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