Seven months ago, activist-author Arundhati Roy wrote a cover story in Outlook on suspended Delhi University professor G N Saibaba, who has been arrested for alleged Maoist links. The title "India's most dangerous man?" was ironical as Saibaba is severely disabled. He is in a wheelchair and paralyzed from waist downwards.
Describing the professor's deteriorating health conditions in a Nagpur prison, Roy wrote in that article…
"In the year he's been in prison, his physical condition has deteriorated alarmingly. He is in constant, excruciating pain. (The jail authorities have helpfully described this as "quite normal" for polio victims.) His spinal cord has degenerated. It has buckled and is pushing up against his lungs. His left arm has stopped functioning."
For writing that article, Roy now faces criminal trial for contempt of court for making "scandalous and scurrilous allegations" against the Indian judiciary. The case — which has been filed in the Nagpur High Court — has been making global headlines.
In an article in The Telegraph, London, titled "Arundhati Roy caught in the crossfire of Indian judicial power struggle", Andrew Marszal writes…
"Ms Roy's lawyers will not only raise the alleged impropriety of Justice Chaudhuri's judgement, but also seek to convince justices that the bar for what should constitute contempt in India — a country with no trial by jury — ought to be higher than a magazine article pleading for a disabled professor's freedom."
In an earlier piece by Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian argues that Roy is being targeted by Hindus nationalists, adding that "of course, the Narendra Modi regime has left no clear fingerprints on the scene of a crime against art and thought". He adds that the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming "much cannier forms in India".
You would have no trouble believing this if you recently watched a short film about Roy on one of India's most popular channels owned by Zee Entertainment Enterprises, one of India's largest media companies and Modi's most fervent cheerleader. The film, broadcast in November, purports to show the "true" and wholly malign face of an anti-national…
On the day Roy faced criminal charges in Nagpur, the Jaipur literary festival, unironically sponsored by Zee, hosted a debate on freedom of speech. The rowdiest arguments against the motion "Should Freedom of Speech be Absolute?" were presented by Anupam Kher, a Bollywood actor popular for his buffoonish turns….The presence of Kher, a disturbing case of a jester on screen mutating into a dangerous clown in politics, at a literary festival would have been egregious even if he hadn't pumped his fists and joined members of the audience chanting "Modi, Modi", or if he and his fellow debaters had mentioned the silencing of Roy."
The Supreme Court will hear the case on Friday.