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[Book Review] AZADI (Freedom | Fiction | Fascism)


 In the India of today, to belong to a minority is a crime. To be murdered is a crime. To be lynched is a crime. To be poor is a crime. To defend the poor is to plot to overthrow the government – Arundhati Roy

“Azadi” is just a collection of speeches and articles of Arundhati Roy on current socio-political situation of India for the people who are connected to society, but it will be a bitter truth of history for future generations.

Ms. Roy did the work of opposition single handedly with courage and bravery, by raising the issues of common citizens in general and marginalized communities in particular.  The book consists of 9 chapters. This detailed article is not just a book review, it is gist for the readers who can’t spent much time to complete the book in this busy world.

To understand how the present regime is trying to manipulate the things in different domains and its truth can be understood from this book. Let’s have a short review on important issues Ms. Roy raised in Azadi.

Language(s): Ms. Roy tried to explain the importance of different languages, its unique beauty in diversified culture of India and its consequences if one language is given preference over others. She writes, “It is onto this mind-bending mosaic that the current Hindu nationalist ruling dispensation is trying to graft its ‘One nation, one religion, one language’ vision, Since its inception in the 1920s, the rallying cry of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) – Hindu nationalism’s holding company and the most powerful organization in India today – has been ‘Hindi-Hindu- Hindustan’. Ironically, all three are words derived from the Persian-Arabic al-Hind, and Hindustan – its suffix -stan (place), not to be confused with sthan, which also means ‘place’ in Sanskrit – was the region that lay east of the river Indus. ‘Hindus’ were the peoples (not the religion) that lived there. It would be too much to expect the RSS to learn from other countries experiences, but when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan tried to impose Urdu on its Bengali-speaking citizens in East Pakistan, it ended up losing half of itself. Sri Lanka tried to impose Sinhala on its Tamil citizens and paid with decades of bloody civil war. All this is to say that we in India live and work (and write) in a complicated land, in which nothing is or ever will be settled. Especially not the question of language. Languages.” (Page 12,13)

Kashmir: The fact of Kashmir it is a heaven of the world, with natural beauty, kindness of people who lived there, valley full of natural resources is one side of the coin and another side is what biased media shows about it. In most of the chapters, Ms. Roy has collected the atrocities on people of Kashmir with the help of international media coverage and her experiences also. She expresses her grief and raised the question on people in power as, “the Kashmir is the most densely militarized zone in the world, with an estimated half a million Indian soldiers posted there. In addition to the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing, and the National Intelligence Agency, the uniformed forces – the Army, the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, and, of course, the Jammu and Kashmir Police- each does its own intelligence gathering. People live in terror of informers, double agents, and triple agents who could be anybody from old classmates to family members. Under these circumstances, an attack on the scale of what happened in Pulwama is more than just shocking. As one pithy Twitter commentator put it (she was referring to the increasingly popular Hindu vigilante  practice in North India of tracking down and lynching Muslims accused of killing cows), how is it that the BJP ‘can trace 3 kg of beef but cannot trace 350 kg of RDX? Who knows? (Page 66,67)

If Kashmir is occupied by security forces, India is occupied by the mob.

He said he had been thinking about that, too, because he often drove on the highways out of Delhi to visit his family who live some hours away.

‘I could easily be stopped,’ he said. “You must say it then, I said. “You must survive ‘I won’t,’ he said, ‘because they’ll kill me either way.

That’s what they did to Tabrez Ansari.”

These are the conversations we are having in India while we wait for Kashmir to speak. And speak it surely will. (Page 105, 106)

Attacking Muslims: Recalling Gujarat Riot of 2002, then Mr. Narendra Modi was the CM of the state, Ms Arundhati narrates the story of family in novelist way and presented their fear, but the mantra which central character read has a beautiful meaning, which is a food for thought to the people in power. She narrates, “Two months after Anjum and Zakir Mian go missing and the murdering in Gujarat has begun to tail off, Zakir Mian’s son, Mansoor, goes to Ahmedabad to look for his father. As a precaution, he shaves off his beard, hoping to pass as Hindu. He does not find his father, but finds a terrified Anjum, who has been enrolled in the men’s section of a refugee camp, dressed in men’s clothes, her hair cut short, and brings her back to the Khwabgah. She refuses to tell anybody what happened to her, but- haunted by memories of ‘how the men were folded and the women unfolded’ – she takes a wailing young Zainab, her adopted daughter, to a barber, has her hair cut off, and dresses her in boy’s clothes, In case Gujarat comes to Delhi.’ The other precaution she takes is to teach Zainab to chant the Sanskrit Gayatri Mantra that she says she learned while she was in the camp in Gujarat. She says of the other refugees had learned it because they believed that, in mob situations, they could recite it that many try to pass as Hindu. Neither Anjum nor Zainab has any idea what it means, but Zainab takes to it happily, chanting as she dresses for school and feeds her pet goat.

