Saturday, March 20, 2010

Roy Among the Comrades [UPDATED 3/31/10]

Arundhati Roy irritates me: her tone, her smugness, her careless use of history -- specifically, her stringing of disparate events/places/phenomena as if they all amounted to the same old same old (e.g. lumping together the Indian annexation of Hyderabad as part of the country's "colonialis[t]" course, bizarre given the old order displaced by the annexation was an absolute monarchy hijacked by religious revivalists in its twilight, an old order diametrically opposed to the sort of peasant insurgency one would expect Roy to be sympathetic to -- were the Indian state not on the "other" side of the argument, that is) -- her sloppy and oft-expressed views that the Indian polity is no more than an "upper caste Hindu state", are annoying not only in themselves, but because they mar the force of her arguments, on issues that are so crucial one can ill afford to slip up.

But. But. But. For the courage to talk about what (at least when it comes to what can only be called a civil war in Central India) is barely touched upon by other writers in English, and rarely without resort to the empty platitudes of those who use language not to think about the problem, but to avoid thinking about problems; and for the courage -- and this is perhaps hardest for a writer, even unknowns and aspiring writers, let alone famous ones -- to not pander to her audience, to be unafraid of being misunderstood; everything Roy writes on the plight of the Indian polity's ultimate expendables (far more so than any religious minorities, far more so than even Dalits), namely the "tribal" populations, cannot be missed.

Her latest dispatch from the front-lines is in this week's Outlook.

[MARCH 31, 2010 UPDATE: Here's a clip of Roy reading from her essay (thanks sepoy!)


gaddeswarup said...

I saw Strategic Hamleting in Mizoram in the late 70s and did not know how and who startes it. Roy's article explains the origins.

gaddeswarup said...

genstrI looked at the comments in Outlook and related posts in Kafila. The reactions are very puzzling. From Rahul Banerjee's book "Recovering the Lost Tongue" and from what little I saw in Meghalaya and Mizoram in the late seventies, I feel that Roy is raising valid questions about the treatment of tribals. I do not understand most of the comments. They are either in some ideological terms or they do not want to recognize the problem.

Qalandar said...

You've hit the nail on the head gaddeswarup: hardly anyone is willing to look at the problm except through the prism of "extremism" or "development" -- when what s at stake is, simply, who should suffer/be displaced etc. for the devleopment of the rest of us?

Anonymous said...

Sudhanva Deshpande has a fairly reasoned critique of Roy's piece, while acknowledging its obvious value:

gaddeswarup said...

There have been other accounts of the situation
Nandini Bedi, in her comment 207 to the Outlook article, disgrees with Roy. Aditya Nigam has an article in Kafila entitled "Rimours of Maoism" where he sees the problem as " would appear that it is rather the frenzied drive towards development that is breeding Maoist politics." There are tribal areas where Naxalites are not that strong and the Indian government has a fairly progressive act Forest Rights Act 2006 described here:
Redressing 'historic injustice' through Forest Rights Act 2006: A Historical Institutional analysis of contemporary forest rights reform
But the implementation seems to be a problem, Shriprakash who made a documentary on its implentation in A.P is interviewd by The Hindu:
Endless Loop
His conclusions are similar to those in the above report.

Anonymous said...

(1) Tribals have no special claim on the forests. The forests and minerals belong to all Indians. Those born in cities are born without special entitlements or claims on the city. Why should the Maoist sympathizers claim that tribals have a special right to the forests and the rest of India somehow has only a secondary right on these common resources? Those minerals belong as much to a city dweller as they do to a tribal.

(2) Why do Maoist sympathizers like Arundhati Roy never ask about the source of funding of the Naxals? How are they able to afford all these landmines and guns?

(3) Are Maoist sympathizers afraid of the Maoists to ask them questions about funding and about the use of child soldiers.

Jean-Paul, Canada said...

Most interesting, especially AR's piece in "Outlook".

Yes, Anonymous, I did wonder who was funding the Maoists, and I will find out.

My personal struggle is with the very definition of the the word 'development'.

In the first place, development without peace is not really development, is it.

Also, if by development, India hopes to achieve the luxurious lifestyles seen on American television, then it must be said that it would take 4 or 5 planets like the Earth to provide that quality of lifestyle to every human being alive today. It is an illusion, and a very destructive one, not only in war casualties, but in damage done to the environment.

It should be noted, btw, that the wealthiest men and women an earth find solace in returning to the virgin forests of the planet.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I feel we are not asking the right questions. Is there no other way? for all of us???

Vetrimagal said...

//It should be noted, btw, that the wealthiest men and women an earth find solace in returning to the virgin forests of the planet.//

This is reason enough to preserve and protect forests and let those people live .

Jean-Paul, Canada said...

As I understand from this report from BBC, the Naxolites are supported by the tribals and they get their arms from dead national soldiers:

I had no idea how long this struggle has been going on (1960!), and how much Indian territory is within the "Red Corridor".

Are peace talks possible; that is the question at this point.

Roy's writing style is riveting and poignant. She drew me into the forests, but she did leave me quite free to interpret what she was saying.

It's a pity the children are not being educated.

Here in Canada, the Government offers free university education to "First Nations People" (natives indians). Many of them have become exceptional lawyers and have succeeded in reclaiming their identity (and land), where violence has failed.