Tag Archive for 'Arundhati Roy'

We call this progress

Arundhati Roy in Guernica:

I don’t know how far back in history to begin, so I’ll lay the milestone down in the recent past. I’ll start in the early 1990s, not long after capitalism won its war against Soviet Communism in the bleak mountains of Afghanistan. The Indian government, which was for many years one of the leaders of the nonaligned movement, suddenly became a completely aligned country and began to call itself the natural ally of the U.S. and Israel. It opened up its protected markets to global capital. Most people have been speaking about environmental battles, but in the real world it’s quite hard to separate environmental battles from everything else: the war on terror, for example; the depleted uranium; the missiles; the fact that it was the military-industrial complex that actually pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression, and since then the economies of places like America, many countries in Europe, and certainly Israel, have had stakes in the manufacture of weapons. What good are weapons if they aren’t going to be used in wars? Weapons are absolutely essential; it’s not just for oil or natural resources, but for the military-industrial complex itself to keep going that we need weapons.

Today, as we speak, the U.S., and perhaps China and India, are involved in a battle for control of the resources of Africa. Thousands of U.S. troops, as well as death squads, are being sent into Africa. The “Yes We Can” president has expanded the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. There are drone attacks killing children on a regular basis there.

In the 1990s, when the markets of India opened, when all of the laws that protected labor were dismantled, when natural resources were privatized, when that whole process was set into motion, the Indian government opened two locks: one was the lock of the markets; the other was the lock of an old fourteenth-century mosque, which was a disputed site between Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus believed that it was the birthplace of Ram, and the Muslims, of course, use it as a mosque. By opening that lock, India set into motion a kind of conflict between the majority community and the minority community, a way of constantly dividing people. Finding ways to divide people is the main practice of anybody that is in power. More:


The ghost’s in the details, Ma’am

Aakar Patel on Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

Nirad C. Chaudhary wrote in The Continent of Circe that India’s tribals were mainly found in hill forests. This was because, he reasoned, they had been chased there by the invading Aryans, who displaced them from their river plains. In an essay published in this magazine (Capitalism: A Ghost Story, March 26), Arundhati Roy expressed anguish over the tribal having no peace even in the hill forests he inhabits. From her piece, let’s isolate two broad points: first, that capitalism is generally bad, but particularly rapacious in India; second, that this has manifested itself in the exploitation of tribals and their sacred lands. She also alleges that India’s economic growth is underpinned by this pillage of minerals. She doesn’t spare anyone (including herself) who lives out life while the companies roar along and tribals suffer. She attacks the media, feminists, NGOs, philanthropists and their foundations. All are guilty—save the tribals, the exploited.

Let us look at her argument. First, that corporations make vast sums from the minerals they have stolen from tribal lands. In Roy’s words: “The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—the Tatas and Jindals, Essar, Reliance and Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.” Now look at the facts. Neither ore nor minerals are India’s main exports. They comprise only 3.4 per cent of all exports, according to Crisil’s February 2010 report, India’s Export Sector: Resilience Amid Global Crisis. Ore and minerals haven’t made India’s big companies wealthy, for they contribute less than one per cent to India’s GDP. The export of minerals did not commence with privatisation. They began in 2004. Till then, only old firms like Tisco and sail managed captive mines. More:

Capitalism: A ghost story — by Arundhati Roy

Rockefeller to Mandela, Vedanta to Anna Hazare…. How long can the cardinals of corporate gospel buy up our protests? Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.

But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day. More:

The dead begin to speak up in India

Kashmir is one of two ‘war zones’ in India from which no news must come. But those in unmarked graves will not be silenced, writes Arundhati Roy in The Guardian

At about 3am, on 23 September, within hours of his arrival at the Delhi airport, the US radio-journalist David Barsamian was deported. This dangerous man, who produces independent, free-to-air programmes for public radio, has been visiting India for 40 years, doing such dangerous things as learning Urdu and playing the sitar.

Barsamian has published book-length interviews with public intellectuals such as Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Ejaz Ahmed and Tariq Ali (he even makes an appearance as a young, bell-bottom-wearing interviewer in Peter Wintonick’s documentary film on Chomsky and Edward Herman’s book Manufacturing Consent).

On his more recent trips to India he has done a series of radio interviews with activists, academics, film-makers, journalists and writers (including me). Barsamian’s work has taken him to Turkey, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan. He has never been deported from any of these countries. So why does the world’s largest democracy feel so threatened by this lone, sitar-playing, Urdu-speaking, left-leaning, radio producer? Here is how Barsamian himself explains it: more

Why I’d rather not be Anna

While his means might be Gandhian, Anna Hazare’s demands are most certainly not, writes Arundhati Roy in The Hindu

If what we’re watching on TV is indeed a revolution, then it has to be one of the more embarrassing and unintelligible ones of recent times. For now, whatever questions you may have about the Jan Lokpal Bill, here are the answers you’re likely to get: tick the box — (a) Vande Mataram (b) Bharat Mata ki Jai (c) India is Anna, Anna is India (d) Jai Hind.

For completely different reasons, and in completely different ways, you could say that the Maoists and the Jan Lokpal Bill have one thing in common — they both seek the overthrow of the Indian State. One working from the bottom up, by means of an armed struggle, waged by a largely adivasi army, made up of the poorest of the poor. The other, from the top down, by means of a bloodless Gandhian coup, led by a freshly minted saint, and an army of largely urban, and certainly better off people. (In this one, the Government collaborates by doing everything it possibly can to overthrow itself.) more

The India story

The New Statesman features a special package on India.

