Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. by Arundhati Roy

soniaturcotte's review against another edition

Go to review page

dark informative sad tense medium-paced


hadiya's review

Go to review page

challenging informative


Roy deftly illuminates the tense political atmosphere in India, and the combination of fascism, casteism, classism, and religious fundamentalism that is eroding any democratic "decency" (as Roy puts it) it has. She speaks in particular about her own writing, the rise and origins of the BJP (and RSS) and the way that caste is inviolably woven into Indian society, and what citizenhood means in a country of a billion. 

I loved the essay where she looks at how fiction/nonfiction writing is treated differently and she herself as a writer is. Her treatises on Kashmir were really informative, and I am sad to say so much of what I previously knew about the issue had been sanitized. 

I think a lot of what I knew about India had been sanitized, by well meaning family, news, under reporting, a lack of research on my part, but I always knew there was a bigger monster under the bed. Roy speaks to that monster directly, that monster that is so far gone that any description inevitably wrangles it into something less wild and is thus untrue.  She doesn't allow it a semblance of decency.

A lot of the reading  made me feel deeply sad, frustrated, and angry. What could be done to help? I had no idea. Roy gives no answers because it's not that easy, just that we will need bravery and courage to get to a better tomorrow. 

Only wrangle is since it was a collection of essays, a lot of essays overlapped on content or themes, and at points it would get repetitive. 

jershkat's review against another edition

Go to review page

challenging dark emotional hopeful informative tense fast-paced


With this book Arundhati Roy lays out the scene of an India that is deep in crisis. Mass lynchings of Muslims, Dalits, and the poor is wrecking India, as is the Hindu nationalism that is the signature of Narendra Modi’s policy platform. Millions of Indian citizens under siege with their rights either in jeopardy or non-existent, and a justice system even more corrupt than that of the US. Roy paints India as a land of repression, inequality, and murder. Azadi is an eye-opening account of the crimes that are not written about or addressed in the media. Roy manages to showcase all of this with her brilliant and easily digestible writing. This is truly a must read for anyone who cares about the powerless and oppressed of the world. Roy is truly a voice for the voiceless, calling out for someone, anyone to notice the plight of her fellow statesmen/women, the question is, will we listen?

adira_barua's review

Go to review page

dark hopeful informative inspiring reflective sad slow-paced


brnineworms's review against another edition

Go to review page

challenging dark emotional informative medium-paced


I’m enamoured by the way Roy writes – poetic yet direct. Towards the end, where the essays talk about the pandemic and the dire consequences of its mismanagement, you can see her falling from dignified resistance to desperation; the book ends with her literally begging the prime minister to resign.

I didn’t know a whole lot about the political situation in India and Azadi has really shed light on things.

CONTENT WARNINGS: colonialism, casteism, xenophobia, islamophobia, violence (including sexual violence, lynching, massacre), police brutality, military occupation, pandemic, death

scarlettjude's review against another edition

Go to review page


to come back to when I've read the ministry of utmost happiness

hollasan's review against another edition

Go to review page


Recommended for :

- anyone who voted for Modi
- anyone who did not vote for Modi
- anyone who did not vote

Essays about the state of political affairs in India, in the past 6 years. Everything from CAA, NRC, Covid, Abrogation of article 370 to UAPA.

pranaysomayajula's review against another edition

Go to review page

dark inspiring reflective sad medium-paced


srfrq's review

Go to review page


cw: descriptions of violence (lynchings, mobs, guns, assassinations), fascism (RSS, nazis), genocide (Bangladesh, holocaust discussion), anti-Muslim bigotry

in a world when authoritarianism is on the rise, arundhati roy invites us to consider what it means to be free. i had already established that india is becoming a fascist state but this just solidified that india is a fascist state. this is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about indian politics from a leftist point of view.

and now, for some incoherent thoughts:

a lot of things i had surface level knowledge about, she clarified for me! it also feels so unreal to be living in this turmoil, like all of this is happening right now! i remember the whole twitter and instagram craze when the internet lockdown happened in kashmir, like all things it trended for a while and then died out.

and now, i try to preserve my sanity by not reading the news or keeping up to date with things happening all around the world. it amazes me that people are 1) spreading and consuming this content so casually and 2) not freaking the hell out or doing anything tangible to try and help. but even then, it's really not up to us to 'fix' things, we can only do so much! instead of seeing so much happening around the world and feeling truly helpless, i want to try and cultivate some hope, even if it's just for the sake of my own sanity and survival.

it's really a great coincidence that i picked this book up after not really connecting to 'the god of small things'. in azadi, she acknowledges the differences in her writing styles and she even narrates an incident when someone asked her to continue writing more fiction while another requested more non-fiction. knowing this, i think i'll giver her fiction another go. throughout the book, she talks about 'the ministry of utmost happiness' multiple times and with excerpts. it's almost an analysis of it and maybe going into it with this prior vision from the author herself, i might enjoy it more thoroughly!