Om bhur bhuvah svaha

Tat savitur varenyam

Bhargo devasya dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah pracodayat

O God, thou art the giver of life, remover of pain and sorrow,

Bestower of happiness, O creator of the universe,

My we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,

May thou guide our intellect in the right direction. (Page 50,51)

Dividing Dalits: Ms. Roy explains division within the division of communities, “With the influence that immense wealth generates, the BJP has managed to co-opt, buy out, or simply crust its political rivals. The hardest blow has fallen on the parties with beses among the Dalit and other disadvantaged castes in the northern states of their traditional voters has deserted these parties the Bahujan Samaj party, Rastriya Janta Dal, and Samajwadi party and migrated to the BJP. To achieve this feat and it is nothing short of feat the BJP worked hard to exploit and expose the caste hierarchies within the Dalit and disadvantages castes, which have their own internal universe of hegemony and marginalization. The BJP’s overflowing wing coffers and it’s deep, cunning understanding of caste have completely altered the conventional electoral mathematics of caste politics. (Page 118, 119)

CAA/NRC: How do you translate this in modern terms if not as the National Register of Citizens coupled with the Citizenship Amendment Bill?  This is the RSS’s version of Germany’s 1935 Nuremberg Laws, by which German citizens were only those who had been granted citizen ship papers – legacy papers – by the government of the Third Reich.  The amendment against Muslims is the first such amendment.  Others will no doubt follow, against Christians, Dalits, communists – all enemies of the RSS The Foreigners Tribunals and detention centers that have already started springing up across India may not, at the moment, be intended to accommodate hundreds of millions of Muslims.  But they are meant to remind us that India’s Muslims truly deserve such treatment if they cannot produce legacy papers.  Because only Hindus are considered India’s real aboriginals, who don’t need those papers.  Even the four – century – old What Babri Masjid didn’t have the right legacy papers.  What chance would a poor farmer or a street vendor have? (Page 148)

How CAA 2019 will affect the minority Muslims and majority community indirectly are some concerns and questions raised by author in ‘Intimations of an Ending’. Ms. Roy calculated the future impact of CAA in neighbouring countries express her grief for the innocent hindu brothers and sisters in ‘There is fire in the Duct, the System is Failing’ chapter as, “The sole purpose of the NPR/NRC/CAA is to destabilize and divide people not just in India but across the whole subcontinent. If they do indeed exist, these phantom millions of human beings whom India’s current home minister calls Bangladeshi ‘termites’ cannot be kept in detention centers and cannot be deported. By using such terminology and by thinking up such a ridiculous, diabolic scheme, this government is actually endangering the tens of millions of Hindus who live in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, whom they  pretend to be concerned about, but who could suffer the backlash of this bigotry emanating from New Delhi.” (Page 200)

Fake News: Emerging alternative political space being created in India, to protect the dignity of marginalised and minority communities, on which Ms. Arundhati has hope which can counter the fascist agenda, she writes, “A precarious solidarity is evolving between Muslims and Ambedkarites and followers of other anti-caste leaders like Jotiba and Savitribai Phule, Sant Ravidas and Birsa Munda, as well as a new generation of young leftists who, unlike the older generation, place caste alongside class at the center of their worldview.  It’s still brittle, still full of material and ideological contradictions, still full of suspicion and resentment, but it’s the only hope we have. The trouble is that this fragile coalition is being slaughtered even as it is being born.  The fake – news project – its history department as well as its current affairs desk has been corporatized, Bollywoodized, televised, Twitterized, atomized, weaponized, WhatsAppized, and is disseminating its product at the speed of light.” (Page 174)

 Islamophobia: After reading the last chapter ‘the pandemic is a portal’ of the book I felt, indirectly author argued the rise of Islamophobia in India. Ms. Roy concludes the book with following lines, “What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe its God’s way of bringing us to our senses. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.

