India Charges Novelist Arundhati Roy Over a 2010 Speech

The Indian authorities have charged the renowned novelist Arundhati Roy over public comments she made 13 years ago about the restive Kashmir region, the latest step in an intensifying crackdown on free speech by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Suman Nalwa, a spokeswoman for the New Delhi police, said the government had approved charges against Ms. Roy and the Kashmiri law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a move required for certain crimes in India. The two have been charged under several sections of Indian law, including offenses related to provocative speech and the promotion of enmity between different groups.

The lieutenant governor of the Delhi region said the government had considered filing a more serious charge of sedition against Ms. Roy and Mr. Hussain in the case, which sprang from a complaint filed in October 2010 by a right-wing Kashmiri Hindu activist against speakers at a conference on Kashmir.

No such charge was filed, the official said, because India’s top court is deciding the validity of the colonial-era sedition law, which critics say has been abused for decades to shut down dissent. It was not clear why the police were acting only now on the activist’s complaint, well over a decade after it was filed.

The action against Ms. Roy, a prominent critic of Mr. Modi, and Mr. Hussain came days after the New Delhi police raided the homes and offices of dozens of journalists linked to an online news portal known for criticism of the Indian government.

The authorities had previously raided the organization, NewsClick. But they intensified their crackdown last week after seizing on an article in The New York Times that said an American tech mogul whose network finances the site had connections to the Chinese government.

On Tuesday, a court in New Delhi denied bail to the founder of NewsClick and another person linked to the site and ordered them held for 10 days. The two, who deny any wrongdoing, have been charged under a draconian antiterrorism law called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Many people charged under the law have spent years languishing in jail before their trials have begun.

In the case involving the Kashmir conference, Mr. Hussain told The New York Times from Kashmir that he had not received any formal communication regarding the charges. Ms. Roy, asked for comment, said she needed to consult with her lawyer before discussing the case.

Two others accused in the complaint, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, an influential leader of Kashmir’s separatist movement, and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, a former university professor, have died. The two men were unrelated.

The conference, titled “Freedom — the Only Way,” was held in New Delhi on Oct. 21, 2010. At the time, protesters in Muslim-majority Kashmir were seething after the death of a 17-year-old boy who was hit by a tear-gas canister fired from close range by Indian forces as he returned from a tutoring center.

A cycle of unrest in Kashmir that year ended in the deaths of about 120 demonstrators.

Ms. Roy described the strife in a guest essay that fall in The Times, writing: “Since April, when the army killed three civilians and then passed them off as ‘terrorists,’ masked stone throwers, most of them students, have brought life in Kashmir to a grinding halt. The Indian government has retaliated with bullets, curfew and censorship.”

In the complaint filed by the Kashmiri Hindu activist, he said that several of the speeches, including the one by Ms. Roy, had “jeopardized public peace and security,” adding that speakers had promoted “separation of Kashmir from India.”

During her speech, Ms. Roy, who won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997 for her novel “The God of Small Things,” recalled an incident in which she had been ambushed by a television reporter who asked her repeatedly, “Is Kashmir an integral part of India?”

“So, I said, look, Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. However aggressively and however often you want to ask me that, even the Indian government has accepted that it is not an integral part of India,” Ms. Roy is heard saying in video of the seminar.

The Modi government, which took power four years later, has moved to bring the region under its direct control, revoking its limited autonomy and suppressing democracy and dissent.

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