Azadi, by Arundhati Roy, published by Haymarket Books, is a collection of essays and speeches Ms. Roy has written and given recently. How recent? Well, the book includes a speech that was scheduled to be delivered in February 2020 at Cambridge University.
It’s not often we are able to read about history as its taking place, but that’s what Roy has done in Azadi; providing us up to the minute commentary on world events. More specifically she’s writing about the current despicable state of affairs in India and the ongoing establishment of an authoritarian and fascist regime under its current government.
If you think that description is an exaggeration you need to read Azadi. It’s not just the mob violence targeting Muslims – lynching people for eating beef – its legislation taking away citizenship from non-Hindus, removing text books from Universities which contain ideas and thoughts (including historical events) which don’t agree with the current government of Prime Minister Modi’s view of the world, and the destroying of the rural lands where the majority of India’s population strives to eke out a living.
Then there’s Kashmir. The state, nominally within India but whose population is mainly Muslim, has long been a hot spot due to being on the border between India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan have a history of using Kashmir as an excuse for inciting violence against each other.
In August 2019 Modi’s government sent the army into Kashmir and put it under martial law. They completely locked down the state – cutting off all telecommunications to the region so there was no way information about conditions in the province could get in or out save through official channels. No Internet of phone service for anybody.
Kashmir had been given special status as an almost autonomous state within India when the country was formed in 1948 in recognition of the uniqueness of its population and location. Modi’s government has unilaterally cancelled that status and taken over its governance. For Americans this would be the equivalent of a President saying he would be taking over governance of New York or Texas without asking anyone’s permission.
Azadi, the word for freedom in the Urdu language spoken by most Muslims in South East Asia, is a searing indictment of the creeping rise of totalitarian rule in India. It’s also a testament to Roy’s bravery as her work has been singled out by backers of the current government as an example of the type of writing that needs to be removed from text books.
The work collected in Azadi gives the world a clear picture of how an authoritarian government can yoke hatred and fear into a powerful weapon in order to consolidate their power. This isn’t just happening in India either. We see it in Turkey, Russia, Hungary and Poland who have all already employed these tactics successfully in order to justify their leaders in assuming more and more power. In fact, Roy has provided us with a hand book to help people identify the warning signs of the rise of totalitarianism. Warnings we all should carefully heed.
Arundhati Roy’s Azadi is a collection of essays and speeches describing India’s recent descent into totalitarianism that speaks to the heart and the mind. Intelligent and thoughtful and written with empathy, it brings the reality of the situation home in way few other writers can.