Arundhati Roy on Religious Nationalism, Dissent, and the Battle Between Myth and History

Arundhati Roy’s Lecture at the University of Texas: Before I begin, I would like to say a few words about the war in Ukraine. I unequivocally condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and applaud the Ukrainian peoples’ courageous resistance. I applaud the courage shown by Russian dissenters at enormous cost to themselves.

I say this while being acutely and painfully aware of the hypocrisy of the United States and Europe, which together have waged similar wars on other countries in the world. Together they have led the nuclear race and have stockpiled enough weapons to destroy our planet many times over. What an irony it is that the very fact that they possess these weapons, now forces them to helplessly watch as a country they consider to be an ally is decimated—a country whose people and territory, whose very existence, imperial powers have jeopardized with their war games and ceaseless quest for domination.

And now, I turn to India. I dedicate this talk to the increasing numbers of prisoners of conscience in India.

“We are currently in that dangerous place where there is no set of facts or histories that we can agree upon, or even argue with; Our hopes have been cauterized, our imaginations infected; This battle will have to be waged by every single one of us. The blaze is at our door.” Illustration by Sadia Tariq

I ask us to remember Professor G. N. Saibaba, the scholars, activists, singers, and lawyers who are known as the Bhima Koregaon 16, the activists jailed for protesting against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act), and Khurram Parvez, who was arrested five months ago in Kashmir. Khurram is one of the most remarkable people that I know. He and the organization he works for, the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), have for years meticulously documented the saga of torture, enforced disappearances, and death visited upon the people of Kashmir. So, what I say today is dedicated to all of them.

All dissent has been criminalized in India. Until recently, dissenters were called anti-national. Now we are openly labelled intellectual terrorists. The dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, under which people are being held for years without trial, has been amended to accommodate the current regime’s obsession with intellectual terrorism. We have all been branded Maoists—the colloquial term for us is Urban-Naxals—or jehadis, and have had targets drawn on our backs, making us fair game for mobs or legal harassment. More here.

This lecture was delivered by Arundhati Roy, author of the recently published Azadi: Fascism, Fiction, and Freedom in the Time of the Virus (Haymarket Books), at the University of Texas at Austin on April 19.