Inciting mob anger against me

November 1, 2010

World renown novelist and global justice activist Arundhati Roy is facing escalating threats of violence in India because of her support for justice in Kashmir--the disputed region partitioned between India and Pakistan and occupied by military forces in the area India controls.

On October 31, members of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which has links with neo-fascist organizations, gathered outside Roy's home in New Dehli and chanted slogans for half an hour. The group vandalized property outside a security gate, and then broke onto the grounds of the home. Roy was not present at the time of the attack.

Roy, the celebrated author of the novel The God of Small Things and of several non-fiction books, including Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, issued this statement after the attack, drawing particular attention to the apparent collaboration of the Indian media with the mob that carried out the attack.

A MOB of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday, October 31, 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson.

The OB [mobile broadcasting] vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place, ostensibly to cover the event live. TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP's Mahila Morcha (women's wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood, because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way.

In June this year, after a false report in papers published by the Press Trust of India (PTI), two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They, too, were accompanied by TV cameramen.

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 nonviolent? What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

Arundhati Roy speaking during a visit to the U.S. last spring
Arundhati Roy speaking during a visit to the U.S. last spring (Jean-Baptiste Labrune)

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. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings?

The government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi [freedom] for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right-wing stormtroopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] have openly announced that they are going to "fix" me with all the means at their disposal, including filing cases against me all over the country.

The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So while the government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice?

I can understand that the BJP's Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif, in which several people were killed and many injured. But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

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