21 October 2008
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. Why is Arundhati Roy angry with the police and upset with the press? That’s the key issue I shall explore today. Arundhati Roy, let’s start with the recent encounter in Jamia Nagar in New Delhi. You’ve called for an independent judicial enquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge. Why do you involve yourself into this work? What’s your locus standi?
Arundhati Roy: Well, I am just one of those thousands of people who are asking some very serious questions of the police. The trouble is that you know, even if you wanted to believe this police version, you don’t know which police version to believe. Does one believe the Bombay police, the UP police, the Gujarat police or the Delhi police? All of them have different versions. There’s a blizzard of masterminds. The Additional Commissioner of Mumbai police, Rakesh Maria recently said that Tauqeer, who is the Delhi police’s mastermind of Indian Mujahideen, is a media creation. The point is who creates the media creations? Is it the media or the police or do they work together?
Karan Thapar: So, you are motivated by these contradictions. Is that the sole reason you need a judicial enquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge?
Arundhati Roy: Again, it is not just me. It was thousands of people who are saying one thing, you know. When the police have killed people, it ceases to be a neutral party. It cannot have an impartial investigation in its own actions. And there are so many serious questions about what happened at Batla House.
Karan Thapar: But before we come to those questions, let me point out what many people will be thinking at this moment. They are going to ask why do you think will an encounter, when a senior police officer like MC Sharma is killed and another injured would be fake. The police would not endanger themselves in a fake and fraudulent incident.
Arundhati Roy: Well, historically the police and security agencies the world over have done things like that. I am not saying it is fake. I am saying lets have an enquiry because this matter of MC Sharma, for instance would be cleared up if they would only produce the post-mortem report. Instead the post-mortem report is leaked in various ways and Mail Today says that he was shot from behind. Praveen Swami (of the daily The Hindu) says he was shot from two sides. The residents say that the police arrived and that there were drills and that they are making holes in the flat now. Why cannot all this be cleared up? If they would just produce the reports, which even the Magistrate asked for, and has put out a warrant for investigating officer and they still haven’t produced it.
Karan Thapar: As you speak, I get the impression that your whole premise is that you don’t trust the police. Millions of Indians do. Is it fitting and fair that you should question their veracity in this way when you know that it would not just demoralise them but it would seriously undermine their struggle to contain terror?
Arundhati Roy: Well. Millions of Indians do not trust the police. Is our choice not to question them because here we are talking about the communal profiling of a hundred and fifty million people, demoralising them, radicalising a whole generation and asking serious questions of a story that is told to us that is full of holes? Especially because such a senior police officer died in the incident, why should we not clear it up for the sake of police itself?
Karan Thapar: Let me for a moment play Devil’s Advocate and point out to you evidence that you are deliberately ignoring. AK-47s were found in Batla House, so were two pistols. Policemen were shot at, policemen were killed. Atif’s name appears in the Ahmedabad, Mumbai and UP police findings. Now, most recently, it transpires that Atif’s degree from Allahabad is a fake. Why aren’t you giving the police, as anyone else will, the benefit of the doubt? The evidence suggests that there is something suspicious, that there is a case. Why do you doubt it?
Arundhati Roy: Let enquiry clear it up. Even in the case of these recoveries, you know, there is a serious procedural lapse. When the police make recoveries at the scene of the crime, they should have independent witnesses corroborating it. They didn’t, like in the case of the Parliament attack.
Karan Thapar: Isn’t it possible that people are scared to come forth?
Arundhati Roy: No, but they have to get the seizure memo signed, right? And even the magistrate is asking for all these documents, for the FIR, the post mortem report, for the case diary not being produced. Now, let me ask some questions about Atif. The reports in the media given out by the police say that they have had him under surveillance since July 17. If so, then how was he allowed to plant these bombs in September? And even when they say that they had him under surveillance, they say that his number was called by a number, which was called by another number. I mean, c’mon, that’s a lead, not proof that someone is a terrorist.
Karan Thapar: Maybe the surveillance wasn’t effective. Maybe the police are exaggerating that they had him under surveillance. What about the other evidence that the police have brought into the public domain? It transpires that clips of the car that was used in the Ahmedabad bombings were found inside Atif’s mobile, it transpires that literature of al-Qaeda was found at Batla House. It seems that even Saif has been using an assumed name. He has been travelling under a false identity calling himself Rohan Sharma. He even had that gentleman’s voter identity card with him. None of these is suggestive or corroborated but you are dismissing it as otherwise.
Arundhati Roy: I am not dismissing it. If there is an enquiry, all this will also be a part of it. I am not dismissing they may be real terrorists. There are real terrorists, who are they? Are these boys the real ones? While the police are giving us evidence, there are also strange stories floating around. The police have been using the media to put out stories. All this is very disturbing and all this could be cleared out.
