Ambedkar, Gandhi and the battle against caste

The Doctor and the Saint

By ARUNDHATI ROY | 1 March 2014 |  The Caravan

BR Ambedkar in Bombay

BR Ambedkar in Bombay, in 1939—three years after publishing Annihilation of Caste, his most radical text.

ANNIHILATION OF CASTE is the nearly eighty-year-old text of a speech that was never delivered.* When I first read it I felt as though somebody had walked into a dim room and opened the windows. Reading Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar bridges the gap between what most Indians are schooled to believe in and the reality we experience every day of our lives.

My father was a Hindu, a Brahmo. I never met him until I was an adult. I grew up with my mother, in a Syrian Christian family in Ayemenem, a small village in communist-ruled Kerala. And yet all around me were the fissures and cracks of caste. Ayemenem had its own separate “Parayan” church where “Parayan” priests preached to an “untouchable” congregation. Caste was implied in peoples’ names, in the way people referred to each other, in the work they did, in the clothes they wore, in the marriages that were arranged, in the language we spoke. Even so, I never encountered the notion of caste in a single school textbook. Reading Ambedkar alerted me to a gaping hole in our pedagogical universe. Reading him also made it clear why that hole exists and why it will continue to exist until Indian society undergoes radical, revolutionary change.

Revolutions can, and often have, begun with reading.

Ambedkar was a prolific writer. Unfortunately his work, unlike the writings of Gandhi, Nehru or Vivekananda, does not shine out at you from the shelves of libraries and bookshops.

Of his many volumes, Annihilation of Caste is his most radical text. It is not an argument directed at Hindu fundamentalists or extremists, but at those who consider themselves moderate, those whom Ambedkar called “the best of Hindus”—and some academics call “left-wing Hindus.”1 Ambedkar’s point is that to believe in the Hindu shastras and to simultaneously think of oneself as liberal or moderate is a contradiction in terms.

When the text of Annihilation of Caste was published, the man who is often called the “greatest of Hindus”—Mahatma Gandhi—responded to Ambedkar’s provocation. Their debate was not a new one. Both men were their generation’s emissaries of a profound social, political and philosophical conflict that had begun long ago and has still by no means ended. Continue reading

Ambedkar, Gandhi’s most trenchant critic — an interview with Arundhati Roy

Outlook Magazine, Marcxh 10, 2014
Interview by Saba Naqvi

“We Need Ambedkar–Now, Urgently…”

Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author on her essay The Doctor and the Saint and more

In 1936, Dr B.R. Ambedkar was asked to deliver the annual lecture by the Hindu reformist group, the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal (Forum for Break-up of Caste) in Lahore. When the hosts received the text of the speech, they found the contents “unbearable” and withdrew the invitation. Ambedkar then printed 1,500 copies of his speech at his own expense and it was soon translated into several languages. Annihilation of Caste would go on to have a cult readership among the Dalit community, but remains largely unread by the privileged castes for whom it was written.

Ambedkar’s landmark speech has now been carefully annotated and reprinted. What will certainly draw contemporary public attention to it is the essay written as an introduction by the Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy, titled The Doctor and the Saint.

Almost half of the 400-page book is Roy’s essay, the other half Annihilation of Caste. Roy writes about caste in contemporary India before getting into the Gandhi-Ambedkar stand-off. Taking off from what Ambedkar described as “the infection of imitation”, the domino effect of each caste dominating the ones lower down in the hierarchy, Roy says, “The ‘infection of imitation’, like the half-life of a radioactive atom, decays exponentially as it moves down the caste ladder, but never quite disappears. It has created what Ambedkar describes as the system of ‘graded inequality’ in which even the ‘low is privileged as compared with lower. Each class being privileged, every class is interested in maintaining the system’”.

However, the thrust of Roy’s powerful but disturbing essay deals with her exploration of the Gandhi-Ambedkar debate, and the man deified as the father of the nation does not come off well in this book. She writes: “Ambedkar was Gandhi’s most formidable adversary. He challenged him not just politically or intellectually, but also morally. To have excised Ambedkar from Gandhi’s story, which is the story we all grew up on, is a travesty. Equally, to ignore Gandhi while writing about Ambedkar is to do Ambedkar a disservice, because Gandhi loomed over Ambedkar’s world in myriad and un-wonderful ways.”

The Doctor and the Saint, your introduction to this new, annotated edition of Dr Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, is also a deeply disturbing critique of Gandhi, especially to those of us for whom Gandhi is a loved and revered figure.

