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There's a lot of publicity about the fact that the author Arundhati Roy was jailed for one day, but why was she in court in the first place

01:00 Thu 07th Mar 2002 |

asks HGray:
A.
India's Supreme Court gave Arundhati Roy a one-day jail sentence for criticising its procedures as a 'symbolic gesture'. The sentence is not such a big deal, but as a Booker Prize-winning author she's getting lots of publicity. However, her celebrity is, to some extent, overshadowing the people she was protesting on behalf of.

Q. When did it start
A.
Three years ago, Arundhati Roy published an essay on dams - in particular, the Sardar Sarovar dam on India's Narmada river. As well as giving the facts and figures on irrigation and drainage, she talked about the resulting displacement of millions of Indian people over a number of years. In her essay, she argued fiercely that these dams resulted in horrific human suffering.

Q. What happens to the displaced people
A.
They are taken far away from their environment and their long-established support systems. She gives an example of one resettlement where people were forced to live in tin huts on dry river beds. She describes a man holding a sick baby who listed 48 kinds of fruit he used to pick in the forest, and was in despair because he thought his children would never be able to eat any fruit again. He told Roy that it would be better for his baby to die than live like this.

Q. Has she become involved in any other political area
A.
Yes. In her essays, she has spoken out extensively against the effects of globalisation in India, and the political struggle the people of India have had over their resources and their land. For example, in a recent essay she described Enron's dealings with India on power plants - before Enron collapsed.

Q. How did she come to end up in court
A.
A year ago Roy took part in a peaceful protest against the Narmada dam project, held outside the Supreme Court in Delhi. The next day, she was told that some lawyers had claimed she had abused and threatened to kill them. That claim was later thrown out of court. However, in her affidavits she had accused the court of trying to 'silence criticism and muzzle dissent'. As a result, she was charged with contempt of court and given the one-day sentence.

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By Sheena Miller


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