Karan Thapar: See, if I understand you correctly, there are two things you want clarified. One is that you want the questions and the inconsistencies in the police stories clarified because they suggest that the police hadn’t got a clear cut case. And the second thing is that you want to try and get at the proof that establishes that the police had good reason to suspicious of the people.
Arundhati Roy: Exactly! Even their own versions are contradicting each other. On the one hand they say that you know, we did not know that they were terrorists and that is why we went in, in this casual manner. But the minute something came up they come out and say that these were the masterminds. There are so many things, you know. They say that people were killed in the crossfire but the proof is that these two men were killed while they were kneeling with shots in their head.
Karan Thapar: That’s an assumption, I must point out!
Arundhati Roy: No, there are pictures.
Karan Thapar: Suggested. But we do not have the corroboration from the police.
Arundhati Roy: The police should show the post mortem report but we see it from the photographs.
Karan Thapar: You know what? Listening to you, people will say, and I am repeating what I have said to you earlier! They will say that her problem arises from the fact that she does not trust the police. Is it right that you should have such serious doubts about them?
Arundhati Roy: Not just rights, I think its our duty to have serious doubts and especially today, when we are sliding quickly into fascism and terrorism. It’s our business as members of civil society to ask hard questions.
Karan Thapar: In which case, what are you suspecting the police…or let me put me more strongly and bluntly. What are you accusing the police of, on this issue?
Arundhati Roy: Well, primarily of giving us a story that doesn’t hold together and insults our intelligence.
Karan Thapar: Why would they do this?
Arundhati Roy: I don’t know. That’s what we would like to know.
Karan Thapar: Is it not possible that they have got it right and you have doubts about them?
Arundhati Roy: Maybe! But an enquiry would show that, wouldn’t it? The more they block it, refuse to produce the post mortem. The more they subterfuge and obfuscate their way through this, the more people will get suspicious of them.
Karan Thapar: An enquiry at the end of the day, would be in their benefit as well! Is that what you are arguing?
Arundhati Roy: Absolutely!
Karan Thapar: What then do you say of people who argue that this is typical Arundhati Roy. She’s been against dams and developments; she’s in favour of secession of Kashmir. She’s attacked nuclear weapons and is now she is defending terrorists?
Arundhati Roy: Well, to being accused of being typically oneself is not an accusation. But if you are accusing me of having a world view that I do not believe in…I mean I do not believe in neo colonial military occupation, I don’t believe in nuclear weapons and I don’t believe in ecological destruction; then I am guilty as accused. Raising questions does not amount to supporting terrorism. I raised questions on the Parliament attack along with the people; we want to know who the terrorists are. We don’t know. Now, of the people we defended, two of the four ‘masterminds’ of the case were released. Afzal has been convicted by the Supreme Court which says that says that we have no evidence to prove that he is attached to any terrorist groups but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, he is being sentenced to death. Excuse me Karan, its my case that the collective conscience of society is also a part of media construct and a part of the judicial imagination constructed by these stories that being put out.
Karan Thapar: So, you are saying to me that as a citizen, as a conscientious democrat, it is your duty to question. And if the questions are awkward and unsettling, so be it and that they must be answered, none the less?
Arundhati Roy: Yes, absolutely!
Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, lets come to the wider issue about how the police treats the people it has arrested and it is holding in detention. You are extremely upset by the fact that India Today journalists were given an access to the young men arrested at Batla House so that interviews could be done. Why do you call this a terrible thing?
Arundhati Roy: Well, look this phenomenon of media confessions is becoming a standard operating procedure with the Special cell and the Delhi police. The point is that neither the courts nor any kind of international law allows you to say that people who are being held in police custody under torture.
Karan Thapar: How do you know that they are being held under torture?
Arundhati Roy: Well, the possibility of torture…maybe that day, they were not tortured. It was the first day.
Karan Thapar: You are saying that Human Rights laws and values do not permit people under detention to be interviewed when they are not willing to be interviewed?
Arundhati Roy: Yes! And even the courts do not accept these as confessions or evidence. But the reason these are done is because they have a propaganda value.
Karan Thapar: The assumption when you say that such incidences have propaganda value is that these are forced confessions…that the young men interviewed did not give the answers they did, willingly and voluntarily. How can you conclude that that’s the case?
Arundhati Roy: In this case it is very easy to be sure. Those young men, before they were caught, Zeeshan went to Headlines Today, Saquib went to Mail Today…both these (media units) are owned by the India Today, as you know. They were all people who came out in support of Atif and Saquib and said, look we know this guy. We know who he is.
Karan Thapar: Then how come you are calling those so called confessions when they are incriminating themselves and that when they went willingly toMail Today or India Today, there are inconsistencies.
Arundhati Roy: Yes, so which version are we supposed to believe? The custodial one or the non-custodial one?
Karan Thapar: All the three men named by India Today and I will name them, Zia-ur-rehman, Saquib Insaar and Shakil admitted to planting bombs. You are denying or doubting the veracity of the so called confessions.