Yes, I know. It wasn’t easy to write it either. But in these times, when all of us are groping in the dark, despairing, and unable to understand why things are the way they are, I think revisiting this debate between Gandhi and Ambedkar, however disturbing it may be for some people, however much it disrupts old and settled patterns of thought, will actually, in the end, help illuminate our path. I think Annihilation of Caste is absolutely essential reading. Caste is at the heart of the rot in our society. Quite apart from what it has done to the subordinated castes, it has corroded the moral core of the privileged castes. We need Ambedkar—now, urgently. Continue reading

US Public Radio interview with Arundhati Roy

Smiley and West, NPR — December 13, 2013

West: From PRI, Public Radio International in Princeton I’m Cornel West.
Smiley: And in Los Angeles I’m Tavis Smiley.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

West: Brother Tavis, we are blessed to have one of the great and courageous intellectuals of our time. She is Arundhati Roy. We call her Sister Roy. Of course she’s the winner of the Booker Prize of her renowned novel The God of Small Things. She is the author of a variety of very powerful prose, non-fiction prose. She is in the process now of finishing a new text called Capitalism: A Ghost Story.
What a blessing to have you, Sister Roy.
Roy: Thank you, Dr. West.
West: Let’s start, before we get to your magnificent political activism, your visionary political activism, let’s go all the way back to your upraising, your training as an architect very much like Thomas Harding, becoming a great writer like Thomas Harding.
How do you connect your childhood with your training as an architect to your becoming a great writer?
Roy: I don’t know if I’m a great writer.
West: I can testify to that.
Roy: I’m a little embarrassed by all the good things you’re saying about me.
I grew up in south India as the child of a divorced mother which was unusual in that area. You know it’s a very parochial community called the Syrian Christians. My mother had married outside the community and then got divorced and come back to the village.
Growing up there in a very traditional space where caste was practiced, where there was all kinds of bigotry hidden and not so hidden, then growing up outside of this great Indian family unit.
I suppose it just made you look at society and wonder why it wasn’t offering you the certainties and the assurances that it offered a lot of other people from my kind of background.
I think that’s what initially made you want to explain it to yourself through writing.
The architecture was actually something that I did because I knew that I had to do something where I could earn a living very quickly so as to not be dependent on anybody because I knew that once that happened I wasn’t going to have even half a chance to write or to think or be anything other than live a very constricted, suffocating life. Continue reading

Arundhati Roy: “GN Saibaba is Being Targeted for Opposing Government’s Anti-Naxal War”

Prof. GN Saibaba

Professor GN Saibaba

GN Saibaba is a joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) and the convenor of several forums against Operation Greenhunt and the persecution of adivasis and tribal people in Central India. He teaches English at a DU college.

September 13, 2013

Click this link to hear the interview: Arundhati Roy – GN Saibaba is Being Targeted

The Maharashtra police, along with the National Investigation Agency () and the Special Cell, made a surprise search at the house of Delhi University professor GN Saibaba. They refused to entertain pleas by the wheelchair-bound professor-cum-activist to contact his lawyer or colleagues. Saibaba is a joint secretary of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) and the convenor of several forums against Operation Greenhunt and the persecution of adivasis and tribal people in Central India. He teaches English at a DU college.

“Around 20 days ago, former student and activist Hem Mishra was arrested. The police are trying to tie me up to that case. They came in and snatched away the cellular phones of my wife, my daughter and myself and refused to let us call or notify anyone of the search. None of us were allowed to leave, nor was anyone allowed to come in. We were detained in our own house,” Saibaba told TEHELKA. Saibaba claimed that the police told him that the search was in relation to the Hem Mishra case in Gadhchiroli. Mishra was arrested for alleged links. This is not the first time that an activist has been persecuted or arrested for activism in the forests of Central India. Continue reading

Maoist attacks are a counter violence of resistance against the state: Arundhati Roy

 

First Post, May 28, 2013

(First Post) Editors note: This interview was originally run in April 2010 by CNN-IBN. Given the context of the recent attack in Chhattisgarh on a Congress convoy, (First Post) has republished the interview as it resurfaces some interesting points of view. 

In that interview, Arundhati Roy says that the Maoists have no choice but to indulge in ‘counter-violence’. Here is Roy’s interview with CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghosh:

Arundhati Roy. AFP

Arundhati Roy. AFP

Sagarika Ghose: You wrote your article ‘Walking with the comrades’ in The Outlook before Dantewada happened. In the aftermath of the Dantewada (incident of 2010), do you still stand by the tone of sympathy that you had with the Maoist cause in that essay?

