Booker-winning author Arundhati Roy to be prosecuted under anti-terror laws in India

File: Indian author Arundhati Roy, Grand Laureate for the 2020 Lee Hochul Literary Prize for Peace, speaks during a press conference in Seoul (AFP via Getty Images)
File: Indian author Arundhati Roy, Grand Laureate for the 2020 Lee Hochul Literary Prize for Peace, speaks during a press conference in Seoul (AFP via Getty Images)

A top Indian official has allowed the prosecution of celebrated Indian author Arundhati Roy, who faces charges under anti-terror laws for a “provocative” speech made in 2010.

The 62-year-old Booker Prize-winning novelist has been an outspoken critic of the Narendra Modi administration for its controversial policies and laws targeting minorities. as well as more broadly on social injustice in India.

The charges relate to an event in Delhi in 2010 on Kashmir where Roy and a former professor of international law from Kashmir, Sheikh Showkat Hussain, spoke under a banner reading “Azadi (Independence) – the only way”.

Roy is reported to have argued that the Kashmir region, which is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and partly administered by each, had never been an “integral part of India”.

Permission to prosecute Roy was granted by the most senior official in the Delhi capital territory, VK Saxena, a politician from Mr Modi’s ruling BJP who currently serves as the lieutenant governor.

An official from the governor’s house said that he has allowed prosecution of the two under a section of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) pertaining to charges of sedition.

A controversial anti-terror law, the UAPA allows the authorities to detain suspects for up to 180 days without any charges. It was tweaked by the Modi administration in 2019 so that individuals could be classified as terrorists without necessarily being linked to a designated terror group. A total of 1,948 people were arrested in 2019 after the change came into force, marking an uptick of almost 37 per cent from the previous year.

At the 2010 event Roy, along with a prominent separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, “strongly propagated that Kashmir was never the part of India and was forcibly occupied by Armed Forces of India and every possible effort should be made for the independence of the State of Jammu and Kashmir from India”, according to an official from the governor’s office.

The complainant in the case, an activist from Kashmir named Sushil Pandit, said the participants had discussed and promoted the "separation of Kashmir from India".

Even at the time of the event, which took place under the previous Congress government, the authorities in Delhi took legal advice on whether they could charge Roy with sedition for her comments.

Nonetheless Indian opposition MPs and civil rights activists objected to the fact that charges were finally being pursued 14 years later.

“If by prosecuting Arundhati Roy under UAPA the BJP are trying to prove they’re back, well they’re not. And they’ll never be back the same way they were,” said opposition MP Mahua Moitra from the Trinamool Congress party, referring to Mr Modi’s unwhelming performance in the recent general election.

“This kind of fascism is exactly what Indians have voted against,” she said.

The Delhi governor’s action against Roy “defies logic except the fascist kind”, said the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in a statement.