Patrick French charts the rise of India’s female politicians:

If you do not come from an established ruling family, you have almost no chance of progressing in national politics, unless you join an ideological organisation such as the BJP or the Communist Party of India (Marxist), where lineage is not important and progress is more often based on ability.

Last year, I made a study of how each MP in India’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, had reached parliament. The findings showed that the younger you were, the more likely you were to have “inherited” a place in the chamber. Nearly half of all MPs aged 50 or under are hereditary, selected to contest a seat primarily because they are the children of senior politicians. No MP over the age of 80 is hereditary; every MP under the age of 30 is hereditary. The situation is most serious in the Congress party, where every MP under the age of 35 is the son or daughter of a politician.

Extending the study across the whole Lok Sabha, I found that 33 of the youngest 38 MPs had entered parliament on the grounds of birth. Out of the other five, three progressed through the ranks of the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party and Communist Party on merit; one was given a break because he was an established student leader-cum-mafioso; and the other was hand-picked for a parliamentary career by Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv and Sonia. Rahul is an MP and heir to the Congress mantle, but has so far concentrated on structural party reorganisation and low-key, village-level campaigning and shows no inclination to take a prime ministerial role. More

Sophie Elmhirst profiles the writer and activist Arundhati Roy, who accuses the elites of “colonising the lower sections of society who have to pay the price for this shining India”:

Roy’s version of India is uncompromising. The country, she says, is in “a genocidal situation, turning upon itself, colonising the lower sections of society who have to pay the price for this shining India”. Its leaders are “such poor men because they have no idea of history, of culture, of anything, except growth rates”. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is a “pathetic figure as a human being”. Democracy is thriving “for a few people, in the better neighbourhoods of Bombay and Delhi”. The Indian elite are “like an extra state in America”. The country has a defence budget of $34bn this year. “For whom?” she asks. “For us.” In her account, there is a war taking place, not with Pakistan or China, but within India’s borders: the sham democracy has turned on its poorest citizens. More:

In the interview, Ms Elmhirst quotes a conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma, a political scientist at the University of Hyderabad and former senior editor of the Times of India:

Sharma agrees with Roy in principle: the issues she raises, he tells me on the phone, “are first-rate”. Like Roy, he believes that large parts of the Indian state are essentially criminal in their behaviour. Yet he cannot abide the way she chooses to frame her argument, or the tone – “sanctimonious, pompous, holier than thou” – in which she expresses it. She contributes nothing, he says, to proper public debate other than cooking up a controversy in which she is the central player, “people saying we love her, we hate her”. “You cannot talk to the woman,” he says, so overbearing is her self-righteousness.

Below, Jyotirmaya Sharma’s rejoinder to the deputy editor of the New Statesman:

Dear Mr. Jon Bernstein,

Sophie Elmhirst got in touch with me two weeks ago to speak to me about Arundhati Roy. I have now seen the piece she has written. While I have no problem with the writer’s complete identification with her subject, I find her irresponsible and reckless attribution of motives to her critics untenable. All she needed to do is to find out the public profile of people like Ramachandra Guha or myself before jumping to conclusions. She further imputes that I might be criticising Roy because `but you can’t Continue reading ‘The India story’

Is there a ban on reporting bad news from India?

The Independent‘s Asia correspondent, Andrew Buncombe, disagrees with  Arundhati Roy that foreign journalists in India have been asked not to report “negative” news.

Andrew Buncombe

It was the writer and activist Arundhati Roy who set foreign journalists in India busily chattering recently. In an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian, Ms Roy was discussing the Maoist and Adavasi “resistance” to encroachment on tribal lands. Mr Moss, asked her why, “we in the West don’t hear about these mini-wars?”. Ms Roy replied: “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers, that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.”

Mr Moss’s response was: “I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, [Thanks Stephen, that's very decent of you.] but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.”

I’ve been thinking about what both of them said, and discussing the matter with some colleagues based in India. I’ve never received a “no bad news” order from London and the colleagues I spoke with insisted that neither had they. Several things struck me:

In the last decade or so India has certainly been successful in re-branding its international image. Where once it was seen as a hopeless, overwhelmingly poor country, there has instead been focus on a newly aspirational middle-class and economic progress, the new “Shining India”. As a result, there are fewer stories about malnutrition (which still haunts huge numbers of Indians) but more about new airlines, coffee shops, call centres, the World Is Flat, eight per cent growth and the attendant changing structure of society, especially in urban India. Though things have probably shifted too much, the change in focus is understandable enough; the media is always looking for something new, something different, to report on. I also think that in India – as elsewhere in the world – the priorities of Western corporations sometimes find their way into the news agenda; every month or so, some article will ask when India will finally allow the likes of Wal-Mart and Tesco to operate here. More:

Arundhati Roy: ‘They are trying to keep me destabilised. Anybody who says anything is in danger’

Stephen Moss in The Guardian:

This is not an ideal beginning. I bump into Arundhati Roy as we are both heading for the loo in the foyer of the large building that houses her publisher Penguin’s offices. There are some authors, V S Naipaul say, with whom this could be awkward. But not Roy, who makes me feel instantly at ease. A few minutes later, her publicist settles us in a small, bare room. As we take our positions on either side of a narrow desk I liken it to an interrogation suite. But she says that in India, interrogation rooms are a good deal less salubrious than this.

Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a “new modernity” based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.

Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government’s attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. “Everybody’s in great danger there, so you can’t go round feeling you are specially in danger,” she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they’re under siege. More:

Also read FT interview

Amitava Kumar interviews Arundhati Roy

In Guernica:

Arundhati Roy speaking at Harvard University in April 2010. Image under CC

Guernica: How old were you when you first became aware of the power of words?

Arundhati Roy: Pretty old I think. Maybe two. I heard about it from my disappeared father whom I met for the first time when I was about twenty-four or twenty-five years old. He turned out to be an absolutely charming, unemployed, broke, irreverent alcoholic. (After being unnerved initially, I grew very fond of him and gave thanks that he wasn’t some senior bureaucrat or golf-playing CEO.) Anyway, the first thing he asked me was, “Do you still use bad language?” I had no idea what he meant, given that the last time he saw me I was about two years old. Then he told me that on the tea estates in Assam where he worked, one day he accidentally burned me with his cigarette and that I glared at him and said “chootiya” (cunt, or imbecile)—language I’d obviously picked up in the tea-pickers’ labor quarters where I must have been shunted off to while my parents fought. My first piece of writing was when I was five… I still have those notebooks. Miss Mitten, a terrifying Australian missionary, was my teacher. She would tell me on a daily basis that she could see Satan in my eyes. In my two-sentence essay (which made it into The God of Small Things) I said, “I hate Miss Mitten, whenever I see her I see rags. I think her knickers are torn.” She’s dead now, God rest her soul. I don’t know whether these stories I’m telling you are about becoming aware of the power of words, or about developing an affection for words… the awareness of a child’s pleasure which extended beyond food and drink.

Guernica: How has that early view changed or become refined in specific ways in the years since?

Arundhati Roy: I’m not sure that what I had then was a “view” about language—I’m not sure that I have one even now. As I said, it was just the beginnings of the recognition of pleasure. To be able to express yourself, to be able to close the gap—inasmuch as it is possible—between thought and expression is just such a relief. It’s like having the ability to draw or paint what you see, the way you see it. Behind the speed and confidence of a beautiful line in a line drawing there’s years of—usually—discipline, obsession, practice that builds on a foundation of natural talent or inclination of course. It’s like sport. A sentence can be like that. Language is like that. It takes a while to become yours, to listen to you, to obey you, and for you to obey it. I have a clear memory of language swimming towards me. Of my willing it out of the water. Of it being blurred, inaccessible, inchoate… and then of it emerging. Sharply outlined, custom-made.

Guernica: As far as writing is concerned, do you have models, especially those that have remained so for a long time?

Arundhati Roy: Do I have models? Maybe I wouldn’t use that word because it sounds like there are people who I admire so much that I would like to become them, or to be like them… I don’t feel that about anybody. But if you mean are there writers I love and admire—yes of course there are. So many. But that would be a whole new interview wouldn’t it? Apart from Shakespeare, James Joyce, and Nabokov, Neruda, Eduardo Galeano, John Berger, right now I’m becoming fascinated by Urdu poets who I am ashamed to say I know so little about… But I’m learning. I’m reading Hafiz. There are so many wonderful writers, my ancestors that have lived in the world.More:

India’s bold and brilliant daughter

Arundhati Roy took the world by storm 14 years ago with her book, The God of Small Things. Today, she is India’s harshest critic and its most fearless activist, writes Ian Jack in The Guardian.

Arundhati Roy will turn 50 this year. I hope to be excused of sexism (would one write this of a man?) when I say that she looks no more than 35 at most. Her vitality has always been striking. I remember her from one of her early visits to London as a slight, supple woman with an Indian cotton bag slung over her shoulder, and gleaming skin and hair that suggested yoga and aerobics, yoghurt and juice made from fresh limes. My wife had baked scones in her honour. Roy looked at the scones as though they might be deep-fried Mars bars, but eventually and daintily conceded to try one. In her bag was the manuscript of a first novel that was to make her famous and (by the standards of writers) rich, and though some of that future could have been predicted (the manuscript had caused a stir among publishers), no one could have foreseen the Booker prize and editions in 40 languages. What has happened since the success of The God of Small Things is even more surprising. Among Indian public intellectuals, a bright category that includes the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Roy is probably now her country’s most globally famous polemicist, as both a writer and speaker. Her essays are published across the world – the Guardian published a recent one in five parts – and she can pack out a big venue in New York and still have a few thousand listening outside. more

What if Arundhati Roy won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Rupa Subramanya Dehejia in WSJ:

“This year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to Arundhati Roy for championing the cause of oppressed minorities in India, particularly Kashmiris and Maoists.”

This may be a dream for some and a nightmare for others but how would Indians react to this scenario? After all, in recent years, to most observers, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has been making bold and politically charged statements in their choice of laureates. So it would not be an outlandish possibility if Ms. Roy were to win or at any rate be shortlisted in the near future.

Much has been said, mostly critical, of China’s reaction to the awarding of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident and pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo. China has called him a “criminal” guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and doing “everything possible to sabotage China’s development and stability.” Many national leaders, much of the international media and political activists all over the world think of Mr. Xiaobo as a champion of human rights and democracy through non-violent protest and therefore fully deserving of this prize.

