Arundhati Roy Among India’s Naxalbari: A Debate, Part 2
Posted by n3wday on April 18, 2010
A response to Jairus Banaji
Banaji asks, “But where does the rest of India fit in? What categories do we have for them?” –
Well, the irony is, the rest of India does “fit in” somehow, somewhere, in the scheme of things, unlike those hungry tribal boys who eat up their bananas on their way to meet a “kaamraid” and understand defending life with guns. Unless these tribals are psychopaths, I don’t understand any meaningful explanation for them to live the way they are doing. And as far as the “rest of India” is concerned, the “categories” of civil society and all such civil discourses keep the academia, the media, the law, and the government going. Why should civil-society suddenly, deliberately feature in a debate which is precisely about people who are forced to lead an un-civic life?! Why should pro-civil society intellectuals behave like judges in their suggestive remarks about the tribals being innocent victims of (Maoist) politics? Are we to believe that the whole debate which involves the life and death so many poor people needs a kind of judge-versus-vanguard quarrel?! I feel “Who are with the Maoists?” isn’t the question we face. The question we face is: Who are with the tribals?
Says Banaji, “In Arundhati’s vision of politics the only agent of social change is a military force.” –
This is a totally misguided misrepresentation. I don’t think Arundhati means it at all. Only a “civic” anxiety could have mis-read what Arundhati painfully tries to make us see. That certain people are not living under conditions we can even imagine unless we witness and hear it. Does human life have to carry as complex a message that intellectual discourses carry?! What the hell do we mean by “social change” when all that it can mean is something of a middle-class passport to “conscious political” livelihood?! Whereas, the SOCIAL itself is UNDER THREAT in certain societies and CHANGE can only mean either daily annihilation or resistance?!
Banaji says, “In Arundhati, the vision of the Communist Manifesto is reversed.” –
But why should the understanding of any political situation strictly follow the grammar of the Communist Manifesto? Why can’t, in other words, the “vision” of the Communist Manifesto be REVERSED if the historical juncture demands it? Are people belonging to the left forever condemned to live on such a fixed notion of vision? Is that the kind of respect we have for human thinking? Are we supposed to read history backwards, through the neat efficacy of texts, and not hear the jarring voices of the present?
Banaji again accuses Arundhati of siding with those for whom: “There is no history of the left that diverges from the romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari and its legacies” –
This is again a deliberately old trick of an argument. To condemn the “extreme” as romantic (un-democratic?), and create its normal/normalised opponent as a “viable” option for left politics. I think the rejection of romantic hagiographies of Naxalbari or any other need not mean the rejection of conditions and genuinely political motivations which create such “extremes” in the first place, against whose light, the “viable” left has to often, uncomfortably see and justify itself. Because any revolutionary idea of politics can only emerge out of social/political phenomena which threaten to “blast open the continuum of history” (to use good, old Benjamin). Or else, we are merely being the academicians of history and politics – and to hell with us and our perspectives and retrospectives.