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Arundhati Roy on Kashmir, the Danger of U.S. Attacking Iran & Her New Book “My Seditious Heart”

Web ExclusiveMay 13, 2019
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Web-only conversation with the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy, who is preparing to publish “My Seditious Heart,” a new collection of her nonfiction essays over the past two decades.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue with Part 2 of our conversation with Arundhati Roy, the award-winning writer, the winner of the Booker Prize in 1997 for her first novel, The God of Small Things. Her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, you must also read. Now a collection of her nonfiction writing, titled My Seditious Heart, will be out in June.

Arundhati, I wanted to begin by asking you about Kashmir. It’s not an issue that’s covered very much in the United States at all. I mean, after all, it doesn’t have—

ARUNDHATI ROY: There’s no oil there.

AMY GOODMAN: —”Trump” in the title. And mainly, he hasn’t spoken about it very much, so whatever Trump talks about, that has the red carpet rolled out at every network, and you hear it over and over again. But you see Kashmir as a global flashpoint. Explain what’s happening there.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, let’s put it simply, that in April, India and Pakistan became the first countries, nuclear-armed countries, ever in history to bomb each other. You know, so that should be enough reason for everybody to sit up and pay attention.

AMY GOODMAN: Quickly explain that, when India and Pakistan got the bomb.

ARUNDHATI ROY: So, basically, Kashmir is a place which was an independent kingdom of its own before Partition and before both Pakistan and India claimed it, while the majority of Kashmiris—the Kashmir Valley, anyway—are calling for independence, and have been for many years. It’s the most densely occupied military zone in the world. And in February, in fact, on the 14th of February, there was a devastating terrorist attack by a local Kashmiri boy on an Indian security forces convoy, following which, you know, Modi ordered these surgical strikes, and then the Pakistanis came back and bombed India.

And it was all a bit of posturing on both sides, but the point is, these are very, very—and Kashmir is just—as we spoke about earlier, you know, Kashmir is a situation in which anything can happen at any time. And it’s like a pressure cooker. You know, more and more young people are joining the militancy. And because of the political situation in India with the rise of Hindu nationalism, it’s constantly being used as a way of getting the Hindu vote together, you know, quote-unquote, “the Hindu vote” together. So, it’s a cauldron in which anything can happen, and a very, very vicious media environment in India, where you have these 24-hour news channels just screaming nationalism, who have no sense of what is factual, what is not, and so on. So, unless—I mean, it needs to be flipped around. Kashmir needs to become a buffer zone between two nuclear powers, not a flashpoint.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And I think one of the—I don’t know if you—I mean, a large number—the largest number of Kashmiris, of course, want neither to be part of Pakistan nor to be part of India, though this is rarely the perspective that’s represented in the media in either country. So, could you talk a little bit about that? And also, about the Pulwama attack, you said it was a local Kashmiri boy. Now, was that local Kashmiri boy part of Jaish-e-Mohammed?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, that’s what the, you know, whatever was put out said. One doesn’t know now. I don’t even know what is Jaish-e-Mohammed anymore, you know, because the situation in Kashmir is that there are real terror groups, there are fake terror groups, there are penetrator terror groups.

You know, there was a massive intelligence failure, which even the governor of Kashmir spoke about. And then suddenly everyone went quiet. Modi started campaigning using the pictures of the dead security forces, which was so terrible. And there’s absolutely no talk about the intelligence failure. How did it happen? How could so much RDX be smuggled in, when people just—people are stopped and checked while they’re going to buy milk? You know, how did this happen? The convoy—the route of the convoy is always protected.

There were many, many intelligence—serious intelligence inputs saying that an attack is expected. And it happened. There’s a clip of the Army chief being asked by the media, before the attack, saying, you know, “There’s an attack that has been flagged. What do you have to say about it?” And he says, ”Karane do. Dekhi jagi.” You know, “Let them do it. We’ll see.” You know? And suddenly everyone has disappeared. Any kind of inquiry about what actually happened has been muted. And this has been used as an election campaign.

Also, many of us, including me, in writing, in an article published on HuffPost, said, months before, that this is something that is going to happen before the elections. So, it’s a bit terrifying, the symmetry and the narrative convenience of it all.

But so, yeah, so that is—Pulwama is a really big question mark, which we need to understand what actually happened, because Kashmir, historically, there have been many, many false flag attacks. You know, the killers of the Chittisinghpura massacre were then killed by the Amy, and later they were recognized to be just local people who had been rounded up, put into militant outfits and then burned. Then their fresh clothes had been put on the burned bodies. And then, later, it was discovered, from DNA tests, that they were just local people rounded up and killed. So, you know, it’s a very, very deep game. That’s why I say that only fiction can tell the truth about Kashmir.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about nonfiction and this epic book that is being published at the beginning of June, called The [sic] Seditious Heart. Why did you call it The [sic] Seditious Heart?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, the last—one of the last essays in it was called “My Seditious Heart.” And really, I think if there is a theme running through it, it’s really questioning the idea of the nation, not just in terms of security, but also in terms of—you know, like the essay on the big dam in the Narmada, it says, “Who owns the rivers, the forests, the fish?” These are huge debates. And also because I’m constantly being accused of sedition, of anti-nationalism and so on. So…

AMY GOODMAN: To correct it: My Seditious Heart.