Whatever it is, Covid – 19 has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to ‘normality’, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” (this is last but one para of the book, Page 214)

Targeting Activists: Whatever the case that was being built against me s it didn’t- or at least hasn’t yet – come to fruition. I’m still here, standing on my two writing legs, speaking to you. But my lecturer friend is in jail, charged with participating in anti-national activity. India’s prisons are packed tight with political prisoners – most of them accused of being either Maoist or Islamist terrorists. These terms have been defined so broadly that they have come to include almost anyone who disagrees with government policy. In the latest batch of pre-election arrests, teachers, lawyers, activists, and writers have been jailed, charged with plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Modi. The plot is so ludicrous that a six-year- old could have improved on it. The fascists need to take some good fiction-writing courses. (Page 78, 80)

The above paragraph is from the chapter, the language of literature where author express her grief in a lecture and explains how activists, lawyers, teachers and writers are being targeted who are against the ill policies of government in the name of anti-national or urban Naxals or jihadi etc…

Rising Fascism: Humans who have heart, will acknowledge and may accept the reality which the author presented how and why fascism rises and what happens at the back of the stage can be seen here. “After twenty years of writing fiction and non – fiction that tracks the rise of Hindu nationalism , after years of reading about the rise and fall of European fascism , I have begun to wonder why fascism – although it is by no means the same everywhere is so recognizable across histories and cultures. It’s not just the fascists that are recognizable – the strong man, the ideological army, the squalid dreams of Aryan superiority, the dehumanization and ghettoization of the ‘internal enemy’, the massive and utterly ruthless propaganda machine, the false – flag attacks and assassinations, the fawning businessmen and film stars, the attacks on universities, the fear of intellectuals, the spectre of detention camps, and the hate – fuelled zombie population that chants the East ern equivalent of ‘Heil! Heil! Heil!’ It’s also the rest of us – the exhausted, quarrelling opposition, the vain, nit picking left, the equivocating liberals who spent years building the road that has led to the situation we find ourselves in, and are now behaving like shocked, righteous rabbits who never imagined that rabbits were an important ingredient of the rabbit stew that was always on the menu. And, of course, the wolves who ignored the decent folks’ counsel of moderation and sloped off into the wilderness to howl unceasingly, futilely and, if they were female, then ‘shrilly’ and ‘hysterically’ at the terrifying, misshapen moon. All of us are recognizable”. (Page 177, 178)

If I ask Arundhati Roy, why you continue writing even after false cases and threats?

I think she would answer in the same way as she expressed her responsibility in book Azadi (Freedom Fascism Fiction), “Almost every essay got me into enough trouble to make me promise myself that I wouldn’t write another. But inevitably, situations arose in which the effort of keeping quiet set up such a noise in my head, such an ache in my blood, that I succumbed, and wrote. Last year when my publishers suggested they be collected into a single volume, I was shocked to see that the collection, My Seditious Heart, is over 1,000 pages long. (Page 87)

I conclude with an expectation that, India needs many such bold and courageous writers, who pick up the pen to “establish justice”.

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Syed Azharuddin is native of Warangal, Telangana State, completed KG to PG from his hometown Warangal. After completing master’s in technology from JNTU Hyderabad worked as Assistant Professor in department of Electronic and Communication. Later he did masters in English & Literature from MANUU, Hyderabad and Psychology from Kakatiya University, Warangal. Apart from various contributions in the field of engineering, he has done research work on "Education in Telangana '' issues of education in newly formed states and "Legal Awareness" a handbook on legal studies. He is a well known leader of Students Islamic Organisation of India and served SIO in various capacities and travelled across the nation. He is presently, Secretary General of SIO, CEO of Inqhab (a pan India incubation centre) and executive member of All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat. Azharuddin has experience of writing articles on burning issues, he contributed a series of articles on India and Dalits, Young Entrepreneurs, Crisis Management: Post Pandemic, Assam NRC and issues related to Education & Educational Institutions.