Optics are everything and all depends on your perspective. Outside India, Ms. Roy is a darling of social activists on the left but is decried and reviled by many in India for her provocative statements that appear to question what many consider sacrosanct Indian values. Most recently, at a convention of political activists on Kashmir, she stated that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. And earlier this year, she made remarks that were widely construed as sympathetic to the Maoist insurgency. More:

Kashmir’s fruits of discord

Arundhati Roy in The New York Times:

A week before he was elected in 2008, President Obama said that solving the dispute over Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination — which has led to three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 — would be among his “critical tasks.” His remarks were greeted with consternation in India, and he has said almost nothing about Kashmir since then.

But on Monday, during his visit here, he pleased his hosts immensely by saying the United States would not intervene in Kashmir and announcing his support for India’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. While he spoke eloquently about threats of terrorism, he kept quiet about human rights abuses in Kashmir.

Whether Mr. Obama decides to change his position on Kashmir again depends on several factors: how the war in Afghanistan is going, how much help the United States needs from Pakistan and whether the government of India goes aircraft shopping this winter. (An order for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, worth $5.8 billion, among other huge business deals in the pipeline, may ensure the president’s silence.) But neither Mr. Obama’s silence nor his intervention is likely to make the people in Kashmir drop the stones in their hands.

I was in Kashmir 10 days ago, in that beautiful valley on the Pakistani border, home to three great civilizations — Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist. It’s a valley of myth and history. Some believe that Jesus died there; others that Moses went there to find the lost tribe. Millions worship at the Hazratbal shrine, where a few days a year a hair of the Prophet Muhammad is displayed to believers.

Now Kashmir, caught between the influence of militant Islam from Pakistan and Afghanistan, America’s interests in the region and Indian nationalism (which is becoming increasingly aggressive and “Hinduized”), is considered a nuclear flash point. It is patrolled by more than half a million soldiers and has become the most highly militarized zone in the world. More:

The importance of Arundhati Roy

Two recent articles on Arundhati Roy.

In Open, Manu Joseph says She is the creation of the very system she wants to dismantle, she is the anomaly that completes the system. Like Neo in The Matrix

Arundhati Roy speaking at Harvard University in April 2010. Image under CC

It would appear that a beautiful woman has more at stake than others, so her battles for social causes have a deep sacrificial quality to them. Add to this her extraordinary literary fame, and it is natural that Arundhati Roy’s grouses are of national importance. People react to her in different ways depending on their intellect, affluence, psychiatric condition and how their own books are doing. It is often said that she ‘polarises’ the nation through her opinions but that is a myth. Indians do not need Roy to be infuriated with each other.

Her latest trouble follows a speech she had delivered in Delhi which said nothing new—that India should free Kashmir. At the time of writing this column, the Government is contemplating (aloud) arresting her on charges of sedition. She has issued an uncharacteristically tame statement claiming that her actions are a consequence of her love for the nation. Obviously, she does not want to go to jail. Despite her new nervousness, what her admirers say about her is true—that she is the conscience of the nation. What is disputable is whether it is a compliment.

It is futile to denude metaphors to their bare meanings, but in this case it might be useful to try. We know very little about conscience but what we do know is that there is an unattainable moral superiority about it, and that it usually transmits unsolicited advice, which is the opposite of what the mind really wants to do. But at the same time, it is fundamentally a creation of the mind, a creation that is meant to come in conflict with its maker. That is Roy. She is the creation of the very system that she aspires to bring down. More:

The Shape of the Beast

In Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury explains why shutting Arundhati Roy out would leave us a poorer society:

Arundhati Roy’s position on Kashmir is just the latest provocation. The truth is her very existence — her persona and her politics — has become a sort of affront to a certain strata of Indians. White-collared terrorist. Serial offender. Activist butterfly. Secessionist. Attention-monger. Rabble-rouser. Hate-merchant. Watching the enraged epithets being shot at her on national television a few days ago, it was difficult to remember that Arundhati Roy is a writer and public intellectual who has, at many crucial junctures, brought the nation’s attention to chasms that threatened to tear it apart.

Over the last decade, in fact, Roy has been there first at almost every trench line: illuminating, dissecting, warning, presaging. Taunting the cosy out of their towers. Magnifying the fights of the voiceless. Few other contemporary Indian writers have engaged so fiercely and urgently with the idea and reality of India. And none have taken it apart as unflinchingly.

It is impossible to understand the profound, yet scrappy and conflicted, impact of Roy’s political writings and utterances on India unless one recalls the dizzy euphoria of her arrival and the irony of the journey she picked for herself afterwards. Watching her now, few will remember that Roy was first announced to the world by a breathless article in a leading Indian magazine. The year was 1996. Liberalisation was just five years old. An ebullient middle-class was looking for a mascot. Roy came tailor-made from heaven: she had an elfin beauty, a diamond flash in her nose, a mane of gorgeous hair, a romantic backstory and a manuscript that triggered an international bidding war. India loved her. From the moment The God of Small Things was published, Roy was deemed the chosen one. As the successes of the book piled up — the huge advances, the translations in 40 languages, and finally the Booker (the first time any resident Indian had won it) — it was a done deal: Arundhati Roy was India’s triumphant entry on the global stage. She was the princess at the ball. More:

‘An independent Kashmiri nation may be a flawed entity, but is independent India perfect?’

Also in Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury interviews Arundhati Roy:

How do you interpret azadi? Going back to the earlier question about your critique of nation states, why would you be advocating the birth of a new nation state? Why not intellectually urge the dilution of nation states instead — more porous borders, less masculine constructs based on power and identity.

