On Speeching Freedoms

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve often felt like I wanted more of a challenge in my life, writing or otherwise.  For example, if I was a woman I could (righteously) rail against sexism and work towards its end.  If the U.S. was a military dictatorship, I could speak out against injustices and, in so doing, risk my freedom and, perhaps, my life.

Why have I felt this way?

I don’t know.  I suppose my life seems too easy.  Or I feel guilty for being young(ish), white, and male and growing up in the United States. Would I feel guiltier if I grew up in the Netherlands?  Who knows.  What I do know is that when a real version of my “persecution fantasies” turns up in the world, I’m ashamed to have dreamed of what I’ve dreamed, sad that this sort of overt, public injustice still exists in the world, and angry.

Part of that anger is tied to the sadness – who are these people that don’t recognize the rights of others and who believe that force is the best course for any action?

And part of that anger is tied to the shame.  There is no reason, for example, that I couldn’t be speaking out clearly and loudly against what I see as the evils of the world.

But most of that anger is reserved for the threat held over the heads of those writers who speak out.

Take, for example, Arundhati Roy (perhaps most known in the West for her novel The God of Small Things) taking a stand on Kashmir separatism from a humanist perspective and being threatened with imprisonment for it.  I could tell you what she says, but I’ll just let her words speak on their own.

I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning’s papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir. I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice. I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Yesterday I traveled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice. I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer’s husband and Asiya’s brother.  We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf’—justice—from India, and now believed that Azadi—freedom— was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I traveled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one. Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.

Arundhati Roy

October 26 2010

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