New Delhi - The animosity between governments and scholars, activists is a tale as old as time. The central government seems to have resurrected a 13-year-old case in a nation whose judicial system is infamous for taking its time to provide justice. Author and activist Arundhati Roy and Showkat Hussain, former Professor of International Law at Central University of Kashmir are to be prosecuted after Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena has granted sanction for the act. The prosecution is in reference to the speeches both made in 2010 during a seminar concerning Kashmir.
The Delhi LG's office issued an official statement on October 10th, mentioning that a prima facie case was made out against Roy and Hussain for the commission of an offense under sections 153A, 153B, and 505 of the Indian Penal Code. They were booked under IPC 124A, which deals with sedition, but the prosecution sanction was not granted as the matter is still pending in court. Delhi police demanded action under Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act but were denied. VK Saxena, the top official in the administration governing New Delhi, gave approval for the case to proceed before the courts.
Saxena’s directive said there was enough evidence for a case to proceed against Roy and Showkat Hussain, “for their speeches at a public function” in the capital, local media reports said.
This sudden decision has created quite a stir among the international public, with many renowned activists coming in support of both.
Prominent figures like SC lawyer Prashant Bhushan, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, poets and academicians world wide have voiced their strong opposition to the government's move. They express concern over the prosecution of Arundhati Roy and assert that such actions may backfire, turning national and international opinion against the government.
Section 153A penalizes "promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony."
Section 153B penalizes "imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration," whereas Section 505 applies when someone "makes a statement or circulates a rumor, etc., intending to cause any officer or soldier to mutiny or fail in his duty, or causing fear in public tranquility, or inciting one community against another."
The office said, "The FIR in the matter was registered via orders dated November 27, 2010, from the Court of Metropolitan Magistrate, New Delhi." They further added, "However, despite a case of sedition being made out, sanction has not been granted under Section 124A of IPC (Sedition) owing to the fact that the Supreme Court, on May 5, 2022, in another case, directed that all pending trials, appeals, and proceedings with respect to the charges framed under Section 124A (Sedition) of IPC shall be kept in abeyance, and thereafter, the three-Judge Bench headed by CJI referred the matter to the Constitution Bench on September 12, 2023."
This sudden decision has created quite a stir among the international public, with many renowned activists coming in support of both. Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court lawyer, expressed his displeasure on X (formerly Twitter). He exclaimed, "The desperation of the Modi govt! They now sanction the prosecution of Arundhati Roy for a speech made in 2010! For 30 years, she has written and spoken boldly; her views on Kashmir, Naxals, Palestine/Israel, fake Nationalism, the so-called War on Terror & society in general. She has won many international awards for her writings. Pathetic that the Modi govt seeks to prosecute her for this!"
Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, 'warned' Narendra Modi to stay away from the author. He posted, "Mr. Modi, hands off Arundhati Roy, India's, and perhaps the world's, finest author."
Dr. Meena Kandasamy, the famous Indian poet and writer, was also infuriated with the government for the act. She said, "If Modi is going after India's most brilliant & most courageous writer for a speech made a decade ago, it shows the levels of desperation of the regime. Sanghis seem to have grossly miscalculated how national & international opinion will turn against them."
Naomi Klein, Professor of Climate Justice, co-director at University of British Columbia wrote in a post, " Message to @narendramodi: Hands Off #ArundhatiRoy! You have no idea what you will unleash is you pursue this political prosecution aimed at silencing your most eloquent critic. She is a hero to millions and we see you.
The scenario has led to a political clash as well, with P. Chidambaram and Amit Malviya battling it out on X. Chidambaram, who was the Home Minister in 2010, had encouraged action against the author then. But now he seems to have changed his mind. Freedom of Speech has become much more important to him than it was in 2010. Reacting to the news, he said, "I am in favor of freedom of expression and against the colonial law of sedition. Section 124A has often been misused and hence should be abolished. There are other provisions of the law that are adequate to deal with incitement to violence."
After being reminded of his stance back then, he pointed out that even though he still sticks to his words, there were no justifications for a sedition charge here. Amit Malviya, the head of BJP's IT cell, schooled the former cabinet minister that no charges under Section 124A were applied to the author and the professor. He went on to take a dig at Chidambaram by saying, "But then facts hardly matter when arrogance rules the head."
On October 21st, 2010, a seminar was held by the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners in Delhi under the banner 'Azaadi- The Only Way.' There, Roy and Hussain had allegedly made comments on the lines of Kashmir not being an integral part of India. Roy’s home in New Delhi was besieged by protesters in 2010 when her remarks from the panel discussion became public.
Sushil Pandit, a social activist from Kashmir, had lodged the case. He alleged Roy had said, "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 and Kashmir from India."
Pandit's complaint also named Kashmiri separatist leader Sayed Ali Shah Geelani and Delhi University lecturer Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani. Both have passed away in these thirteen years.
Arundhati Roy made history in 1997 when she became the first non-expatriate Indian to be honored with the prestigious Booker Prize for her acclaimed debut novel, "The God of Small Things." Her literary career began with a remarkable achievement.
However, Roy is not just a celebrated novelist; she is also widely recognized for her passionate essays addressing the challenges faced by India's impoverished and marginalized communities. Her outspoken views and advocacy for the underprivileged have often put her at odds with the country's elite.
In recent years, Arundhati Roy's work has solidified her position as one of the most prominent critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. This administration has faced accusations from human rights organizations and others, alleging the targeting of activists through criminal prosecution and efforts to curtail free speech.
Reporters Without Borders has even warned of a "press freedom in crisis" in India, noting a significant decline in media freedom rankings, with India dropping from 140 to 161 since 2014, including an 11-place drop in just the past year.