Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy has compared “India of today” to a plane moving in reverse and claimed that it was “headed for a crash”.
She was speaking on Wednesday at the launch of the book “Why do you fear my way so much?”, a selection of poems and letters by jailed human rights activist GN Saibaba.
Ms Roy said that from spearheading “truly revolutionary movements” in the 1960s for redistribution of wealth and land, the country’s leaders were now seeking votes and winning elections by distributing “5 kg rice and 1 kg salt”.
“Recently, I asked a pilot friend of mine, ‘Can you fly a plane backwards?’ He laughed out loud. I said “this is exactly what is happening here”.
“The leaders of this country are flying the plane in reverse, everything is falling, and we are headed for a crash,” said the author of bestselling novels ‘The God of Small Things’ and ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’.
The 62-year-old writer described India as a land of “sophisticated jurisprudence”, but one where laws are applied differently depending on your “caste, class, gender and ethnicity”.
“What are we doing here today? We are meeting to talk about a professor who is paralysed 90 per cent and has been in jail for seven years. That is what we are doing. That is enough. We do not have to speak anymore. That is enough to tell you what kind of country we are living in. What shame is this,” she said.
GN Saibaba, who has over 90 per cent physical disabilities and uses a wheelchair, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2017 by a sessions court in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district on the charge of having Maoist links and engaging in activities amounting to “waging war against the country”.
The court held GN Saibaba and others guilty under the stringent anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. His services as an assistant professor at Delhi University’s Ram Lal Anand College were terminated from March 31 last year.
Communist Party of India general secretary D Raja, who released the book at Jawahar Bhawan, reiterated his demand for the immediate release of GN Saibaba.
He said the government of the day is highly mistaken if it thinks it can defeat a communist by labelling him as a ‘terrorist’ or putting him behind the bars. “The government of the day thinks by labelling some people as ‘urban Maoists, ‘urban Naxalites, ‘anti-nationals’, ‘terrorists’ or putting them in prison or torturing them in prison, they can succeed. I warn them they can never succeed. A communist can be killed, but a communist can never be defeated, Mr Modi,” Mr Raja added.
The book launch was also attended by GN Saibaba’s wife Vasantha. She recounted how her husband, who was born into poverty in the town of Amalapuram in Andhra Pradesh, overcame his disability to top his university and become a highly regarded professor.
She also talked in detail about GN Saibaba’s alleged inhuman treatment in Nagpur Central Jail’s solitary confinement, his poor health, including a cardiac condition and chronic and severe spinal pain, and multiple parole refusals even for a few days to attend his mother’s funeral.
The book has been published by Speaking Tiger and is available for sale in offline and online stores.