Arundhati Roy: Well, this is a odd way to frame before and after Dantewada happened, because actually you know this cycle of violence has been building on and on. This is not the first time that a large number of security personnel have been killed by the Maoists. I have written about it and the other attacks that took place between the years 2005-07. The way I look at is, people make it sound that, ‘oh, on this side are people, who are celebrating the killing of CRPF jawans, and that side of the people who are asking for the Maoists to be wiped out.’ This is not the case. I think that you got to look at the every death as a terrible tragedy in a system, in a war that’s been pushed on the people and that unfortunately is becoming a war of the rich against the poor. In which rich put forward the poorest of the poor to fight the poor. CRPF are terrible victims but they are not just victims of the Maoists. They are victims of a system of structural violence that is taking place, that sort to be drowned in this empty condemnation industry that goes on. This is entirely meaningless because most of the time people who condemn them have really no sympathy for them. They are just using them as pawns. Continue reading

India–“Peals of Spring Thunder”: Oppressive System cannot control the struggle against oppression

The Naxalite Attacks at Sukma
by BINOY KAMPMARK, writing in CounterPunch

naxal_attackThey have been considered one of India’s most pressing threats, and the recent attack by the Naxalites that ambushed a convoy of the Congress Party went that much further.  The ambush took place over the weekend in Sukma on the Maharashtra, Andra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh border. Reports suggest that there were as many as 200 Maoist rebels who inflicted heavy losses – 28 killed and 24 others wounded – before fleeing.

The attacks have shaken the establishment.  Among the dead were four state party leaders including Mahendra Karma of Chhattisgarh, and five police officers.  For BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, “This new aggressive strategy of the Naxalities is a real threat to the Constitution and the rule of law. It is a challenge to sovereignty” (Times of India, May 26).  Former police chief of Punjab state KPS Gill is pessimistic about the new surge – the government of the day did not “have the political will and bureaucratic and police set-up to prevent such attacks” (Dhaka Tribune, May 26).

How the Naxalites have been treated has varied.  In 1967, when the movement first made its presence felt in the West Bengal village of Naxalbari, the Home Minister Y. B. Chavan treated the matter as a case of “lawlessness” in action.  The mistake was classic but fatal.  During the 1970s, the state authorities moved in on the movement hoping to crush it with repressive enthusiasm.  As usual with such measures, the quotient of extra-judicial killings and corrupt practices accompanied the operations.  Legislation was passed to enable various state authorities to take measures – the attempt, for example, by the N.T. Rama Rao government to free up arms licensing in Andra Pradesh in 1983 for individuals to protect themselves against the Naxals. Continue reading

Arundhati Roy speaks out against Indian rape culture

Channel 4 News, Friday 21 December 2012
The writer Arundhati Roy tells Channel 4 News she believes rape is used as a weapon in India and that women in the country are “paying the price”.

Arundhati Roy on Indian-Pakistani war clouds and the ‘secret’ hanging of Afzal Guru

Does Your Bomb-Proof Basement Have An Attached Toilet?

Afzal Guru

Afzal Guru

An execution carried out to thundering war clouds

What are the political consequences of the secret and sudden hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru, prime accused in the 2001 Parliament attack, going to be? Does anybody know? The memo, in callous bureaucratese, with every name insultingly misspelt, sent by the Superintendent of Central Jail No. 3, Tihar, New Delhi, to “Mrs Tabassum w/o Sh Afjal Guru” reads:

“The mercy petition of Sh Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been rejected by Hon’ble President of India. Hence the execution of Mohd Afjal Guru s/o Habibillah has been fixed for 09/02/2013 at 8 am in Central Jail No-3.

This is for your information and for further necessary action.”

The mailing of the memo was deliberately timed to get to Tabassum only after the execution, denying her one last legal chanc­e—the right to challenge the rejection of the mercy petition. Both Afzal and his family, separately, had that right. Both were thwarted. Even though it is mandat­ory in law, the memo to Tabassum ascribed no reason for the president’s rejection of the mercy petition. If no reason is given, on what basis do you appeal? All the other prisoners on death row in India have been given that last chance.

