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Arundhati Roy’s “AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction”

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“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. This is what Fiction means.” (Oscar Wilde)

It is ironic that we tend to forget while reading a work of fiction, how closely it resembles the realities of our life and surroundings. In essence a piece of fictional creativity carries its reader to a burrowed phase of euphoria where they find peace and tranquility for a short time. But at end, brings them out into a world of certainty and truth.

Arundhati Roy’s latest book named, “AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction,” is a collection of essays that breaks the facade of Indian democracy and mocks the presence of three ideological words, “socialist, secular and integrity” in its constitution. The title Azadi is an Urdu word for Freedom which is a popular slogan of the freedom struggle in Kashmir against the Indian Occupation. Simultaneously, it is reminiscent of Indian independence movement against the British colonial rule. It has just taken seventy three years that Indian minorities find themselves in a situation worse than imperialistic control. Today’s India under Modi faces multiple separatist movements gaining momentum.

Roy juxtaposes Freedom against Fascism to remind the readers that jubilation of an independent status becomes transient like a fictional pleasure when nations select small minds for big positions. She narrates the Indian journey from freedom to fascism, as an episode out of some fictional work where protagonist is losing the final battle not to an outside force but an inside xenophobic scapegoating and racism.

The Hindutva ideology which manifests itself in complete nakedness in BJP’s India pose an existential threat to the freedom of human rights. The emboldened narrative of Hindu nationalism proves that the two nation theory was a right step at the right time. In fact she warns that Azadi hangs in the balance for all us. Therefore it is incumbent on the post pandemic world to acknowledge existence of “a battle of those who know how to think against those who know how to hate.” Thinking has led humanity to liberation and freedom movements whereas hatred brought divide and authoritarian control.

The periodicity of history is based on the repetition and recurrence of social processes. Ibn e Khaldun in his famous book Muqaddimah explains Cyclic Theory on rise and fall of the Sovereign powers. He defines downfall as a usual process that states, dynasties, nations and civilizations experience in the same manner as humans; they are born, grow, die and others take over their place. They face the same results and this process repeats itself again and again.

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He predicts that a sovereign powers last for about 120 years and then collapse. Over time generations change, next generations forget about the previous generations’ motivations and values gradually. They are established by the foundation’s values of the first generation and the second generation follows it because it sees how this sovereign power is created. But the third generation forgets all the values of ancestors and the last generation causes the sovereign power to collapse. There are mainly two factors that contribute in the downfall; one is an attack coming from outside, whereas other is a destruction caused by dynamic and uncivilized power from inside. Khaldun insists that the decline comes with administrative, economic, military and spiritual erosions. When assabiya (social solidarity) gets weaker, leaders need the sword power rather than the power of the pen.

It is widely believed that the Citizenship Amendment Act CAA which was passed through the Indian Parliament on 11 December 2019 proved a concerted effort of BJP government to break even the last thread of social solidarity holding the nation. It created a new shift in the secular narrative of Indian history by using religion overtly as a criterion for citizenship under Indian law. Ever since a climate of distrust and unrest was witnessed especially amongst the Muslim minority of the country. Large scale protests were carried out by the students of Aligarh and Jamia Milia Islamia universities. The police tried to suppress these protests by brutal use of force which led to multiple deaths, vandalising of public and private property.

Humans attempt to find solutions to their perils by reflecting on works of fiction. Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” narrates a generational story of a town named Mocondo, founded on a utopic ideal. The writer uses metaphor of history as a circular phenomenon. The repetition of traits in the consecutive generation of characters reproduces a history of the town as a succession of the same mistakes ad infinitum due to some endogenous hubris in their nature. To a great extent Garcia borrows the idea from Ibn Khaldun’s cyclic theory where hundred years of peace get destroyed from within. India meets a similar repetition of history in less than a century owing to its hardline Hindu nationalist approach.

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This is the reason, the growing chants of Azadi have not stayed exclusive to the valley of Kashmir, they can now be heard in university campuses and the streets of Delhi. The internet shutdown and information siege no more applies to Kashmir only which is the most densely militarised zone in the world. It is now happening in the capital too in order to silence protesting voices and agitations against India’s new Citizenship laws that discriminate against Muslims and other marginalised communities.

Umar Khalid, a former Jawaharlal Nehru University JNU student leader, was arrested on 14 Sep 2020 on the charges of stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Earlier in April, an FIR was registered against him in connection with Delhi riots that broke out in February on arrival of the US President Donald Trump. Communal clashes between the supporters of the CAA and those against the legislation left 53 dead and almost 200 injured. The Police department links his involvement in the conspiracy to incite communal hatred and violence in the capital. Whereas others locate a new Bhagat Singh reincarnated in his lines, “The rulers of India have lost one battle: that is the battle over young minds. They came to bury us; but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Similarly, we hear a former Jammu & Kashmir pro-India Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah telling in a TV interview that besieged Kashmiris would today prefer to be ruled by China rather than New Delhi. He mentioned that Article 370 abrogation by the Indian government have left no doubt in the mind of Kashmiris that new domicile law are intended to create a Hindu majority in the state. He warned that Kashmiris have no trust in the Central government, their dreams are gone and they are slaves who would welcome a new master.

This is exactly what Arundhati Roy’s book foresees in future if Amit Shah and Modi continue to pursue the hateful doctrine of Hindutva.

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Naya Daur