Revolution in South Asia

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Arundhati Roy: India’s Democracy is a Charade

Posted by redpines on May 25, 2011

In this piece from The Wall Street Journal, writer and public intellectual Arundhati Roy continues her defense of India’s Maoists and tribal peoples, while criticizing the Indian state, its upper classes and capitalism in general.

“We are living in a country where simultaneously we are trying to make the discourse of democracy sophisticated while we are colonizing ourselves”

Arundhati Roy on Indian Democracy, Maoists

by Krishna Pokharel

Writer and activist Arundhati Roy, winner of the 1997 Man Booker prize for “The God of Small Things,” is undoubtedly India’s iconoclast no.1. During the launch of her two latest books—“Broken Republic” and “Walking With the Comrades” —on Friday evening, she came to the defence of the military tactics of India’s Maoists in her polemical best:

“When you have 800 CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary force deployed to fight country’s internal insurgencies] marching three days into the forest; surrounding a forest village and burning it and raping women, what are the poor supposed to do? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Can people who have no money boycott goods? What sort of civil disobedience we are asking them to adhere to?”

She backpedaled a little saying: “But at the same time what goes on in the forest in terms of resistance cannot go on outside the forest.”

In “Walking With the Comrades,” Ms. Roy recounts time she spent last year in the forest with the banned Maoist insurgents, who are active in large swathes of central and eastern India. In “Broken Republic,” she writes about the character of Indian democracy. Both books are published by Penguin India.

In conversation with economist Amit Bhaduri at the amphitheater of New Delhi’s India Habitat Center, Ms. Roy dwelt at length on those themes. “Today, it’s true that usurping of land, the colonization of the land of the poor is at the heart of the unfolding civil war in our country,” she said. “If you look at the map of India today; the forests, the adivasis [tribal people], the natural resources, the Maoists and the civil war, they are all stacked one on top of another. You have to be blind not to be able to notice the vertical connection between them all.”

Anti-capitalism was the reining tone of the evening’s discussion, and Ms. Roy offered an analysis of capitalism’s linguistic tactics.

“When you call something like bauxite [a raw mineral from which aluminum is extracted], which is in the mountain, a resource you are automatically falling into the language of extractive capitalism. Because for the adivasis, the bauxite outside the mountain is worthless; the bauxite inside the mountain is the source of life, is the source of faith, is the source of everything. You take the bauxite out of the mountain, then to some corporations it’s worth four trillion dollars, but to a culture that doesn’t look at it as a resource it’s worth nothing,” Mr. Roy said.

She added: “Even language itself somehow has sort of conspired to make us think in certain ways.”

Ms. Roy said that state governments have signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding with the mining companies for the mining of the tribal land. She said many of those have not been actualized because of “the stubbornness and the resilience of the battle that the poorest people are waging against the richest corporations.”

“But these mining corporations historically are used to winning their battles. So they are just waiting like lazy predators…. If it’s not the Salwa Judum [a state-supported vigilante group fighting Maoists in the central state of Chhattisgarh], it will be the army,” Ms. Roy said. “We are at the moment facing the prospect of a militarized democracy, if that isn’t an oxymoron.”

“Isn’t it a generic problem of capitalism?” Mr. Bhaduri.

“It is a generic problem,” Ms. Roy concurred.

In her over 50-minute-long conversation with Mr. Bhaduri, Ms. Roy also criticized the country’s middle and upper classes of society. “We are living in a country where simultaneously we are trying to make the discourse of democracy sophisticated while we are colonizing ourselves,” Ms. Roy said. She said the most successful “secessionist struggle” in India is “the secession of the middle and upper classes into outer space from where they look down and say ‘what’s our bauxite doing in their mountains, what’s our water doing in their rivers, what’s our timber doing in their forests.”

Ms. Roy said that India continues to be a “charade of democracy where you have all the rituals, you have all the institutions of democracy that appear to be functioning.”

“You have these institutions—the courts, the media, the parliament—all of these being hollowed out and then shells being put in place,” she said. Ms. Roy explained why she sees Indian democracy as being reduced to a ritual.” I say what if any poor man or woman, any adivasi living in the forest—What if they were to turn around and say to us tell me one democratic institution in this country where I can appeal and where I can get a hearing?”

“I can guarantee you there is no answer to that question today in India,” Ms. Roy said. “There is absolutely no answer to that question. They cannot go to the courts. If they vote, it’s like voting for this washing soap or that washing soap both owned by the same holding company.”

Ms. Roy said she stands on the other side of the line with the “bandwidth of resistance movements.”

“From there I turn around and ask our comrades the question, which is: ‘Will we leave the bauxite in the mountain?’”

“And that I think is the real question facing all of us,” Ms. Roy said.

4 Responses to “Arundhati Roy: India’s Democracy is a Charade”

  1. Krishna Tamu said

    Arundhati Roy is a Bold and truth Writer.She is the heart of Indian poor and oppressed people who are badly treated by the indian reactionary government. Similarly, She is the source of inspiration and truth of the world’s oppressed and working class people. Arundhati Roy is ready to lose any cost, even life to expose the oppression, exploitation, loot, corruption nature Indian reactionary government. And she is standing for truth bodly. She is continously raising her voice for the equal rights, justice, right to live, change of Indian oppressed people. So, She is doing good. We highly respect her works and Salute her. we also do commitment of Solidarity for her works. Long-live Arundhati Roy!

  2. K. Vareeswaran said

    I have absolutely no doubt that Roy has said the right thing. She is brilliant at identifying the problems that plague India and many low income countries. The problem is with the economic culture that is deeply ingrained within us. The middle class is hooked to mindless consumerism. Those at the bottom are yearning to join the middle and upper classes to do the same. Extractive capitalism is indded playing havoc. but what is the sustainable alternative that could replace this monster. We see the environment ruined, people being very materialistically oriented. A sharing and caring culture seems so utopian!

  3. Rajesh said

    Arunadhati Roy has lit a fire under a docile populace who have suffered for centuries under Hinduism tyranny of castes and monopaly of economy. The racket that Hinduism is is slowly being exposed by the educated Dalits by their writings and intellectual insight.
    Arunadhati spearheads a movement that will gain momentum slowly but surely. How long will Inida’s poor suffer under colonization of upper caste Hindus. Now that Indian army has been deployed to fight Maoist fighters, its not the time to run, but to face these forces. Death will come to all of us. But we must die protection our forests, our land, our future and most of all our dignity.
    Corrupt upper caste politicians will steal all the resources of India, Its water, its minerals and its forests. We will not allow them to take any of it.
    Force should be met with force.
    We must take help from our brothers and sisters across the borders for arms and finance to continue our struggle. We must not Indian Govt win.
    Long live the revolution.

  4. siva said

    It is time that Arundhati Roy is joined by other Indian writers of repute in exposing the reality that the Indian state is.
    It is also necessary to rise in her defence against harassment by the state and the Hinduthva right.

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