‘Little pinholes of light have come out in this judgement’ says author and activist Arundhati Roy on the Binayak Sen bail order by the Supreme Court. In an exclusive interview to CNN-IBN’s Rupashree Nanda, she also says ‘democracy is on a very slippery slope in Chhattisgarh’; that it is important to remember several others who are jailed under similar charges under ‘undemocratic laws’.
Rupashree Nanda: I remember you’d said that the judgement of the Raipur session court was intended to be a message, as a warning to others. What is the message of the Supreme Court bail order?
Arundhati Roy: I think that the Supreme Court granting him bail and the comments that were made in court do suggest that somewhere the Supreme Court is of the mind that it was a vindictive judgment and that he does deserve the benefit of the doubt. And so they gave him bail. What happens is that it underlines the fact that he was being made an example of; and the terror that reigns in Chhattisgarh remains so. Because, how many people have those lawyers? And have the ability to come to the Supreme Court? How many people are there poor, unnamed and named, under the very same laws for even less reasons? But they cannot come up and get bail. In some ways, it is a very necessary thing that has happened today. And in other ways it is worrying because we have so many people who don’t have access to the Supreme Court.
Rupashree Nanda: The battle for acquittal is still on. What if he is convicted again and sentenced again?
Arundhati Roy: My answer is the same. The fact is that here was a very well known person. He had a campaign behind him, he had so many people, so many lawyers and so he was allowed to approach an institution where some kind of reason prevailed. But most people don’t have that approach. So, here you are once again in a situation where there is hope for democracy, reason for those who can afford it, who can reach there. But most people cannot. Really what we need to do is look at these laws again. And again, even if the laws were OK you have this vindictive set of people who are doing something, it does not matter what the law is. They are busy trying to intimidate a whole population of very poor people now who are living on the resources that the multinationals want.
Rupashree Nanda: Was it easy for people to come out and support Dr Binayak Sen because there were many people against him?
Arundhati Roy: It is not a question of easy or difficult. Fortunately, in this country we do have a huge number of fearless people who believe in doing the right thing or at least believe in doing what they believe in. I am not going to complain about how difficult it was for us. Of course, I think, all those who protested knew that they were up against it. I know about Kopa Kunjam who took me round Bastar who is in jail. Who is campaigning for him? Who are his lawyers? What is going to happen to him? There are hundreds of people in jail in Orissa, in Chhattisgarh, in Bengal who do not have names suffering under the same laws. We really need to do something about them. I am saying this at a time when I don’t want to minimize how reassuring it is that the Supreme Court came out with this order that it did today. Because, had it not done that, all the windows would have been shut. Again, justice for those who can afford it, democracy for those who can afford it but what about everybody else?
Rupashree Nanda: What is the message for the government? Is it listening to the courts, is it listening to the people?
Arundhati Roy: There is something rotten in the institutions of Chhattisgarh. All the institutions there are behind that rot and behind what is now NOT being called Operation Green Hunt, but IS Operation Green hunt. We have a situation where the army is likely to be deployed, we have requests for the AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act]. We know what that has done in other states in India. Really democracy is on a very slippery slope there in Chhattisgarh. Now, some little pin holes of light have come out in this judgment. – but the point is that we are in a situation where we are creating a state where we call ourselves a democracy but increasingly there are laws that are undemocratic. In fact, under the UAPA [Unlawful Activities Prevention Act], the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act – you don’t have to prove anything to put people in jail. Just thinking an anti – government thought is a criminal offense. So look at those laws. It is not that they are being misinterpreted. They are being used precisely for the purpose they were made. So the fact is again and again I am saying we have a majority of our population that does not have access to the institution of justice.
Rupashree Nanda: What does Binayak Sen represent?
Arundhati Roy: Different things to different people. To me he symbolizes somebody who stood up and blew the whistle on the Salwa Judum. And that is why there was this vindictive action against him as a warning. And even though he has been let out on bail, let’s not forget that he has suffered. He’s been in jail. His hospital has been closed down. He cannot work in that area. He has been driven out of the state. So, in many ways, what they wanted, they have achieved already. To others he symbolizes righteousness. It can cut both ways. You can also now use Binayak Sen to say, look, India is a democracy – he was released. You can use him to say – look he is a middle-class person who had a campaign behind him. He was released, but there are many others. So it is different things to different people depending on how you look at it.
Rupashree Nanda: No one talks about Piyush Guha today?
Arundhati Roy: You talk about one person and then you keep everybody else in the dark. It’s like during Thanksgiving the American president pardons one turkey and then they slaughter millions. Behind the place where you choose to shine the light you have so much darkness. Piyush Guha has a name. Kopa Kunjam has a name, but there are hundreds of others who don’t have names, who are in prison. I remember going to Orissa meeting one adivasi woman shaking like a leaf in jail. What are the charges? Sedition. Waging war against the state. Trying to erect a parallel government. So we are living in an era where these people are ferociously attacked. So we have to look at the whole picture not just where people wish us to look because they have shone the light there.