Since Tabassum was not allowed to meet her husband before he was hanged, since her son was not allowed to get a few last words of advice from his father, since she was not given his body to bury, and since there can be no funeral, what “further necessary action” does the jail manual prescribe? Anger? Wild, irreparable grief? Unquestioning acc­eptance? Complete integration?

After the hanging, there have been unseemly celebrations. The bereaved wives of the people who were killed in the attack on Parliament were displayed on TV, with M.S. Bitta, chairman of the All-India Anti-Terrorist Front, and his ferocious moustaches playing the CEO of their sad little company. Will anybody tell them that the men who shot their husbands were killed at the same time, in the same place? And that those who planned the attack will never be brought to justice because we still don’t know who they are. Continue reading

The hanging of Afzal Guru is a stain on India’s democracy

Despite gaping holes in the case against Afzal Guru, all India’s institutions played a part in putting a Kashmiri ‘terrorist’ to death

The Guardian, Sunday 10 February 2013

Police bring Afzal Guru to court in Delhi in 2002

Indian police bring Afzal Guru to court in Delhi in 2002. Photograph: Aman Sharma/AP

Spring announced itself in Delhi on Saturday. The sun was out, and the law took its course. Just before breakfast, the government of India secretly hanged Afzal Guru, prime accused in the attack on parliament in December 2001, and interred his body in Delhi’s Tihar jail where he had been in solitary confinement for 12 years. Guru’s wife and son were not informed. “The authorities intimated the family through speed post and registered post,” the home secretary told the press, “the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir [J&K] police has been told to check whether they got it or not”. No big deal, they’re only the family of yet another Kashmiri terrorist.

In a moment of rare unity the Indian nation, or at least its major political parties – Congress, the Bharatiya Janata party and the Communist party of India (Marxist) – came together as one (barring a few squabbles about “delay” and “timing”) to celebrate the triumph of the rule of law. Live broadcasts from TV studios, with their usual cocktail of papal passion and a delicate grip on facts, crowed about the “victory of democracy”. Rightwing Hindu nationalists distributed sweets to celebrate the hanging, and beat up Kashmiris (paying special attention to the girls) who had gathered in Delhi to protest. Even though Guru was dead and gone, the commentators in the studios and the thugs on the streets seemed, like cowards who hunt in packs, to need each other to keep their courage up. Perhaps because, deep inside, themselves they knew they had colluded in doing something terribly wrong. Continue reading

Rape As Weapon of Domination: The Clout of Caste And Class in India

By Ershad Abubacker,  Countercurrents.org, 27 December, 2012

More often than not, Arundhati Roy speaks unwelcome truths, truths that essentially do not go down well with the elite class. And hence she always gets dubbed as outspoken and is being criticized for that. She was recently in the headlines for speaking out against Indian rape culture in the back drop the gang rape at New Delhi and the mass protests that drew attention all over.

She recently noted that India lives simultaneously in several centuries. While nearly 10 Indian industrialists make it to the first 50 in the Forbes World Richest Men List, the capital of India is dubbed as ‘The Rape Capital’ and is a combination of incredibly crowded, ill-smelling slums; wide modern roads and elegant villas; the extremely poor and wretched; the fabulously wealthy and super-indulgent, and yet unable to protect its women traveling in buses. Speaking to Channel 4 on the recent gang rape of a 23-year old women in a running bus in Delhi, she asks critical questions on how and why and could this case be an exceptional crime demanding widespread protests; something which was uncommon in many prior instances of violence against women mete out by the Upper Class, Police and Armed Forces.

There is no doubt, the cruelty of the gang rape in a running bus at New Delhi is brutal and the culprits should be given maximum punishment in a model way. Our thoughts and prayers must be there with the girl who had her whole life tormented within a night’s bus journey.

Having said that, the present case does not stand vindictively different from the many of the rape cases registered earlier in Delhi . So what makes it a flare point for youngsters to protest at India Gate daring to defy the water cannons of Delhi police? Continue reading

Arundhati Roy: ‘Those Who’ve Tried To Change The System Via Elections Have Ended Up Being Changed By It’

[Common to capitalist politics, and especially in the areas of semi-feudal and semi-colonial countries dominated in comprador fashion by imerialism, is the currency of bribes, corruption, gangs and cartels all of which fuel the political system with gross threats and extreme illicit wealth.  Responding to inquiries about how this works in India, which has recently been visited by prominent anti-corruption campaigns, Arundhati Roy sums up some key points which illuminate this corruption in India and in many other countries. The interview appears in Outlook India Magazine, November 26, 2012. -- Frontlines ed.]

