Just been part of a very lively and fascinating discussion on the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say on the effects of Arundhati Roy’s remarks at the weekend that Kashmir was not part of India.
There has been talk of charges of sedition being prefered, but at the moment these seem to be unlikely to emerge. Many voices on the programme seem to be backing her right to speak her mind (however misguided she may or may not prove to be)…
But several things struck me:
One, freedom of speech in a situation where bullets are flying or there is simple no recourse to law and due process, there is no meaningful ‘freedom of speech’. Roy has it, but she doesn’t live in the valley. In Kashmir, I suspect, there is still no real and widespread freedom to speak your individual conscience. That can only come when the threat of death is withdrawn.
Two, in the context of even an emergent peace agreement it is important to create pools of trust where people can say those things their neighbours find outrageous. But in the post conflict era in Northern Ireland there was a strange counter current of pessimism that got stronger even as normal life returned.
As though somehow opinions were more injurious than discriminate or indiscriminate murder.
In Northern Ireland, as people were more open about their real views they had previously withheld for fear of reprisals. As that corporeal dread receded, so publicly professed politics seemed became harder (and the hardline parties began to subsume the votes of the moderates). Even as their actually policies began to moderate.
There was a time when there was a class of historians journalists and writers in Ireland where cast in a veritable cast of untouchables: ie those who dared to question or subvert the national narrative. For them was reserved the term Revisionists.
Yet after almost a generation of thinking the unthinkable, but acting it out, few in the political class north or south now can claim with much conviction that they have profoundly revised their previously deeply held convictions.
Not everything those revisionists once dared to speak has (or even will) come to pass. But once the guns were substantially silenced, Ireland’s political leaders had few other places to go than accept the previously unacceptable twins of institutional power-sharing and British Northern Ireland.
At any rate, India (as should Ireland) should treasure its national dissenters.