Who’s afraid of Arundhati Roy?

A culture is as great as its dreams, said American sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard, and its dreams are dreamed by its artistes.What is a society without its dreamers, its intellectuals and artistes? It’s like a body without soul, an individual without conscience. Writers and artistes are not just the cream of any society; they are our hearts and minds and the voice of our collective conscience. They do not just defend us and stand up for the vulnerable and voiceless amongst us, they also hold out the mirror to us when necessary from time to time, helping us see our warts and all.Mature and tolerant societies accept the occasional reality check from their artistes and intellectuals with magnanimity and dignity it deserves. Because they are essentially a part of us — a more sensitive and caring part of our existence. And when instead of paying attention to this voice of our collective conscience, we try to stifle it, we in effect commit a moral hara-kiri.

Men and women like Arundhati Roy aren’t born every day, even in a billion plus country like India. They are God’s gift to humanity. We should love, value and cherish them. We may not always find ourselves agreeing with them on many issues and it’s only natural. But turning on them in fury the moment they try to walk apart from the crowd or muster the courage to speak out against what they believe to be wrong is not only unfair to them but an affront to civil societies everywhere.What has the celebrated author and activist done to earn the wrath of India’s increasingly intolerant chattering classes and some of its shrill, Fox News-like media? After all, as Roy argued in her dispassionate rejoinder this week in some newspapers, she has only said and recounted on Kashmir what the Indian government, especially the charismatic first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru and other leaders had repeatedly promised the Kashmiris and the world community in crucial months and years after the partition.In his address to the nation over All India Radio on Nov. 2, 1947, Nehru said, “We are anxious not to finalize anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide. And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion (of India and Pakistan), the accession must be made by the people of that state.”

In another broadcast the next day, the prime minister said, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir and to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.” In a letter on Nov. 21 1947 addressed to Pakistan Prime Minister Liyaqat Ali Khan, Nehru said, “I have repeatedly stated that as soon as peace and order have been established, Kashmir should decide accession by plebiscite or referendum under international auspices such as those of United Nations.”Four days later, in a statement in the Constituent Assembly, on Nov. 25, 1947, Nehru declared, “In order to establish our bona fide, we have suggested that when the people are given the chance to decide their future, this should be done under the supervision of an impartial tribunal such as the UN. The issue in Kashmir is whether violence and naked force should decide the future or the will of the people.” Again in Constituent Assembly on March 5, 1948, the premier said, “Even at the moment of accession, we went out of our way to make a unilateral declaration that we would abide by the will of the people of Kashmir as declared in a plebiscite or referendum. We have adhered to that position throughout and we are prepared to have a plebiscite with every protection of fair voting and to abide by the decision of the people of Kashmir.”

Commenting on the bitter war of words between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Nehru warned in Parliament on March 31, 1955, “Kashmir is perhaps the most difficult of problems between India and Pakistan. We should also remember that Kashmir is not a thing to be bandied between India and Pakistan but it has a soul of its own and an individuality of its own. Nothing can be done without the goodwill and consent of the people of Kashmir!”There are dozens of such assurances in Nehru’s speeches and statements — and those of other leaders — promising the Kashmiris a fair deal. So this whole circus of prosecuting Roy and others on the charges of “sedition” is not just absurd but is a poor reflection on our maturity as a proud nation. Instead of celebrating our truly courageous, selfless artistes and intellectuals such as Roy and respecting their right to dissent and have their say, we are rushing to burn them at the stake.India is not just the world’s largest democracy; it is without doubt its greatest and most colorful.

We do it great disservice by heckling and attacking dissenting voices. As literary pundit George Steiner would argue, shooting a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs.Whether we like it or not, Kashmir has always been a complex and thorny question and there will always be as many points of view on the issue as is possible.Personally speaking, as an Indian Muslim, I would want nothing better than have this “paradise on earth” and its charming and refined people stay with India. In fact, this whole idea of “Muslim Kashmiris” going with “Muslim Pakistan” makes my generation of the post-partition, post-Ayodhya Muslims terribly uneasy. But it’s not for me or you to determine that question, is it? Ultimately, as Nehru repeatedly emphasized, it’s for the Kashmiris to decide.Be it India or Pakistan, no one can force that decision on the Kashmiris on either side of the Line of Control at gunpoint. The battle for Kashmiri hearts and minds cannot be won with 700,000 soldiers constantly breathing down the Kashmiris’ neck – Arabnews