As a fierce advocate for the human rights of disenfranchised Kashmiris, author and activist Arundhati Roy preached to an admiring Boston audience who sat shoulder-to-shoulder, fanning themselves in the summer heat, filling the pews and balconies of Old South Church.

“You have thousands of people, the poorest people, in jail in central India," Roy told the audience. "People who are protesting displacement are being called anti-national. They’re arrested under [the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act] or under a law of sedition and thrown into jail … So yes, in this flourishing democracy, there are vast parts which are literally under army and police rule.”

The struggle Roy talks about, she has also lived, even as a celebrated author and one-time darling of India. After winning the Booker Prize for her 1997 novel "The God of Small Things," Roy fell from favor when she began criticizing the Jammu-Kashmir government for what she declares are corporate-motivated injustices carried out toward the Adivasi, an indigenous people in the Kashmir valley. She now faces criminal charges of her own for defending her friend Dr. Saibaba, a paraplegic jailed without proper medical equipment who was very vocal for years, accusing the government of engaging paramilitary forces to carry out atrocities.

In this video clip, Roy answers a question about Saibaba, who is now serving a life sentence. 

This political commentary from Roy, however, was a sideline to the main reason for her visit. Roy, along with her editor, Anthony Arnove, are on tour for Roy’s new novel, "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness." This is only her second work of fiction in the past 20 years. The reason for the delay, according to Roy: It takes time to write a novel exploring the psychosis of war.

In the new book, Roy uses a myriad cast of characters to explore what happens to people who live through generations of insurrection, occupation, rape, war, military rule and neighborly distrust with no hope in sight for peace. She employs her poetic pen to convey the insidiousness of revenge and violence in her homeland. 

Martyrdom stole into the Kashmir Valley from across the line of control … it stayed close to the ground and spread through the walnut groves, saffron fields, the apple, almond and cherry orchards like a creeping mist. It whispered words of war into the ears of doctors and engineers, students and laborers, tailors and carpenters, weavers and farmers, shepherds, cooks and bards. They listened carefully and then put down their books and implements … they stilled the looms on which they had woven the most beautiful carpets and the finest, softest shawls the world had ever seen and ran gnarled, wondering fingers over the smooth barrels of Kalashnikovs that the strangers who visited them allowed them to touch. They followed the new pied pipers up into the high meadows and alpine glades where training camps had been set up. Only after they had been given guns of their own, after they had curled their fingers around the trigger and felt it give ever so slightly, … only then did they allow the rage and the shame of the subjugation they had endured for decades, for centuries, to course through their bodies and turn the blood in their veins into smoke. 

Roy takes us by the hand with her new novel and walks us through her observations of all that’s worth preserving in India, and then she kindly points out the rusted bullet holes, the numerous graves and the broken hearts left by decades of military conflict, reminding us: war is hell.

» Watch the entire conversation with Arundhati Roy on WGBH’s Forum Network.