ARUNDHATI ROY: My Seditious Heart, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about the essays in this book, I mean, that go back decades.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah. Well, the first essay—actually, the first essays are in the appendix, because those essays were written before I became the famous Arundhati Roy. You know, those essays were two called “The Great Indian Rape-Trick,” and they were essays I wrote after watching this film called Bandit Queen, which was about Phoolan Devi, the famous female bandit in India, who, in the essays, I say she was India’s most famous bandit, who was turned into history’s most famous victim of rape, you know, because the whole thing was just this voyeuristic rape saga of this extraordinary woman. But that’s in the appendix.

But the first essay in the book is “The End of Imagination,” which was my response to India’s nuclear tests, my response to the fact—there’s an obsession with language, I think, in my writing, you know, and that is, I felt that—I do feel that those nuclear tests changed the public language of India. It changed the way we are allowed to speak in public. You know, that started then, this whole nationalist, hypernationalist, hyper-virile, hyper-Hindu nationalist rhetoric, which happened in some quarters, but suddenly it became sanctioned public speech, started from there.

So, I was—of course, you know, just won the Booker, and I was the sort of darling of the media, and I was being placed on the high table as an offering from this aggressive new India. You know, we have Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Booker Prize, and now we even have nuclear bombs. And I just stepped off the table and wrote that, which then—you know, it immediately sort of created a strange schism where there was one section of people who just couldn’t believe—I mean, “How dare she do this?” That was the beginning of the view of me as a seditious, anti-national person, which I have no problems with. And on the other hand—

AMY GOODMAN: Anti-national became anti-bomb. Anti-nuclear bomb was anti-national.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah. Well, now it’s all put together. So, then, after that, it just began this long journey into the heart of rebellion in India. A long quest for understanding the place that I live in, very deeply, that was what followed. So, “The Greater Common Good,” about the building of dams, which led to a deep—to me, that was the foundation, really, of my political understanding, that essay, those people that I met and spoke with, you know? And then, India was being—everything was being privatized. The new markets were opening. Mining. You know, so the journey from these nonviolent protests deep into the heart of “Walking with the Comrades” inside the forest with the Maoist guerrillas, also protesting about the same thing—protecting the forests and so on. And then—well, then, a lot about 9/11, about the American wars.

But the longest essay in the book, perhaps the most academic and heavily footnoted and one of the deadliest essays in it, is “The Doctor and the Saint,” which is about the debate between the iconic Dalit leader in India, B.R. Ambedkar, who was Gandhi’s greatest antagonist, and it was initially written as an introduction to his iconic essay, called “Annihilation of Caste,” which Gandhi responded to. And so I wrote this piece, which is now a book also, but it’s also in My Seditious Heart, called “The Doctor and the Saint,” about the debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi. And it sort of connects the whole debate on race—race in South Africa, particularly—and caste in India. And also the inability of the left, both—I mean, it doesn’t deal with the left here that much, but over there—that is true even in The God of Small Things—of the left’s inability to understand what is at the heart, the engine that runs India, which is caste.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Arundhati, in the first part of our interview, you talked about the era that we know is coming to an end. So could you explain what you mean by that and the significance of this collection coming out in that moment?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, well, the essay—the book is not coming out because the era that we know is coming to an end. It just, you know, happens to be—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Coinciding with, yeah.

ARUNDHATI ROY: —coinciding with. But I do feel that, you know—I mean, as we have read now, you’re really rushing towards extinction. Just yesterday, there was a report about more than a million species, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Going extinct.

ARUNDHATI ROY: —going extinct, that just over the last 30 years you’ve had such an accelerated form of mammals disappearing. The understanding of—like I call it the understanding, you know, the connection between insects, mammals, the acidity in the ocean, corals, fish, water in rivers, forests, rain. You know, you can develop artificial intelligence, but you can’t understand these basic things, which are just—you can’t understand the connection between the planet you live on and your place in the web of life.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, as we wrap up, you said in your speech, “Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged, and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the US government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state. And now, resorting to the same old [scare] tactics, the same tired falsehoods and the same old fake news about nuclear weapons, it is gearing up to bomb Iran. That will be the biggest mistake it has ever made.” Your thoughts on what’s happening now with Iran? As we speak, Secretary of State Pompeo has canceled a trip to Russia to go to Brussels to push European leaders on increasing the stranglehold, the isolation of Iran.

ARUNDHATI ROY: I mean, it’s just—I have no words—I have no words to even begin to address the ridiculousness of this, you know? I mean, of course, Iran has been a country that has historically stood against the U.S., because, I mean, in 1953, its democratic government was overthrown by the—I mean, in a coup by the CIA. But to destroy one of the last countries which is standing in that region, to accuse it of having nuclear weapons, when Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, which no one is supposed to talk about—I mean, Iran, the Persians, are just not going to be pushed over in this way. It is going to result in a kind of disaster that I don’t think anybody can even imagine.

So, I would just say that everybody in the U.S., from the soldiers to the TV stations to the media to people on the street, should just beg their country or force their country or stop work to say—for their own sake, not for Iran’s sake; for their own sake, not for some missionary altruistic reason—”Please don’t do this.”

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, we want to thank you so much for spending this time. Arundhati Roy, the great writer, whose brand-new book, over a thousand pages of essays over more than two decades, the last two decades, My Seditious Heart, will be out. And she is author of The God of Small Things, as well as The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and a number of collection of essays. Thank you so much for being with us.

To see Part 1 of our conversation, the full Democracy Now! show, go to I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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