It doesn’t matter how I interpret azadi. It matters how the people of Kashmir interpret azadi. About my critique of the nation state — as I said, if we are keen to dilute its masculinity, let’s begin the process at home. Let’s dismantle the nuclear arsenal, roll up the flags, stand down the army and stop the crazed nationalistic rhetoric… then we can preach to others. More:

Can Arundhati Roy be called a traitor?

The Booker prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy under fire for saying “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this.” There was talk of Roy being tried in court for charges of sedition.

On NDTV’s the Buck Stops Here, Vinod Mehta, Sajjad Lone, Harish Salve, Raju Ramachandran debate the issue with Barkha Dutt.

The Hindu editorial: In his classic defence of free speech, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill laid down what is known as the ‘harm principle.’ It postulates that the only justification for silencing a person against his will is to prevent him from causing harm to others. It is to this powerful libertarian mid-19th century principle that we owe the idea that free speech cannot be proscribed merely because we find it disagreeable, and that curbs may be imposed only if such expression constitutes a direct, explicit, and unequivocal incitement to violence. There is no such nexus in Ms Roy’s statements on Kashmir, which are shaped around the theme of gross human rights violations and (as she points out in a statement: “Pity the Nation that has to silence its writers” ) “fundamentally a call for justice.” It is tragi-comic that there is talk of ‘sedition’ at a time when it is regarded as obsolete in many countries.

Ignore history at your own peril: Manoj Joshi in Mail Today:

Sixty three years ago, on this day, in the pre-dawn darkness and the chill of an autumn morn, 6 civilian and 3 Royal Indian Air Force C-47 Dakota aircraft took off from New Delhi’s Palam and Willingdon airports respectively. The two flights met up over the skies of Haryana and became a single armada. Each civilian aircraft had 15 soldiers of the 1 Sikh Regiment, based in Gurgaon, the military ones had 17, as well as 225 kg of supplies. The troops were fully equipped with arms, ammunition and dry rations to enable them to go into battle as soon as they hit the ground. Their destination?

Srinagar airport.

The Sikhs had been given just about two hours to get ready and emplaned after a hot meal. Their instructions were that if they could not raise the air traffic control in Srinagar airport, they were to turn around and land in Jammu and proceed by road. Fortunately, after an uneventful 3 ½ hour flight, the Sikhs landed safely and were followed by two more flights of 19 Dakotas later in the day that brought in another company of troops and some supplies.

But they had little idea what lay ahead. They spent the night in defensive positions around the airport and next morning, their commanding officer Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai led his troops and took up positions east of Baramula, 72 kms from Srinagar, occupied by a tribal backed army that had been sent into Kashmir by Pakistan. As soon as he did so, the Sikhs came under a strong attack from the tribal lashkars. Among the first casualties of the clash was Colonel Rai himself, struck by a stray bullet, as he organised a tactical withdrawal towards Srinagar. Thus commenced what is called the first Kashmir War whose consequences resonate to this day.

More here at Manoj Joshi’s blog

Midnight’s other children

Isaac Chotiner, executive editor of The Book, the online book review of The New Republic, in The New York Times:

In the spring of 1997, the literary quarterly Granta published an issue devoted to India’s Golden Jubilee. The tone was cautious but celebratory: on the cover, the country’s name was printed in bright red letters, followed by an exclamation point. Fifty years after partition, an independent India was rapidly establishing itself as an international power. The issue, which consisted largely of contributions from native Indians writing in English, was a testament both to the country’s extraordinary intellectual and artistic richness, and to one of the few legacies of British colonialism that could be unequivocally celebrated by readers in South Asia and the West: a common language. Seventeen years after Salman Rushdie’s shot across the bow with “Midnight’s Children,” a new generation of Indian writers was, in Granta’s words, “matching India’s new vibrancy with their own.”

In the ensuing years, the American appetite for Indian culture has only grown. Many of the writers who arrived on the scene in the 1980s and ’90s — Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy (whose wildly successful novel “The God of Small Things” was first serialized in Granta), Amit Chaudhuri — continued to publish fiction and reportage, and a new wave of novelists, including Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, went on to write prize-winning, best-selling books. Readers of Roy, Desai or Adiga — not to mention the viewers who flocked to “Slumdog Millionaire” — have not been spared portraits of Indian life’s miseries (caste-based discrimination, horrific poverty). But the folkloric and redemptive aspects of the stories, already familiar thanks to Rushdie’s magic realism and the more romantic understandings of Hinduism associated with the Kama Sutra, have merely solidified Westerners’ rosy vision of India. These books and films have also complemented the work of writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, who was born in London and raised in Rhode Island and has written vividly about Indian-Americans. The Indian experience, however foreign, has become part of the American experience. More:

The Trickledown Revolution

The answer lies not in the excesses of capitalism or communism. It could well spring from our subaltern depths. Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

In the early morning hours of July 2, 2010, in the remote forests of Adilabad, the Andhra Pradesh state police fired a bullet into the chest of a man called Chemkuri Rajkumar, known to his comrades as Azad. Azad was a member of the politburo of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had been nominated by his party as its chief negotiator for the proposed peace talks with the Government of India. Why did the police fire at point-blank range and leave those tell-tale burn marks, when they could so easily have covered their tracks? Was it a mistake or was it a message?

They killed a second person that morning—Hemchandra Pandey, a young journalist who was travelling with Azad when he was apprehended. Why did they kill him? Was it to make sure no eyewitness remained alive to tell the tale? Or was it just whimsy?

