Booker prize-winner says claim about territory not being an integral part of India was a call for justice in the disputed region
India’s home ministry is reported to have told police in Delhi that a case of sedition may be registered against Roy and the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani for remarks they made at the weekend.
Under section 124A of the Indian penal code, those convicted of sedition face punishment ranging from a fine to life imprisonment.
Roy, who won the Booker in 1997 for The God of Small Things, is a controversial figure in India for her championing of politically sensitive causes. She has divided opinion by speaking out in support of the Naxalite insurgency and for casting doubt on Pakistan’s involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The 48-year-old author refused to backtrack. In an email interview with the Guardian, she said: “That the government is considering charging me with sedition me has to do with its panic about many voices, even in India, being raised against what is happening in Kashmir.
This is a new development, and one that must be worrisome for the government.”
More than 100 people are estimated to have died in violence in the Kashmir valley since June amid continuing protests against Indian rule in a territory where many of the Muslim majority favour independence or a transfer of control to Pakistan. Hundreds of young protesters have been imprisoned in a string of clashes with security forces.
“Threatening me with legal action is meant to frighten the civil rights groups and young journalists into keeping quiet. But I think it will have the opposite effect. I think the government is mature enough to understand that it’s too late to put the lid on now,” Roy said.
Earlier the author, who is currently in Srinagar, Kashmir, said in a statement: “I said what millions of people here say every day. I said what I, as well as other commentators, have written and said for years. Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice.
“I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.”
After describing her meetings with people caught up in the Kashmir violence, she said: “Some have accused me of giving ’hate speeches’, of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their fingernails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians.
It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one.
“Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor roam free.”
India’s justice minister, Moodbidri Veerappa Moily, described Roy’s remarks as “most unfortunate”. He said: “Yes, there is freedom of speech … it can’t violate the patriotic sentiments of the people.”
Moily sidestepped questions about the sedition charges, saying he had yet to see the file on the matter.
Others were less restrained. One person posted a comment on the Indian Express newspaper website calling for the novelist to be charged with treason and executed.
Roy said she was not aware of the calls for her death, but said the comments were part of a “reasonably healthy debate in the Indian press”.
“The rightwing Hindu stormtroopers are furious and say some pretty extreme things,” she told the Guardian.
Roy made her original remarks on Sunday in a seminar – entitled Whither Kashmir? Freedom or Enslavement, during which she accused India of becoming a colonial power.
Last week police in Indian-administered Kashmir arrested the separatist leader Masrat Alam for allegedly organising anti-India protests. A curfew was also imposed.
• This article was amended on 28 October 2010. The reference to Geelani speaking at the same seminar as Roy is incorrect and has been deleted.
See online: Arundhati Roy faces arrest over Kashmir remark