An Evening with Arundhati Roy: Discussion and Dissent
Posted by hetty7 on May 31, 2011
This article originally appeared on The Hindu.
Shades of Dissent
A new compilation of activist essays by Arundhati Roy was recently launched amidst voices of protest.
Last week saw the release of “Broken Republic”, a Penguin India publication that consolidates three essays by the irrepressible Arundhati Roy. After her Booker Prize winning novel “The God of Small Things” in 1997, this is the latest addition to a body of non-fiction writing. The launch in New Delhi included a discussion as well as musical performance.
Roy, an outspoken critic of prevailing paradigms of industrial ‘development’ was in conversation with the distinguished economist Amit Bhaduri. This was followed by an engaging musical performance by the experimental group Ska Vengers
Through 2010, Roy travelled into the forests of Central India, homeland to millions of indigenous people and ultra lucrative business prospect to some of the world’s biggest mining corporations. The result is a passionate take from what she calls “the heart of an unfolding revolution.
Roy elaborated by saying “War has spread from the borders of India to the forests, in the very heart of the country. In these hyper industrialised times multi-national corporations are rapaciously usurping land traditionally inhabited by the poor. For instance in Orissa centuries of ecological evolution in the forms of mountain ranges is being depleted of bauxite to create astronomical industrial profits. This ‘extract of capitalism’ cannot be blindly accepted. To see natural minerals as a mere (industrial) resource is questionable. It is an example of how language has conspired to make us think in certain ways.”
Roy also spoke eloquently about the need to deepen the discourse on democracy and go beyond its ritual markers. She said “It is unfortunate that democracy has come to be primarily about free market capitalism and not human rights. That said, there are several examples of Communism decimating nature in an unbridled clamour for ‘growth’.”
Taking off from an earlier essay (Democracy: What is she when she’s not home”) Roy said, “Democrats in countries like the U.S. may appear to keep their working classes relatively happy but can be as brutal in matters of foreign policy. Historically speaking, colonial powers have robbed poorer countries of natural resources to fuel their own industrial revolution. (They did this while allowing liberal universities back home to expound equality and egalitarianism).”
“British rule left us utterly impoverished. Today’s government made of Indians is doing the same to its own people.” This plea for humanism with a global/planetary approach was well received by the audience.
Roy’s scathing critique of the State and the downside of economic globalization has generally drawn polarized responses from the middle and upper classes in India. The heavy turnout at the event seemed to indicate that regardless of where one personally stands on the debate (unequivocal support, outrage or a more nuanced position), her persona and views are intriguing.
As a member of the audience said “A country like ours that calls itself a democracy cannot give absolute powers to its government and total free play to corporations. Roy’s discourse is an important corrective. Even though her tone is overly strident and provocative at times, she does give us fodder for introspection. Arundhati is to be welcomed.”
This space for democratic expression was intruded upon by a group of young men who stormed into the venue and shouted anti-Roy slogans describing her as a “traitor to Mother India”. They also tried to break equipment that was to be used for a musical performance later. The miscreants were quickly frisked away by the police.
The evening ended with a celebration of creative dissent wherein the group Ska Vengers regaled the audience with a dose of quirky political rap.