Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. is a book based on a collection of essays and speeches by Arundhati Roy, a prominent Indian writer, political activist and social commentator. Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her very first novel, The God of Small Things (1997), and her novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017) has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Naomi Klein rightly dubs her “one of the greatest writers of our time.”
The book, published in 2020, is a critique of the current political and social climate in India and reflects on the complex issues of freedom, fascism and fiction. The collection includes nine essays that were written between 2018 and 2020 and were initially published in various newspapers and magazines.
It covers a wide range of topics, including the perpetual clampdown in occupied Kashmir, the case of lower-caste dalits, authoritarianism in the name of democracy, discriminatory treatment of minorities such as Muslims, the Delhi riots, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which Arundhati Roy calls a “portal” in her last essay. The book is divided into three sections, each of which deals with a specific theme: “Freedom,” “Fascism,” and “Fiction.” Thus, I will merely summarise each theme.
John Berger, a Booker Prize-winning novelist and art critic, said to her: “Your fiction and non-fiction—they take you across the world like your two legs.” She uses this quote as support for her argument
In the first theme, “Freedom,” Roy discusses the concept of freedom and how it has been compromised in contemporary India. Azadi represents the struggle for independence and dignity in the face of various forms of social injustice and political marginalization, including casteism, religious bigotry, and state violence. She also highlights the struggles of marginalised communities, including the Kashmiris, Adivasis and Dalits, formerly known as the “untouchables,” who are denied their basic freedoms. Roy’s vision of azadi is not just about political independence but also encompasses social, economic, and cultural freedom. She argues that true Azadi requires a fundamental transformation of society, with a focus on equality, justice and freedom.
In the second theme, “Fascism,” Roy delves into ideology and the rise of authoritarianism in India. This theme depicts the gradual erosion of democracy and the emergence of a right-wing Hindu nationalist government that seeks to establish a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation) in India. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as the political offspring of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose ideology is deeply rooted in fascist principles, drawing inspiration from Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. She highlights the BJP government’s fascist tactics of cracking down on Kashmiris, suppressing minorities, muzzling dissent, eroding democracy, and promoting a cult of personality around Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Through the lens of fascism, Roy provides a scathing critique of the fascist ideology of the current government and calls for resistance against the forces of fascism.
In the third theme, “Fiction,” Roy reflects on the role of literature in challenging the status quo and becoming a strong voice for the voiceless. She discusses the importance of storytelling and how it can be used to resist fascism, tyranny, and state violence. She also examines the ways in which fiction and non-fiction intersect and how they can be used to create new narratives that challenge the dominant discourse. She recalls how one lecturer advised her to write political essays rather than fiction, and another questioned when she would begin to write fiction. John Berger, a Booker Prize-winning novelist and art critic, said to her: “Your fiction and non-fiction—they take you across the world like your two legs.” She uses this quote as support for her argument.
Throughout the book, Roy weaves together her personal experiences, historical analysis, and political commentary to create a powerful critique of the current state of India. Roy is celebrated as a fervent advocate for human rights abroad, while Roy is frequently termed a “traitor” and “anti-state” at home owing to her outspoken activism and dissenting views. But she is still brave enough to call a spade a spade and offers a compelling vision of what freedom really means in the face of authoritarianism.
Overall, Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. is a thought-provoking and insightful collection of essays and speeches that sheds light on the various challenges facing India today. It is a must-read for anyone interested in politics, democracy, equality, justice, freedom, and the power of storytelling.
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