Dozens of right-wing activists attacked and vandalised the house of Booker prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy over comments she made suggesting Kashmir had never been an integral part of India.
Up to 100 activists, most of them members of the women’s wing of a Hindu-nationalist political party, gathered outside Ms Roy’s home in Delhi and starting damaging flower-pots. Security guards along with some of Ms Roy’s domestic servants prevented the demonstrators from entering the house.
Last night, Ms Roy, who was not at home at the time of the attack condemned the activists but also questioned the role of the broadcast media, as TV crews had been present at her home, apparently tipped off about the protest.
“What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media which positions itself at the “scene” in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if there is criminal trespass or even something worse,” Ms Roy said in a statement. “Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred.”
The demonstration by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) followed comments Ms Roy last month at a public seminar on Kashmir. During the meeting in Delhi, she said the long-disputed Kashmir region had never been an integral part of India. “Even the Indian government has accepted this. Why are we trying to change this now,” the activist and author The God of Small Things, had said.
India’s political opposition immediately leapt on the comments and demanded that she be charged with sedition. While the law ministry took advice on the issue, the government eventually decided not to proceed with charges against the writer.
Last night, police in Delhi said they were investigating the attack on Ms Roy’s house, located in the city’s diplomatic quarter. Meanwhile, Shika Roy, president of the local women’s wing of the BJP and who led the protest, told reporters: “The protest was organised against Arundhati Roy's remarks on azadi for Kashmir. We chose to protest on Sunday as it happens to be the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel who united the whole country.”
Ms Roy’s comments on Kashmir come after months of turmoil in the valley, where fresh demonstrations for autonomy broke out in in June. The once-independent kingdom has been fought over since 1947 when its Hindu ruler decided the Muslim majority state should join independent India, rather than the newly-created Pakistan. An insurgency that gathered pace after India rigged elections in 1987, combined with an unrelenting response from the Indian authorities that has transformed Kashmir into one of the most militarised places on the planet, has led to the deaths of more than 70,000 people. Most Hindus were forced out or fled. For many years, Pakistan provided weapons and training to many of the Kashmiri militants.
The government has recently appointed three interlocuters to meet with the valley’s separatists but even that has not been without controversy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was forced to defend the trio after they said that Pakistan needed to be involved in any resolution for the disputed region – something that infuriated th2 BJP. Mr Singh later said: “Comments in a democracy are free.”