Of Arundhati Roy and war against people
"All they have to do is to turn around and shoot. All the people have to do is to lie down and die." (The Ministry of Utmost Happiness)
In an interview, Arundhati Roy, the Booker Prize winning author of God of Small Things, once expressed her frustration with the fact that her books are made to carry the baggage of wrong kind of global attention; people read her books because she is an Indian and that she is an woman writing for the 'fringe-people' of the society- Dalits , Maoists, Adivashis and Kashmiris. There are readers who take a sensationalist attitude to any book coming from the sub-continent and they, as she said, miss the point completely.
Arundhati Roy writes with passion and pours her soul into the books she writes, fiction or non-fiction. She indeed writes for Velutha, Rahel, Estha, Ammu, Anjum, Tilottoma-characters from God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her two world-famous novels. These characters are fictional representation of real men and women in India, living in extreme identity crisis and at the receiving end of a subtly launched state-backed offensive.
Roy fears that this offensive has morphed into a full-scale war threatening to wipe out a section of population clean from the earth. Surprisingly, the war is going on in one of the largest democracies of the world and the "collective conscience" seems to have nothing to do about it
Democracy is a "government of the people, by the people, for the people". However it is pure idealism. In a series of strongly documented nonfiction works, the empirical Roy reports that since the independence of India, her democracy as a political concept has suffered the worst ideological regression.
On paper, of course, democracy is still a political system committed to bring benefits to the majority of people but the question whether that benefits trickle down to the ordinary people or not remains virtually unanswered; in spite of all her glories and achievements, India has failed to deliver goods for millions of people whose political and economic condition has taken the worst dip in recent times.
Roy may be a story teller but the tales she tells of Adivashi, Dalits and other marginal people are disconcertingly real; these are tales of displacement, of devaluation, of devastation of catastrophic proportion known to exist only in war. The modern India is at war with her people living in the valleys of Kashmir, in the deep forest of central region, and with millions of untouchables of a caste-ridden social stratum.
In a prose that bespeaks her love for countrymen, Roy reports that India is on the fast lane to be one of elites of global super-power; she needs a lot of things- damns, irrigation, power plants, nuclear bombs etc for the empowerment of the mass people.
And who better is there to give people all these than the politicians? They are the movers and shakers with express mandate from people to do whatever they want to do.Roy informs us that these mandated representatives pursue billion dollar projects in high profile deals with multi-national organizations like World Bank, IMF and the like.
They are super-expensive deals backed by super-fabricated national and international feasibility reports; there is no clear plan for these 'pricey' development-projects to work out in the long run- all are paperwork and prognostication. But these so-called 'development-works' will displace population by millions, wrench people from their ever-diminishing lands and dispose them of finally into a life of vagrancy, prostitution, slum-dwelling and crime.
Who are supposed to take responsibility of these homeless starvelings slated to die an ignominious death (remember how men sleeping on the street had their skulls crushed by speeding trucks in Ministry)? Politicians definitely. They were so over-zealous to sign those contracts in the first place. Why? It's anybody's guess as Roy says.
Rehabilitation for the Project Affected People (a sleek term bureaucrats came up with) is not forthcoming either; help is calibrated to the privileges of birth. For the Dalits, Adivashi and people with different sexual identities, the story is always a story of exclusion. They have a project definition - "collateral damage", a term that, Roy says, one finds in the American-style imperialistic rhetoric.
From the numerical point of view, the PAFs in India far outnumber any community of people ever displaced by wars in history; from the point of view of catastrophic intensity, they have the most poignant story of suffering to tell the world. But Roy informs that these people are mere "stats" in some government files not meant to see the light of the day. Here is a war grinding away ruthlessly to take toll on daily basis; but the war, tragic as it is, is completely unbeknown to the rest of humanity.
A brazen demystified of sacrosanct political myths and ideologies, Roy unflinchingly points out the mockery that some moon-faced politicians make of people's love for their country; politicians, as she says, are equipped with doublespeak and spurious chants.
In India, politicians are the biggest proponents of the concepts like Privatization, Free Market and Structural Adjustment; they dish out contracts to foreign corporate houses in return for fat wads of bribe, putting the ecology and the demography of the country directly in the harm's way; these politicians, as Roy chillingly reports, are unconscionably remorseless and do not think twice before committing homicide or ecocide (the latter meaning destruction of environment).
But herein lies the rub- one cannot challenge them; because if one does, one must be interpreted as taking side against 'progress; and 'people'. So the question that Roy asks is who will take the risk and face the music. No one. When graft is factored into the deal, democracy and nationalism become a bunch of degraded notions that are turned against people in the name of people. People who dare to protest are branded "anti-progress", "anti-national".
Roy knows what she is driving at- this bravura show of nationalism is just a way of the politicians to hide their weakness; they need to make lots of nuclear bombs, orchestrate crisis-situation and play with the religious and cultural sensitivities of people, only to make sure that people never have the time and strength to learn who that guy is behind the mask of a saintly figure.
People are never undeceived; they never get to know, in this scripted war of the good against the evil, who the real good and the evil are. Politics today is a pure science of relativism. So, Roy thinks that an Osama can very well be the "doppelganger" of an Obama.
Roy laments the fact that while politics is becoming a reality show meant for the mutual benefit of the putative heroes and villains in it, the tales of men, women and children fighting for food, for a slip of land and for a caste-free society never make the headline. These people and their causes are deemed unworthy for state backed media coverage while one Anna Hazare fasting at Jantar Mantar was news that kept India under its thrall for days.
All her life Roy has been writing for these people who are without advocates to watch for their human rights; democracy brings no succor to their perennial problems; so, as big as India can be, she has no place for Veluthas, Tilottomas, Anjums and nameless people lynched in communal violence. Roy is very relevant for us; for the war against people shows no sign of relenting anywhere.
The writer teaches English at the University of Barisal