has been lifted. Schools have been reopened. Markets have been declared open. But Kashmiris are refusing to accept a sort of normalcy, you know, because what happened on the 5th of August was the striking down of what was known as Section 370, which really incorporated in the Indian Constitution the special conditions on which the sovereign kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India. And so, by striking that down, they struck down — they demoted Kashmir from being a state to being what’s known as a union territory. They trifurcated it. But most important that they dissolved a law called 35A, which made Kashmiris the stewards of their own land. So now, you know, Kashmir can be overrun by Indians. That’s the way they see it. I mean, India, you know, earlier, used to say Kashmir is an integral part of India. But now they say now it’s really an integral part of India, you know? So —

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it so important to Modi?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, it’s been important. You know, the thing is that Modi — more than the BJP, Modi belongs to the RSS, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is a sort of the mothership of the — the cultural mothership of which the BJP is a political arm. And the striking down of this section has always been on the agenda of the RSS, you know? So, it was — one by one, these things are being done, which are things that they have sworn to do. There’s nothing impulsive or sudden about it. It’s just unconstitutional and probably illegal, but it’s not impulsive.

AMY GOODMAN: To express Hindu supremacy?


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, earlier this year, you wrote an opinion piece on Kashmir for The New York Times headlined “The Silence Is the Loudest Sound.” In the piece, you wrote, quote, “While Partition and the horrifying violence that it caused is a deep, unhealed wound in the memory of the subcontinent, the violence of those times, as well as in the years since, in India and Pakistan, has as much to do with assimilation as it does with partition. … What’s unfolding today on both sides of the border of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is the unfinished business of assimilation.” You wrote that in The New York Times in August. Can you talk about what you meant by that?

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