Over 200 Academics, Activists and Scribes Join Hands to Support Arundhati Roy

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Open letter calls for withdrawal of go-ahead to prosecute the Booker prize-winning author 

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI – More than 200 academics, activists and journalists on Sunday urged the government to withdraw last week’s decision sanctioning the prosecution of the Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy under the stringent anti-terrorism law.

“We … deplore this action and appeal to the government and the democratic forces in the country to ensure that no infringement of the fundamental right to freely and fearlessly express views on any subject takes place in our nation,” the group said in an open letter.

“The Indian constitution upholds Roy’s right to the freedom of her opinions and we are a constitutional democracy,” One of the signatories and history professor Ajay Dandekar said. The decision to prosecute her and academic Sheikh Showkat Hussain is unjustified, media reports quoted him as saying.

Others also voiced support for Roy, including the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of farmer unions, which condemned the decision. A few protests by civil rights groups, activists, and students in Delhi and Bengaluru have also taken place.

Last week Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena gave the go-ahead to the police to prosecute Roy, and Hussain, under the anti-terrorism law, known as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for remarks they made at a seminar in 2010.

Roy is reported to have said the disputed region of Kashmir had never been “an integral part of India”.

Ever since Roy’s literary success in 1997, when she won the Booker Prize for her debut novel The God of Small Things, she has been a sharp critic not only of Narendra Modi’s government but of previous governments too. She has attracted praise and censure in equal measure for her critiques of capitalism, the treatment of minorities, and globalisation, as well as her support for human rights causes.

However, the decision to prosecute her under the law, which makes bail difficult and results in people spending long years in prison awaiting trial, has come as a shock.

“Are we a democratic country or not?” asked Mukta Manohar, the general secretary of the Pune municipality Safai union, one of the signatories. “We signed the letter because we have to uphold our constitutional right to disagree with the government. We can’t let the government take revenge against critics like Roy out of some personal whim.”

What remains unclear is why the decision to prosecute has been taken at this particular moment, when the complaint against her, filed by someone who attended the seminar, has been pending with the police for 14 years without being pursued.

Lawyers say they are puzzled as to why such a draconian law has been invoked. 

Media reports quoted Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde assaying that if Roy had been prosecuted under other, less harsh laws such as those dealing with provoking disharmony or inciting enmity among certain groups, the government would have run foul of the statute of limitations. No such limitation applies to the UAPA.

Nonetheless, Hegde thinks the case will be challenged in the courts at a very early stage for two reasons.

“The police will have to explain the 14-year delay and also explain why she should be charged when her words have not resulted in any violence or criminal acts in all this time,” he said.

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