Arundhati Roy: Obviously! Its absurd not to, because they are in police custody. The same guys, Saquib went to Mail Today saying that I have known Atif for years. I got him this house. I mean it’s hardly the behaviour of terrorists.
Karan Thapar: I assume that the point you are making is that any interview that is granted in police custody is not a willing and voluntary one and therefore any confession made in that interview is a forced confession and not acceptable?
Arundhati Roy: Well, it is not admitted. Even in the Parliament case, the courts admonished the police for parading these people before the media and giving these media confessions. They didn’t do anything to the police which is why the same police; in fact Mohan Chand Sharma was a part of that cell, that same cell did it to theses people and it served the purpose. The propaganda value has been achieved.
Karan Thapar: You are saying that the Courts had admonished the police at the time the Parliament attack had happened for arranging such alleged false confessions and the police disregarded that admonishing and did the same thing again.
Arundhati Roy: That’s right.
Karan Thapar: In your eyes, is the police guilty of violating fundamental human rights by arranging what you call false confessions to be made in forced interviews? Is this a violation of basic human rights?
Arundhati Roy: It is a violation of all kinds of rights. I say it again, that in this atmosphere of communal profiling, this kind of propaganda is essential for them. It is the keystone to this whole enterprise. They have achieved what they set out to, regardless of what the court says.
Karan Thapar: The police have made a habit of this. It happened under circumstances, in the Arushi murder case, practically everyday. They hold press briefings, where half baked theories or at least unconfirmed details they are repeated and revealed to the press. The press then prints them as facts. The readers and the viewers of television then accept it as the truth. Are you disconcerted by this?
Arundhati Roy: I am utterly disconcerted by this because now it is the combination of the media and the police…you do not know which ends where and which begins where. In a situation where these encounter specialists are going out and summarily executing thirty people, calling them terrorists…No one asks questions once they are dead. We just accept it.
Karan Thapar: Just a moment ago, you spoke about the collusion between the media and the police. Are you saying that the press is itself in error when it accepts what is given by the police and publishes it without verifying or double checking it?
Arundhati Roy: It is not just an error. It is outrageous to do something like this.
Karan Thapar: So the press’ behaviour is outrageous?
Arundhati Roy: It is outrageous. There are statements like…and this man looked at me and he looked like a human bomb…I mean what kind of journalism is that?
Karan Thapar: So when as a result, like many people have said, this collusion between the police and the press leads to Jamia Nagar or to Azamgarh being thought as terrorist hubs or breeding grounds for terrorism, how unfortunate is that?
Arundhati Roy: It is not just unfortunate, its very dangerous. We now have a situation where a hundred and fifty Muslims and an equal number of Dalits and Adivasis in a different set of circumstances are being targeted in this way. Even if half a per cent of them decide to stop putting their heads down and decide to hit back, life as we knew it is over. A whole generation is radicalised and India becomes a threat to not just itself, but to the whole world.
Karan Thapar: This is something very important that you are saying. You mean that this behaviour of the police and the uncritical reporting by the press is going to end up in alienation and breeding the terrorism that we think we are controlling.
Arundhati Roy: Yes, that and also that this is a recipe for sliding into fascism. And we are bang in the middle of it now and this is how it works.
Karan Thapar: Why does the Indian middle class society that is so proud of calling itself a liberal democracy, accept this?
Arundhati Roy: Well, I don’t think we are anymore proud of this. We have increasingly accepted that we are a police state and there is a sort of sliding of the democracy into majority into fascism that is a real danger now.
Karan Thapar: So you are saying that the middle class no more stands up for the liberal values it believes in. It is actually in a sense accepting the horrible shortcuts and therefore colluding. It’s a very strong criticism, do you really mean it?
Arundhati Roy: I do. In fact, I feel that some day like the Nazis in Germany, we will be called upon to answer for what we have done and why we kept quiet while this was happening.
Karan Thapar: I get the feel that you are deeply disillusioned with the Indian middle classes.
Arundhati Roy: It is not just the middle classes, you know. It is the framework that we are putting into action these days. I have spent ten years writing about it. We are in a very serious situation. If we are to right it, all of us should ask ourselves very serious questions about when we chose to speak up and when we chose to stay quiet.
Karan Thapar: But in keeping quiet, as you say suggesting, Indians today are prepared to do, they are not just betraying essential values that they claim they believe in, they are actually betraying themselves and letting down their country. That’s the case you are making.
Arundhati Roy: I am making that case and I am saying that with these policies that we are persuing, today every ordinary Indian’s life is going to be at risk and we will pay very heavily for the consequences of what is going on now.
Karan Thapar: So it is virtually the last moment to stand up and be identified with the values that we claim to believe in otherwise those values are gone and with that our lives are gone.
Arundhati Roy: Absolutely!
Karan Thapar: And that’s not an exaggeration?
Arundhati Roy: Nope! Absolutely not!
Karan Thapar: Arundhati Roy, a pleasure talking to you on Devil’s Advocate