In the course of a war, if, in the preliminary stages of a peace negotiation, one side executes the envoy of the other side, it’s reasonable to assume that the side that did the killing does not want peace. It looks very much as though Azad was killed because someone decided that the stakes were too high to allow him to remain alive. That decision could turn out to be a serious error of judgement. Not just because of who he was, but because of the political climate in India today.

Days after I said goodbye to the comrades and emerged from the Dandakaranya forest, I found myself charting a weary but familiar course to Jantar Mantar, on Parliament Street in New Delhi. Jantar Mantar is an old observatory built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur in 1710. In those days it was a scientific marvel, used to tell the time, predict the weather and study the planets. Today, it’s a not-so-hot tourist attraction that doubles up as Delhi’s little showroom for democracy.

For some years now, protests—unless they are patronised by political parties or religious organisations—have been banned in Delhi. The Boat Club on Rajpath, which has in the past seen huge, historic rallies that sometimes lasted for days, is out of bounds for political activity now, and is only available for picnics, balloon-sellers and boat-rides. As for India Gate, candlelight vigils and boutique protests for middle-class causes, such as ‘Justice for Jessica’—the model who was killed in a Delhi bar by a thug with political connections—are allowed, but nothing more. More:

The reactionary

Isaac Chotiner in The New Republic on Arundhati Roy“s Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers:

If Roy’s disgust with America helps to explain her opinion of India, then her opinion of democracy helps to explain her disgust with America. From the very start of her book she shows nothing but condescension and contempt for democracy. “While we’re still arguing about whether there’s life after death,” she begins, “can we add another question to the cart? Is there life after democracy? What sort of life will it be? By democracy I don’t mean democracy as an ideal or aspiration. I mean the working model–Western liberal democracy and its variants, such as they are.” According to Roy, “the West” is no longer democratic. “The question here, really, is what have we done to democracy,” she writes. “What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning? What happens when each of its institutions has metastasized into something malign and dangerous?” The strangeness of this passage–its false idea that Europe and India and the United States are less democratic than they used to be–is never really explained or expanded upon. It is quite remarkable to see the arch-progressive Roy so unexcited by great strides toward minority rights, gender equality, the acceptance of homosexuality, and a whole range of other breakthroughs in social fairness. One begins to get the suspicion that Roy simply dislikes democracy.

She certainly has no use for democratic institutions. “The politics of mass markets and vote banks is leading to majoritarianism and eventually fascism,” she ominously observes. “These essays show how the institutions of democracy–the courts, the police, the ‘free’ press, and, of course, elections–far from working as a system of checks and balances, often do the opposite.” After commenting on an unsavory Indian politician and his style of campaigning, she adds scornfully: “One person’s monster is the other one’s messiah. That’s democracy.” Well, no, that isn’t democracy. Democracy is much more, and much harder, and much more precious, than that.

Most appalling, and most revealing, is her attack on the Indian judiciary. The Indian Supreme Court has long been one of the country’s most resilient and democratic institutions. But sometimes it interprets the law on issues of land management in a manner that allows for large-scale development projects, and so Roy has only contempt for it. “The higher judiciary, the Supreme Court in particular, doesn’t just uphold the law, it micro-manages our lives,” she warns. “Its judgments range through matters great and small. It decides what’s good for the environment and what isn’t, whether dams should be built, rivers linked, mountains moved, forests felled. It decides what our cities should look like and who has the right to live in them. It decides whether slums should be cleared, streets widened, shops sealed, whether strikes should be allowed, industries should be shut down, relocated, or privatized…. It has become the premier arbiter of public policy in this country that markets itself as the World’s Largest Democracy.” A judiciary that settles disputes, that concerns itself with environmental questions, that reviews the laws of the elected branch: imagine! More:

Arundhati Roy and Indra Nooyi among Forbes’ 30 most inspiring women

Social activist and writer Arundhati Roy and Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, feature in the Forbes list of 30 most inspiring women. Roy ranks third on the list while Indra Nooyi is the tenth most inspirational woman figure. Read more here

The peril of having your words rendered suspect and aired nationally

Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

While the Indian government considers deploying the army and air force to quell the rebellion in the countryside, strange things are happening in the cities. On June 2, the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights held a public meeting in Mumbai. The main speakers were Gautam Navlakha, editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly, and myself. The press was there in strength. The meeting lasted for more than three hours. It was widely covered by the print media and TV. On June 3, several newspapers, TV channels and online news portals like rediff.com covered the event quite accurately. The Times of India (Mumbai edition) had an article headlined ‘We need an idea that is neither Left nor Right’, and the Hindu’s article was headlined ‘Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?’ The recording of the meeting is up on YouTube.

The day after the meeting, PTI put out a brazenly concocted account of what I had said. The PTI report was first posted by the Indian Express online on June 3 at 1.35 pm. The headline said: ‘Arundhati backs Maoists, dares authorities to arrest her’. Here are some excerpts:

“Author Arundhati Roy has justified the armed resistance by Maoists and dared the authorities to arrest her for supporting their cause. ‘The Naxal movement could be nothing but an armed struggle. I am not supporting violence. But I am also completely against contemptuous atrocities-based political analysis. It ought to be an armed movement. Gandhian way of opposition needs an audience, which is absent here. People have debated long before choosing this form of struggle,’ said Roy, who had saluted the ‘people of Dantewada’ after 76 CRPF and police personnel were mowed down by Maoists in the deadliest attack targeting security forces. ‘I am on this side of line. I do not care…pick me up put me in jail,’ she asserted.”