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On the anti-corruption movement that has implications for politics, media and the national discourse

Saba Naqvi Interviews Arundhati Roy

In August last year, Arundhati Roy wrote a piece that raised important questions about the Anna Hazare movement. A lot has changed since then and Arvind Kejriwal and Anna have taken divergent paths. Kejriwal will launch a political party on November 26 and in the last few months he has, along with lawyer Prashant Bhushan, taken on powerful politicians and corporates. Saba Naqvi sent Arundhati five questions on e-mail to get her views on what is an evolving situation that has implications for politics, media and the national discourse. Here are Arundhati’s very detailed answers.

What do you make of these many corruption exposes and do you see this as a healthy development?

It’s an interesting development. The good thing about it is that it gives us an insight into how the networks of power connect and interlock. The worrying thing is that each scam pushes the last one out of the way, and life goes on. If all we will get out of it is an extra-acrimonious election campaign, it can only raise the bar of what our rulers know we can tolerate, or be conned into tolerating. Scams smaller than a few lakh crores will not even catch our attention. In election season, for political parties to accuse each other of corruption or doing shady deals with corporations is not new—remember the BJP and the Shiv Sena’s campaign against Enron? Advani called it ‘Looting through liberalisation’. They won that election in Maharashtra, scrapped the contract between Enron and the Congress government, and then signed a far worse one!

“Each scam pushes the last out of the way. If all it ends in is an extra-acrimonious election campaign, it’ll only raise the bar of what our rulers think we can tolerate.”

Also worrying is the fact that some of these ‘exposes’ are strategic leaks from politicians and business houses who are spilling the beans on each other, hoping to get ahead of their rivals. Sometimes it’s across party lines, sometimes it’s intra-party jockeying. It’s being done brilliantly, and those who are being used as clearing houses to front these campaigns may not always be aware that this is the case. If in this process there was some attrition and corrupt people were being weeded out of the political arena, it would have been encouraging. But those who have been ‘exposed’—Salman Khurshid, Robert Vadra, Gadkari—have actually been embraced tighter by their parties. Politicians are aware of the fact that being accused or even convicted of corruption does not always make a dent in their popularity. Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Jaganmohan Reddy—they remain hugely popular leaders despite the charges that have been brought against them. While ordinary people are infuriated by corruption, it does seem as though when it comes to voting, their calculations are more shrewd, more complicated. They don’t necessarily vote for Nice Folks.

Why do you think stories that the media knew about but never carried or paid a price for carrying are suddenly coming out like a rash and new details are emerging in the process?

Just because there is a new kid in town, we mustn’t forget that some media houses and several other groups and individuals, at cost to themselves, have played a part in exposing major scams, like the Commonwealth games, 2G and Coal-gate, which shone the light on private corporations and sections of the media as well. Ironically, the Anna Hazare movement last year concentrated solely on politicians and let the others off the hook. But you’re right, there are cases in which the facts were known, but they remained unpublished until now. And suddenly it’s raining corruption scams now—some are even being recycled. Corruption has become so blatant, so pathological that those involved don’t even try very hard to hide their tracks. Continue reading

“Revoke ban on RDF”: Arundhati Roy

[The recent ban of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) in Andhra Pradesh is but the latest of many fascist moves by the Indian government against democratic and revolutionary activists.  Arundhati Roy has joined a growing protest of this ban, as reported below.

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Noted writer Arundhati Roy with revolutionary writer Varavara Rao at the meeting of the Revolutionary Writers Association in Hyderabad on Sunday. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Hyderabad, Indian Express News Service, Sept 24, 2012

Writer and social activist Arundhati Roy on Sunday demanded an immediate revoke of the ban imposed on Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) in the state.

Addressing the gathering at a meeting organised by the Viplava Rachaitala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers’ Association) against the ban, Roy termed the ban unconstitutional and urged the members to keep on with their struggle against state-sponsored violence. “RDF is not a armed organisation. It’s activities are in consonance with the Indian constitution. Then why is it banned?,” she questioned.

However, she said that the ban had indirectly helped the RDF in growing strong. “The ban has indirectly benefited the RDF. It has allowed it to grow stronger and the bond among it’s members and with the people grow deeper,” she said. She lauded RDF’s members for fighting for the human rights of the dalits and the adivasis in rural India.