she begins by describing the languages that have been divided as hindi and urdu but are actually mostly similar and were once actually one language known as hindavi and written in the persian-arabic script. nowadays, hindi is recognized as devanagari, the script of the brahmins, which was pure and protected from the "polluting influence" of lower castes. (40) still, they are trying to kill the urdu language and all other languages as well but "their enemies are dead poets who have a habit of refusing to die" (43)

"the only good thing to be said of this contemporary mob tradition is that it understands the dangers posed by art. and it has impeccable taste." (46) [during the 2002 gujarat massacre, the grave of wali dakhani, the founding father of urdu poetry, was destroyed, but of course, his words will still live on in his masnavis (narrative poems), marsiyas (poems about martyrdom of hussain), and kasidas (singing praise to warriors)].

i remember seeing the news about the captured wing commander and i even had a whole discussion about it with my dad. this is what makes it so hard to believe that these are the things that will be in history books, what we're living in right now and really can't do anything about. anyway, bollywood is churning out another propaganda filled movie to further the agenda of hindu nationalism (read: fascism). the movie is to be released in 2022, after an incident that happened in 2019. is time even real anymore? anyway, imran khan had released as a gesture of good will and in accordance with the geneva convention. and arundhati writes: "perhaps india can offer the same courtesy to its political prisoners in kashmir and the rest of the country: protection of their rights under the geneva convention, and access to the ICRC?" (71) and facts! like reciprocate the act of kindness that you demanded from pakistan (i'm not defending pakistan here, they're also complicit in the kashmir conflict).

"the place for literature is built by writers and readers. it's a fragile place in some ways, but an indestructible one. when it's broken, we rebuild it. because we need shelter. i very much like the idea of literature that is needed. literature that provides shelter. shelter of all kinds." (78) [many people were radicalized by her work, fiction and non-fiction, and now her work has become a marker of whether someone supports the state or not]

"the RSS runs a shadow government that functions through tens of thousands of shakas (branches) and other ideologically affiliated organizations with different names - some of them astonishingly violent - spread across the country...the RSS today has white supremacists and racists from the US and europe circling around it, writing in praise of hinduism's age-old practice of caste. it's more accurately known as brahminism." (81) [gandhi was a supporter of brahminism too fyi]

"particularly about kashmir, only fiction can be true because the truth cannot be told. in india, it is not possible to speak of kashmir with any degree of honesty without risking bodily harm. i can do no better than to quote james baldwin, 'and they would not believe me, precisely because they would know that what i said was true.'" (89) [the ministry of utmost happiness is rooted in the very daunting reality of india and kashmir]

"...especially anjum, who was born as aftab, who ends up as the proprietor and manager of the jannat guest house, located in a derelict muslim graveyard just outside the walls of old delhi. anjum softens the borders between men and women, animals and humans, and life and death. i go to her when i need shelter from the tyranny of hard borders in this increasingly hardening world." (90)

"in february 2019, after a kashmiri suicide bomber killed forty indian security personnel, india launched an airstrike against pakistan. pakistan retaliated. they became the first two nuclear powers in history to actually launch airstrikes against each other." (99) [so i remember when this was happening and again i was speaking to my dad about it, but i didn't realize the gravity of the situation and that it was literally the almost beginning of a nuclear war??]

"the danger will come from many directions. the most powerful organization in india, the far-right hindu nationalist RSS, with more than 600 000 members, including modi and many of his ministers, has a trained 'volunteer' militia, inspired by mussolini's black shirts. with each passing day, it tightens its grip on every institution of the indian state. in truth, it has reached a point when it more or less IS the state." (103)

the bjp has compared the muslims of india to the jews of germany and arundhati says, "for the RSS to portray what it is engineering today as an epochal revolution, in which hindus are finally wiping away centuries of oppression at the hands of india's earlier muslim rulers, is a part of its fake-history project. in truth, million of india's muslims are the descendants of people who converted to islam to escape hinduism's cruel practice of caste." (111)

i remember when the whole turmoil happened over modi saying that 500 and 1000 rupee notes don't have value anymore. it was really stupid and he hadn't consulted any of his advisors. this was the start of the recession in india which affected a lot of livelihoods. but, the most important thing that arundhati notes is that the people never protested. there were no riots or outcries, they simply accepted their realities. and so arundhati reveals: "but demonetization was never about economic alone. it was a loyalty test, a love exam that the Great Leader was putting us through. would we follow him, would we always love him, no matter what? we emerged with flying colours. the moment we as a people accepted demonetization, we infantilized ourselves and surrendered to tin-pot authoritarianism." (116)