Let me begin with the end of the report. The suggestion that I saluted the “people of Dantewada” after the Maoists killed 76 CRPF and police personnel is a piece of criminal defamation. I have made it quite clear in an interview on CNN-IBN that I viewed the death of the CRPF men as tragic, and that I thought they were pawns in a war of the rich against the poor. What I said at the meeting in Mumbai was that I was contemptuous of the hollow condemnation industry the media has created and that as the war went on and the violence spiralled, it was becoming impossible to extract any kind of morality from the atrocities committed by both sides, so an atrocity-based analysis was a meaningless exercise. I said that I was not there to defend the killing of ordinary people by anybody, neither the Maoists nor the government, and that it was important to ask what the CRPF was doing with 27 AK-47s, 38 INSAS, 7 SLRs, 6 light machine guns, one stengun and a two-inch mortar in tribal villages. If they were there to wage war, then being railroaded into condemning the killing of the CRPF men by the Maoists meant being railroaded into coming down on the side of the government in a war that many of us disagreed with. More:

We can do without her moral certificates

In Mail Today, political philosopher Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor at Hyderabad University, critiques Arundhati Roy‘s long piece in Outlook on the Maoists, ‘Walking with the Comrades’.

Arundhati Roy’s essays remind me of two people. Their length and their tone of moral certitude remind me of Arun Shourie, the journalist. He landed ultimately in the BJP and now endorses every crime and misdemeanour of the BJP, including the 2002 post-Godhra riots and Narendra Modi’s role during that period. The second person that Roy’s writings remind me of is Carl Schmitt.

Those unfamiliar with Schmitt would do well to remember that he was Hitler’s apologist, wrote tracts that supported the Nazi regime. He found liberal democracy and parliamentarianism impotent and mediocre ways of organizing human societies. But even today, he is studied seriously for suggesting that in the age of technology, the only political relationship that is feasible is the one between friend and foe. The political for him lies in identifying the enemy and eliminating the enemy. There is, therefore, always an in-group and an out-group, those who belong and those who do not.

While Roy might use the word `fascist’ as a term of abuse, she is hardly aware that she, perhaps unconsciously, shares much with one of the most articulate and thoughtful apologists of the Nazi regime.

In romanticizing the naxals and justifying their violence, she is merely a victim of a philosophy that designates virtue and moral superiority to one section of the population and delineates the rest as morally and ethically compromised. It would be perfectly right to say that the naxals imitate the criminality of the state (a phrase paraphrased from Marx, no less), but to justify violence as a legitimate means of redressal of grievances is plainly silly. More:

Mao vs. Gandhi in Chhattisgarh

Salil Tripathi in the Wall Street Journal:

Maoist insurgents ambushed Indian security forces in the dense forest region of Chhattisgarh state in central India on Tuesday, killing over 70 troops of the Central Reserve Police Force. Analysts are calling it the worst single-day loss in fighting domestic insurgencies.

But despite such massacres, not everyone in India regards the Maoists with horror. One such apologist is the talented and articulate novelist Arundhati Roy who has, since her Booker Prize-winning 1997 novel “The God of Small Things,” focused on bigger things, such as attacking Indian economic reforms, foreign investment, free markets, the United States and Israel.

In a rambling 19,500-word essay published a week ago in Outlook magazine in India and the Guardian newspaper, Ms. Roy writes of recent experiences following the Maoists in the Dandakaranya forest, near where the security forces were ambushed this week. The piece was headlined “Gandhi, but with guns.”

The comparison is obscene. Not only does it suggest an amoral nihilism, it also represents a rewriting of history. A Gandhian with a gun is as absurd as a Maoist pacifist. India’s founding father Mohandas Gandhi may not have been as perfect as some would make him out, but he did believe that only the right means could be used to reach an end, however noble. In 1922 he suspended a nationwide civil disobedience movement, when some Congress followers burned a police station in Chauri Chaura, killing over a dozen policemen and officers. Maoist ideology is precisely the opposite: The ends justify the means. More:

From The Independent: Who are the Naxalites?

What do the rebels want?

Theoretically, the leadership of the movement says they are committed to a “protracted armed struggle” in order to seize power from the state. Yet the Maoists also stress that they are fighting to protect the rights of India’s most oppressed communities, the adivasis or tribal people, and dalits, or untouchables, whose land and resources have often been taken by Indian and international corporations. While some of the rebel leaders were originally educated urbanites, their rank-and-file fighters are made up overwhelmingly of tribal people and other marginalised people. The government routinely claims that the rebels are opposed to development and progress, yet GN Saibaba, an activist and professor at Delhi University, said: “The government has no other explanation to offer for why there is an uprising. It is not true that the Maoists are against development but the questions they ask is ‘whose development’ and ‘what sort of development’.” More:

Arundhati Roy on Obama’s wars, India and why democracy is “the biggest scam in the world”

A new bend in the river

Having moved beyond postcolonialism and a welter of sari-and-mango novels, Indian literature has struck out into darker, messier terrain, Rana Dasgupta writes. Is this the new lore of an agonised nation? From The National:

Novels and nations are linked by an intimate kind of analogy. If nations are the stage on which modern life and feeling unfold, novels are the form in which these things are recounted, understood and turned, finally, into lore. Such is the apparent scale and ambition of modern life that no smaller treatment than the novel will finally match up – not even cinema, which, for all its protean vitality, has never quite displaced the novel from the pinnacle of modern cultural achievement.

