Booker Prize–winning author Arundhati Roy's latest book of collected essays and speeches may help change the global perception of the world’s so-called largest democracy.
My Seditious Heart is a compilation of her published work of 20 years that delves deeply into an alternative history of India and the complexity of problems faced by oppressed and marginalized segments of the population.
The title of the book has been taken from her final essay, which criticizes a growing crackdown on religious minorities and political dissent under the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ever since Modi became prime minister in 2014, attacks on minorities have increased. Those who raise questions about this are frequently labelled as anti-national.
So much so, Hindu vigilante groups are forcing people to chant nationalist slogans and prove their love for the country. Roy is among those who have been repeatedly branded as “unpatriotic” by such elements.
My Seditious Heart is therefore not just a title, but a strong political statement from Roy in the face of Modi government.
Other essays by Roy, who has always stood for the rights of the ordinary people, are also helpful in understanding the current situation in India, where the state of Kashmir has been turned into an open-air jail.
Thousands of troops have been deployed in the region and political leaders have been detained in the name of national security. Kashmir has been witnessing an armed insurgency for years by those fighting for the right to self-determination.
On August 5, the BJP government abrogated the special status given to the state without any consultation with the local leadership. This has kept the only Muslim-majority state under the boot of the national government and polarized the Hindu majority to sustain the BJP in power.
Some of Roy's essays are focused on Kashmir and how the rights of its people have been trampled over the years.
Roy, also the author of The God of Small Things, is equally critical of other mainstream parties of India. Among them are the Congress, which claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP, and the Communist parties.
Through her writings and field work, she has proven how the Congress is also a culprit for peddling nationalism and patronizing state violence, while the Communists have become puppets of the Indian establishment and are disconnected from the most vulnerable segments of the society.
She constantly reminds readers that the Congress was responsible for the hanging of a Kashmiri activist in spite of weak evidence against him in connection with a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001.
The Congress also engineered a massacre of Sikhs in 1984 following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The Congress did that to pander to the Hindu majority.
As a result, Roy doesn’t see much difference between the two BJP and Congress, one being outright sectarian and the other being secular nationalist when it comes to defending the interest of the ruling elite.
Their treatment of Adivasis (Indigenous peoples of India) is strikingly similar.
Both parties are hand-in-glove with mining companies that want to evict Adivasis from their traditional lands to extract natural resources. They both have sided with the police and paramilitary forces that continue to harass Adivasis who resist the growing influence of the extraction industry in their tribal communities without informed consent.
Roy holds both parties to account for such barbarity. The only difference, though, is that the BJP that wants to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. It's been trying to Hinduize Adivasis through its paratroopers in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Notably, the RSS is a Hindu supremacist organization of which the BJP is a part, and RSS seminaries exist across India.
Roy’s analysis is important to comprehend the emergence of Modi in an otherwise diverse and pluralist society.
Mistakes by the Congress and others enabled Modi to take advantage of the political vacuum in India and use religious nationalism as a tool to grab power in this majoritarian democracy.
Back in 2002, Modi was reportedly involved in a pogrom directed against Muslims. The violence followed the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident, which was blamed on Muslims by Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat.
That the Indian electorate elected him as prime minister in 2014 and gave him another majority in 2019 despite that baggage says a lot about the collective and popular conscience of that country.
Credit goes to Hamish Hamilton for publishing all of these essays in one book for the convenience of any reader who has missed Roy’s nonfiction. These include her account of travelling deep into the forests where Maoist insurgents are fighting a class struggle and a critique of Mahatma Gandhi, who believed in the caste system. In My Seditious Heart, she also offers her take on world politics.