INDIA is devouring its '' best and brightest,'' The charges against the writer Arundhati Roy are truly heralding a dark era. Even the darkest of times.

PRISON : It's just a word. But when you are using it to describe your own possible future, it leaves the lips with heaviness and a bitter taste, like bile.

Until a few years ago, ending up in an Indian prison because of my work or things I said seemed as unimaginable as my death - a grim but distant prospect. When I met with fellow journalists, we discussed stories we were working on or the latest political gossip.

BUT TODAY the possibility of arrest and prosecution on fantastical charges lurks deep in my heart and in those of many Indian journalists, historians, writers, academics, intellectuals and others who openly criticize Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government.

Now when we meet, we talk about lawyers, potential charges and sentences, legal funds and making sure that our personal and financial affairs are in order.

Since Mr. Modi came to power in 2014, the Hindu Nationalist mob has targeted one supposed enemy after another. Muslims, students, activists, opposition politicians,  lower-caste Dalits, - tearing our incredibly diverse country apart in a myopic attempt to remake it into a bastion of Hindu supremacy.

Another line was crossed two weeks ago when the government announced charges against the writer Arundhati Roy. Ms. Roy, whose works include the novel ''The God of Small Things'' and the essay collection '' My Seditious Heart,'' is one of the greatest writers of our time.

She has been a voice for truth, tolerance and sanity in India for decades. Her books and essays record the utter apathy of the post-independence ruling class as India descended into chaos of Mr. Modi's right-wing politics.

Jailing Ms. Roy would be not unlike America imprisoning a writer of the moral stature of Toni Morrison or James Baldwin.

The charges against her represent a pivotal moment for India. If Ms. Roy is incarcerated, she will become the country's highest profile prisoner of conscience.

She would join a growing body of writers, activists and intellectuals.

Shortly after Ms. Roy was charged, 12 leading international human rights groups issued a joint statement accusing Indian authorities of abusing a counterterrorism law, financial regulations and other laws to ''silence'' journalists, human rights defenders, activists and critics of the government.

This has been going on for years. According to the People's Union for Civil Liberties, in the five years before M. Modi took power, the central government filed just 69 cases under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, an overly broad state security law that allows detention for extended periods without due process.

Under Mr. Modi, the number of cases filed has jumped to 288 as of September 2022.

The charges against Ms. Roy are typically absurd. She is accused of provocative speech and promoting enmity between different groups merely for comments made in 2010 that questioned the Indian government's claims to the disputed, restive region of Kashmir.

But the real reason she is being targeted now - 13 years later - is surely because of her courageous criticism of the intolerance and violence unleashed under Mr. Modi.

People like her are among India's greatest assets because they stand for truth and decency, but they are being cast as enemies of the state.

INDIA is devouring its best and brightest.  And in the case of Ms. Roy, India's superlative daughter.

The World Students Society thanks author Vidya Krishnan.


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