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Suzanna Arundhati Roy (born 24 November 1959) is an Indian author who is best known for her novel The God of Small Things (1997), which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1997. This novel became the biggest-selling book by a nonexpatriate Indian author. She is also a political activist involved in human rights and environmental causes.
Since publishing The God of Small Things in 1997, Roy has spent most of her time on political activism and nonfiction (like collections of essays about social causes). She is a spokesperson of the anti-globalization/alter-globalization movement and a vehement critic of neo-imperialism and U.S. foreign policy. She opposes India’s policies towards nuclear weapons as well as industrialization and economic growth (which she describes as “encrypted with genocidal potential” in Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy).
Support for Kashmiri separatism
In an August 2008 interview with the Times of India, Arundhati Roy expressed her support for the independence of Kashmir from India after the massive demonstrations in 2008 in favour of independence took place—some 500,000 separatists rallied in Srinagar in the Kashmir part of Jammu and Kashmir state of India for independence on 18 August 2008, following the Amarnath land transfer controversy. According to her, the rallies were a sign that Kashmiris desire secession from India, and not union with India. She was criticised by the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for her remarks.
AICC member and senior Congress party leader Satya Prakash Malaviya asked Roy to withdraw her “irresponsible” statement saying it was “contrary to historical facts”.
“It would do better to brush up her knowledge of history and know that the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir had acceded to the Union of India after its erstwhile ruler Maharaja Hari Singh duly signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947. And the state, consequently has become as much an integral part of India as all the other erstwhile princely states have.”
United States foreign policy, the War in Afghanistan
Arundhati Roy delivering a talk “Can We Leave the Bauxite in the Mountain? Field Notes on Democracy” at the Harvard Kennedy School on April 1, 2010.
In a 2001 opinion piece in the British newspaper The Guardian, Arundhati Roy responded to the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan, finding fault with the argument that this war would be a retaliation for the September 11 attacks: “The bombing of Afghanistan is not revenge for New York and Washington. It is yet another act of terror against the people of the world.” According to her, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were guilty of a Big Brother kind of doublethink: “When he announced the air strikes, President George Bush said: ‘We’re a peaceful nation.’ America’s favourite ambassador, Tony Blair, (who also holds the portfolio of prime minister of the UK), echoed him: ‘We’re a peaceful people.’ So now we know. Pigs are horses. Girls are boys. War is peace.”
She disputes U.S. claims of being a peaceful and freedom-loving nation, listing China and nineteen 3rd World “countries that America has been at war with—and bombed—since the second world war”, as well as previous U.S. support for the Taliban movement and support for the Northern Alliance (whose “track record is not very different from the Taliban’s”). She does not spare the Taliban: “Now, as adults and rulers, the Taliban beat, stone, rape and brutalise women, they don’t seem to know what else to do with them.”
In the final analysis, Roy sees American-style capitalism as the culprit: “In America, the arms industry, the oil industry, the major media networks, and, indeed, U.S. foreign policy, are all controlled by the same business combines”. She puts the attacks on the World Trade Center and on Afghanistan on the same moral level, that of terrorism, and mourns the impossibility of imagining beauty after 2001: “Will it be possible ever again to watch the slow, amazed blink of a newborn gecko in the sun, or whisper back to the marmot who has just whispered in your ear—without thinking of the World Trade Centre and Afghanistan?”
In May 2003 she delivered a speech entitled “Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free)” at the Riverside Church in New York City, in which she described the United States as a global empire that reserves the right to bomb any of its subjects at any time, deriving its legitimacy directly from God. The speech was an indictment of the U.S. actions relating to the Iraq War. In June 2005 she took part in the World Tribunal on Iraq, and in March 2006, Roy criticised U.S. President George W. Bush’s visit to India, calling him a “war criminal”.
Arundhati Roy was awarded the 1997 Booker Prize for her novel The God of Small Things. The award carried a prize of about US$30,000 and a citation that noted, “The book keeps all the promises that it makes”. Prior to this, she won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay in 1989, for the screenplay of In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones, in which she captured the anguish among the students prevailing in professional institutions. In 2015, she returned the national award in protest against religious intolerance and the growing violence by Hindu rightwing groups in India.
In 2002, she won the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award for her work “about civil societies that are adversely affected by the world’s most powerful governments and corporations”, in order “to celebrate her life and her ongoing work in the struggle for freedom, justice and cultural diversity”.
In 2003, she was awarded “special recognition” as a Woman of Peace at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco with Bianca Jagger, Barbara Lee, and Kathy Kelly.
Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in May 2004 for her work in social campaigns and her advocacy of non-violence.
In January 2006, she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award, a national award from India’s Academy of Letters, for her collection of essays on contemporary issues, The Algebra of Infinite Justice, but she declined to accept it “in protest against the Indian Government toeing the US line by ‘violently and ruthlessly pursuing policies of brutalisation of industrial workers, increasing militarisation and economic neo-liberalisation'”.
In November 2011, she was awarded the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing.
Roy was featured in the 2014 list of Time 100, the 100 most influential people in the world.