Booker Prize-winning author and activist Arundhati Roy has expressed concern over what she fears are historical facts being manipulated in India, creating a form of fake news in the country. Speaking on the subject of freedom, the author of ‘The God of Small Things’ also spoke of the influences on her writing and how she viewed writing as a desire to bridge the gap between thought and language.
“What we are living through now, maybe we can call it: history as fake news. There is a sort of Hindu-isation, the corporatisation of education and history,” she said during a lecture titled ‘Utmost Happiness and Utmost Sadness: The Diary of India Nowadays’, a reference to her most recent book ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’, in London on Saturday.
“To me, the most dangerous thing is what young people are being put through before they have even learnt how to think, it is so twisted,” Roy said at the School of Oriental and African Studies’ South Asia Institute event, organised by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust (NIKMT).
Invoking the debates between two of the most prominent leaders of India’s freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar, Roy suggested a possible disclaimer before Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning 1980s film ‘Gandhi’ to highlight it as a “work of fiction” because it failed to capture the complexity of India’s struggle.
She said: “The debate between Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar will tell you the complication of that freedom struggle. For Dr Ambedkar, Hinduism was a form of colonialism in many ways more terrifying than British colonialism.
For Ambedkar, liberation meant trying to draft a Constitution that was far ahead of its time than society itself. He was not willing to just leave it to the people, because he was a man who did not have to go all the way to South Africa to find injustice.”
As part of a post-lecture interaction segment with Shohini Ghosh, a documentary filmmaker and professor of mass communications at Delhi’s Jamia Millia University, Roy delved into her shuttling between fiction and non-fiction writing and the connect between her activism and prose.
“In my DNA, I am a fiction writer. I wonder why people feel there is some bipolarity between fiction and fact. That is not true. Fiction is truth. I would say, particularly in the era of fake news, there is nothing truer than fiction,” said Roy, who won the Booker Prize for ‘The God of Small Things’ in 1997.
As someone who has also authored a series of politically-charged essays such as ‘The Greater Common Good’, she explained that her non-fiction writing was never planned and was more a plea to look at things differently.
She added: “Fiction for me is the construction of the universe, the most beautiful thing that I can possibly imagine doing. Nowadays the world is becoming so harsh and rigid and reactive and twittery.
“Fiction allows you to be naughty, whimsical to give you that bandwidth which is getting lost to us in some ways.”