Below is the text of the speech delivered by Arundhaty Roy on the occasion 45th European Essay Prize which she received on September 12.
I thank the Charles Veillon Foundation for honoring me with the 2023 European Essay Award. It may not be immediately apparent how delighted I am to receive it. It’s even possible that I am gloating. What makes me happiest is that it is a prize for literature. Not for peace. Not for culture or cultural freedom, but for literature. For writing. And for writing the kind of essays that I write and have written for the past 25 years.
They have mapped, step by step, India’s descent (although some see it as an ascent) into first majoritarianism and then full-blown fascism. Yes, we continue to have elections, and for that reason, in order to secure a reliable constituency, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party’s message of Hindu supremacism has relentlessly been disseminated to a population of 1.4 billion people. Consequently, elections are a season of murder, lynching and dog-whistling – the most dangerous time for India’s minorities, Muslims and Christians in particular.
It is no longer just our leaders we must fear, but a whole section of the population. The banality of evil, the normalisation of evil is now manifest in our streets, in our classrooms, in very many public spaces. The mainstream press, the hundreds of 24-hour news channels have been harnessed to the cause of fascist majoritarianism. India’s Constitution has been effectively set aside. The Indian Penal Code is being rewritten. If the current regime wins a majority in 2024, it is very likely that we will see a new Constitution.
It is very likely that the process of what is called “delimitation” – a reordering of constituencies – or gerrymandering as it is known in the US, will take place, giving more parliamentary seats to those Hindi-speaking states in North India where the BJP has a base. This will cause great resentment in the southern states and has the potential to balkanise India. Even in the unlikely event of an electoral defeat, the supremacist poison runs deep and has compromised every public institution that is meant to oversee checks and balances. Right now, there are virtually none, except a weakened and undermined Supreme Court.
Let me thank you once again for this very prestigious prize and for the recognition of my work –although I must tell you that a lifetime achievement award makes a person feel old. I’ll have to stop pretending that I’m not. It’s a great irony in some ways to receive a prize for 25 years of writing warning about the direction in which we were headed – that was not heeded, but instead often mocked and criticised by liberals and those who considered themselves “progressive” too.
But now the time for warning is over. We are in a different phase of history. As a writer, I can only hope that my writing will bear witness to this very dark chapter that is unfolding in my country’s life. And hopefully, the work of others like myself lives on, it will be known that not all of us agreed with what was happening.