Author Arundhati Roy faces prosecution in India over 2010 speech

Prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy sits in a gathering of people with a sign round her neck bearing the words "Free the press"
Although the Roy case was registered before Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in 2014, the sanction has once again stoked concerns about freedom of speech in India (image: NurPhoto/picture-alliance)

Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy faces prosecution in India for a speech about Kashmir she gave 13 years ago after a top official approved the move, local media reported on Wednesday.

A social activist from Kashmir filed a police complaint in 2010 following speeches by Roy and three others at a conference organised by a rights group, the reports said.

Roy, a fierce critic of India's policy in Kashmir, is accused of saying at the conference that the disputed Himalayan territory was not an integral part of India.

Under Indian laws, the state government's permission is needed for prosecution of certain crimes, including hate speech, sedition, and promoting enmity.

Vinai Kumar Saxena, the federally-appointed lieutenant-governor (LG), has allowed Delhi police to prosecute Roy and Central University of Kashmir professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain under laws relating to promoting enmity, making assertions prejudicial to national integration and causing public mischief, the reports said.

Another professor and a hardline Kashmiri separatist leader named in the complaint have since died.

The reports did not say why Saxena approved the prosecution after 13 years. His office did not respond to calls and emails from Reuters requesting comment.

Roy, 61, won the Booker Prize for fiction in 1997. She is also an outspoken political and rights activist and regularly writes in Indian and foreign publications. There was no reaction from her to the developments and she could not be reached for comment.

Although the case was registered before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power in 2014, the sanction has once again stoked concerns about freedom of speech under Modi's government.

Opposition leaders and writers came out in support of Roy.

"It is obvious that the LG (and his masters) have no place in their regime for tolerance or forbearance; or for that matter the essentials of democracy," P. Chidambaram, a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party who was India's home (interior) minister in 2010, posted on X.    (Reuters)