This is why emerging nations strive to beget great novels. During the years of America’s rise, for instance, the project of the “great American novel” was conscious and determined. Industry alone would not make the United States great: to grow beyond Europe it needed to match Flaubert and Tolstoy. In 1897, the novelist Frank Norris wrote that American writers should be focused on the task of creating the novel “which is the most thoroughly American in its tone and most aptly interprets the phases of American life”. More:

Chetan Bhagat: the paperback king of India

Robert McCrum in The Observer:

Chetan Bhagat

A year after the launch of Slumdog Millionaire, the Oscar-winning movie of Vikas Swarup’s novel Q & A, some more quiz questions: Who is the most read living Indian writer? Is it a) Aravind Adiga (Booker prize-winning author of The White Tiger); b) Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children); c) Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy); or d) Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things)?

The answer: none of these. Two generations after independence, one of the vital characteristics of the new India is that the educated middle class who once turned to English for business applications now see it in a different light. To them, in a manner typical of English language and culture in many parts of formerly colonial society, it is becoming decoupled from its bitter imperial past.

This new middle-class audience – small entrepreneurs, managers, travel agents, salespeople, secretaries, clerks – has an appetite for literary entertainment that falls between the elite idiom of the cultivated literati, who might be familiar with the novels of Amitav Ghosh or Salman Rushdie, and the Indian English of the street and the supermarket. Theirs is the Indian English of the outsourcing generation. For these people, there is only one author: Chetan Bhagat. Who? More:

Arundhati Roy on Democracy Now!

Author Arundhati Roy on the Human Costs of India’s Economic Growth, the View of Obama from New Delhi, and Escalating US Attacks in Af-Pak. Click here for transcript.

Arundhati Roy: ‘What’s exciting is that writing has become a weapon’

Since winning the Booker prize in 1997, Arundhati Roy has put fiction on hold to become a global dissenter against repression, economic ‘progress’ – and dams. Tim Adams discovers the roots of her political passion. From the Guardian:

Arundhati Roy has two voices. The first, dramatically personal and playful, was the one in which she wrote her extraordinary debut novel, The God of Small Things, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in rural Kerala. The second voice is flatter and angrier, more urban and distrustful of the quirks of the individual. She describes it as “writing from the heart of the crowd”. It is this voice that she has used exclusively in the 12 years since her novel was published, in four collections of non-fiction – the latest of which, Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy, was published last week.

Roy, now 47, describes the difference between the two voices as the difference between “dancing and walking”. It is a long while since Roy’s writing has danced. She says she pedestrianised her imagination not out of choice, not at all, but because there seemed nothing else to do. “If I could,” she says, “I would love to spend all my time writing fiction. With the non-fiction I wrote one book that I wanted to write and three more that I didn’t.” More

Arundhati Roy at Karachi Press Club


Click here to see the second part of this video on YouTube.

The silent horror in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka government is carrying out a genocide against its Tamil minority citizens and the world’s media is silent, writes Arundhati Roy in The Times of India

lanka1The horror that is unfolding in Sri Lanka becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it. There is almost no reporting in the mainstream Indian media — or indeed in the international press — about what is happening there. Why this should be so is a matter of serious concern.

From the little information that is filtering through it looks as though the Sri Lankan government is using the propaganda of the ‘war on terror’ as a fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of democracy in the country, and commit unspeakable crimes against the Tamil people. Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters are being bombed and turned into a war zone. Reliable estimates put the number of civilians trapped at over 200,000. The Sri Lankan Army is advancing, armed with tanks and aircraft.

[pic Byflickr's photostream under the Creative Commons license]

Arundhati Roy: Mumbai was not our 9/11

From the Guardian:

taj_hotelWe’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11″. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.

As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.

But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.


Azaadi (freedom)

Arundhati Roy visits Kashmir in Outlook

For the past sixty days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half-a-million heavily-armed soldiers in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government’s worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage.

This one is nourished by people’s memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been ‘disappeared’, hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, raped and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, re-bottled and sent back to where it came from.

[Azaadi means freedom]


Arundhati Roy: The Briefing

It’s her first work of fiction since the hugely successful, mightily awarded and profusely translated God of Small Things. Arundhati Roy’s The Briefing is an allegory, a powerful tale about climate change, the war on terror and corporate raj. Outlook has an excerpt as well as an interview with the author. First, the excerpt:

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

My greetings. I’m sorry I’m not here with you today but perhaps it’s just as well. In times such as these, it’s best not to reveal ourselves completely, not even to each other.

If you step over the line and into the circle, you may be able to hear better. Mind the chalk on your shoes.

I know many of you have travelled great distances to be here. Have you seen all there is to see? The pillbox batteries, the ovens, the ammunition depots with cavity floors? Did you visit the workers’ mass grave? Have you studied the plans carefully? Would you say it’s beautiful, this fort? They say it sits astride the mountains like a defiant lion.


And, in an interview to Outlook, Arundhati Roy talks about The Briefing, her second book and her approach to fiction and non-fiction:

This is your first piece of published fiction since The God of Small Things; and you are also writing your second book. How hard or easy is it to write fiction after a gap of over a decade?

Well this is only a little shard of fiction…I don’t think we should make too much of it. It cannot in any way be compared to writing a novel…but writing fiction — shard or otherwise — is a delight. Like dancing after walking.