[Reader-list] Ayse Nur Zarakoglu, Arundhati Roy and Free Speech in Turkey and India

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Fri Feb 15 00:18:46 IST 2002

This is a follow up of sorts to Patrice Riemens' earlier posting on Ayse Nur 
Zarakoglu. The harrassement that Zarakoglu faced in her lifetime for speaking 
the truth about power in Turkey, might soon become a commonplace in India.

Turkey and India are parallel lines gradually coming towards intersection in 
the non eucledian geometry of the violations of the right to free speech. I 
am going to refer here to the case of contempt of court that is being brought 
against Arundhati Roy. Reading the circumstances of this case, makes one 
think that what has come to pass in Turkey will soon be everyday reality in 
India. And, that business might carry on as usual.

The Republic of India, like the Turkish Republic has a distinguished record 
in the matter of maintaining effective smokescreens on the systematic 
constraints on what might be considered to be free speech. India, we have 
been told ad nauseam is the world's largest 'Democracy'. 

Turkey is a member of NATO, the military arm of western democracies and 
treats its Kurdish minorities with the same exemplary dignity as the people 
of Kashmir are treated by the civil and military authorities of the Indian 
Republic. Apparently, there is dignity in death, torture, harrassment, 
searches and the absence of effective civic rights. 

And of course, both Turkey and India have been shining exemplars of modern, 
secular state formation. 

The constitution of  the Republic of India is fairly explicit in the matter 
in which it qualifies the right to free speech with reference to any threat 
to public order and national security. Of course, in the discourse of 
citizens of nation states, there is little that remains outside the frame of 
public order and national states. So we have the free speech that can be 
excercised effectively in silence. This befits, I suppose, our contemplative 
heritage. The Delhi Sultanate was once a Turkish Kingdom gone east. Perhaps 
Ankara is a slightly askew Delhi straddling the Bosphorus, caught in a tragic 
quest for the meaning of the the word 'Hurriyet' which means the same thing 
in Turkish and Hindustani - freedom.

The reason I am saying all this is because, in a few weeks time, Arundhati 
Roy, a writer who lives in Delhi, and who has publicly spoken in favour of 
the rights of the to-be-displaced people of the Narmada Valley in central and 
western India, and against the Indian goverenment's programme of nuclear 
miltary capability, faces the likelihood of a prison sentance on the grounds 
of contempt of the Supreme Court. 

In a deposition in response to a flimsy complaint by a group of advocates in 
Delhi, who had petitioned the Supreme Court of India that Arundhati Roy had 
spoken in a manner that insulted the court (and had tried to murder them) Ms. 
Roy had pointed out the disturbing trend of the court accepting what were 
patently flimsy and technically flawed petitions, even as it refused to look 
into fairly serious matters, like bribery in defence deals, or refused to 
entertain charges of contempt against politically influential persons.

This, by implication, constituted a manifest bias in favour of the 
establishment and the powerful.

The court has taken offence to this imputation of motives, which effectively 
states that the court far from being a fountainhead of natural justice is 
riddled by class bias and political interest. All institutions of governance 
seek to derive their naturalness from an illusion of being entities that 
exist in a state of nature, as if they were not shaped by the class interests 
and political agencies of existing social formations. When anyone draws 
connections between juristic utterances and practices in the manner that Roy 
has done, runs the risk of pointing out that institutions of governance like 
the Supreme Court are also organs of class rule.

Hence the necessity to ensure that free speech is not considered a 
justiciable right in the circumstances of what is being called "contempt of 

Those of us who believe in the inalienable primacy of free speech as a norm 
governing human transactions, are called upon to make a choice, we are either 
with the judges and their majesty, or with the writer who calls their bluff.l

In two postings that follow, I will be forwarding two documents that have a 
bearing on this case - a statement by the Advocate Prashant Bhushan on the 
legal significance of Arundhati Roy's possible indictment, and a second 
statement by Anurag Singh, Himanshu Thakkar, Jharana Jhaveri, Prashant 
Bhushan and Sanjay Kak.

Clearly, these are testing times for the freedom of speech.


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