the genocide of bengali people is then discussed in detail, first starting with the pakistani army's attack in 1971, which resulted in the creation of bangladesh as a new nation. 1983, the Nellie massacre occurred, more than 2000 bengal-origin muslim settlers were murdered over six hours. and then, the indian government decided that anyone who had entered after midnight on the 24th of march in 1971 would be expelled. they created a national register of citizens, aimed first at bengal-origin settlers, they began to check for 'illegal immigrants' or 'infiltrators', to declare them as foreigners. arundhati says: "how do you translate this in modern terms if not as the national register of citizens coupled with the citizenship amendment bill? this is the RSS's version of germany's 1935 nuremberg laws, by which german citizens were only those who had been granted citizenship papers - legacy papers - by the government of the third reich. the amendment against muslims is the first such amendment. others will no doubt follow, against christians, dalits, communists - all enemies of the RSS." (148)

on fascism: "the fact that RSS ideologues are openly worshipful of hitler and mussolini, and that hitler has found his way onto the cover of an indian school textbook about great world leaders, alongside gandhi and modi. the division in opinions on the use of the term comes down to whether you believe that fascism became fascism only after a continent was destroyed and millions of people were exterminated in gas chambers, or whether you believe that fascism is an ideology that led to those high crimes - that can lead to those crimes - and that those who subscribe to it are fascists." (161) [this really opened my eyes to the whole situation, up until now i knew that india was moving towards fascism, but with the details relayed in this book, it is clear that it is a fascist state]

"fake news is the skeletal structure, the scaffolding over which the specious wrath that fuels fascism drapes itself." (162)

"bahminism organizes society in a vertical hierarchy based on a supposedly celestially ordained, graded scale of purity and pollution, entitlements and duties, and hereditary occupations." (162) [because pakistan and india were separated on the basis of religion, the first part of that definition doesn't fit the caste system in pakistan, but the latter two are big parts of the caste system i'm familiar with.]

"the Project of Unseeing" is a term coined by arundhati, which describes when artists and scholars minimize the caste system to a footnote or completely omit it from their work. she calls this fake-history. as an example, she talks about the "seriously falsified mythification of gandhi and the erasure of ambedkar". (164) while many know about gandhi, not many know about his rival, a dalit man who challenged gandhi morally, politically and intellectually.

"many liberals, including muslims themselves, have described muslims as indians 'by choice' and not by chance - suggesting that they chose to stay in india and not to move to pakistan after partition in 1947. many did, many didn't and for many the choice simply didn't exist. but to frame indian muslims as a people who are in india 'by chance' draws a dangerous ring, a false bloodline, around a whole population, suggesting it has a less elemental relationship with the land - and could just as well live elsewhere. this plays straight into the binary of the good muslim-bad muslims...and could inadvertently trap a whole population into having to redeem itself with a lifetime of regular flag-waving and constitution-reading. it also inadvertently shores up the appalling logic of hindu nationalists: muslims have so many homelands, but hindus only have india...pakistan, bangladesh and india are organically connected, socially, culturally, and geographically." (166)

"all of this is to say that the foundation of today's fascism, the unacceptable fake history of hindu nationalism, rests on a deeper foundation of another, apparently more acceptable, more sophisticated set of fake histories that elide the stories of caste, of women, and a range of other genders - and of how those stories intersect below the surface of the grand narrative of class and capital. to challenge fascism means to challenge all of this." (167)

"a precarious solidarity is evolving between muslims and ambedkarites and followers of other anti-caste leaders as well as a new generation of young leftists. it's still brittle but it's the only hope we have...the trouble is that this fragile coalition is being slaughtered even as it is being born. the fake-news project - its history department as well as its current-affairs desk - has been corporatized, bollywoodized, televised, twitterized, weaponized or whatsappized and is disseminating its product at the speed of light." (174)

"hope lies in texts that can accommodate and keep alive our intricacy, our complexity, and our density against the onslaught of the terrifying, sweeping simplifications of fascism...we keep our complicated world, with all its seams exposed, alive in our writing." (177)

modi became really popular after the massacre in 2002 and when he was elected in 2014, a lot of people were praising him as the 'new hope'. arundhati says: "many are disillusioned now, but their disillusionment only begins after 2014. because questioning modi's deeds before that would involve questioning themselves. so gujarat in 2002 is rapidly being erased from public memory. that should not happen. it deserves a place in history as well as in literature." (180) she then describes how anjum, a character in the ministry of utmost happiness ensures this.

"in our kashmir, the dead will live forever; and the living are only dead people, pretending" (189)

"you're not destroying us. you are constructing us. it's yourselves that you are destroying. the destruction - it has begun. and, yes, if in a dream you've eaten a fish, it means you've eaten a fish"(195)

"historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. this one is no different. it is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next." (214)

miasupremacy321's review

Go to review page

challenging hopeful informative inspiring sad medium-paced