“The ban has forced mass migration of RDF’s members from Hyderabad to either Delhi or to the rural parts of the state but still the organisation has grown stronger in the state capital, she said indicating to it’s swell of ranks during the first national conference of the RDF in Hyderabad on April this year. Continue reading

Arundhati Roy: “Indian capitalism fully monopolistic”

HYDERABAD, August 13, 2012

Staff Reporter, The Hindu

Dr P.M. Bhargava, Former Director of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) releasing the Telugu translation of Arundhati Roy book Capitalism: A Ghost Story, also seen are are Prof. Haragopal, in Hyderabad on Sunday . Photo: M.Subhash
[The Hindu Dr P.M. Bhargava, Former Director of Centre for Cellular
and Molecular Biology (CCMB) releasing the Telugu translation
of Arundhati Roy's book Capitalism: A Ghost Story, also
seen are are Prof. Haragopal, in Hyderabad on Sunday .
Photo: M.Subhash]

‘Nelson Mandela was not allowed to implement land reforms’

Noted writer Arundhati Roy has said capitalism in India is most unique as it tries to control the society in every possible manner by establishing monopoly on all key sectors connected to life, which is not seen even in most capitalistic western countries.

“Capitalism encourages everything that does not threaten its interests including the recent anti-corruption movement led by social activist Anna Hazare and his team. By encouraging social groups to take up different issues separately, capitalism will fragment social energy in a way that will deny a holistic struggle for justice”, the Booker prize winner said here on Sunday.

Speaking at a function organised to release the Telugu translation of her essay, Capitalism – A Ghost Story, the social activist said capitalism in the country would make people depend on them from commodities like salt to costly cars, communication to media and minerals to power. It would undermine everything to further its interests, she noted.

By employing perception management, capitalism would control public policy, resources and businesses as it would innovate itself continuously, Ms. Arundhati Roy stated. “It will criminalise the tribals and make them squatters on their own land. They fund human rights organisations but will never allow them to speak about pure justice,” she said.

Stating how foresighted and influential the capitalism would be, the writer explained how the capitalist forces made Nelson Mandela the President of South Africa in the name of ending apartheid and did not allow him to implement land reforms and nationalisation of natural resources. She also explained how the corporate philosophy would mould public policies to suit their interests.

Human rights activist Prof. G. Haragopal said the book was most relevant to the society at a time when the social conflict was on the rise. Former Director of CCMB P.M. Bhargava, Prof. Ghanta Chakrapani and others spoke. The original essay was translated into Telugu by one K. Suresh.

‘Terrorism Isn’t The Disease; Egregious Injustice Is’

PANINI ANAND interviews ARUNDHATI ROY

photo by NARENDRA BISHT

No one individual critic has taken on the Indian State like Arundhati Roy has. In a fight that began with Pokhran, moved to Narmada, and over the years extended to other insurgencies, people’s struggles and the Maoist underground, she has used her pensmanship to challenge India’s government, its elite, corporate giants, and most recently, the entire structure of global finance and capitalism. She was jailed for a day in 2002 for contempt of court, and slapped with sedition charges in November 2010 for an alleged anti-India speech she delivered, along with others, at a seminar in New Delhi on Kashmir, titled ‘Azadi—the only way’. Excerpts from an interview to Panini Anand:

How do you look at laws like sedition and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or those like AFSPA, in what is touted as the largest democracy?
I’m glad you used the word touted. It’s a good word to use in connection with India’s democracy. It certainly is a democracy for the middle class. In places like Kashmir or Manipur or Chhattisgarh, democracy is not available. Not even in the black market. Laws like the UAPA, which is just the UPA government’s version of POTA, and the AFSPA are ridiculously authoritarian—they allow the State to detain and even kill people with complete impunity. They simply ought to have no place in a democracy. But as long as they don’t affect the mainstream middle class, as long as they are used against people in Manipur, Nagaland or Kashmir, or against the poor or against Muslim ‘terrorists’ in the ‘mainland’, nobody seems to mind very much.

“India’s democracy is for the middle class; for Kashmir or Manipur, it’s not available. Not even in the black market.”

Are the people waging war against the State or is the State waging war against its people? How do you look at the Emergency of the ’70s, or the minorities who feel targeted, earlier the Sikhs and now the Muslims?
Some people are waging war against the State. The State is waging a war against a majority of its citizens. The Emergency in the ’70s became a problem because Indira Gandhi’s government was foolish enough to target the middle class, foolish enough to lump them with the lower classes and the disenfranchised. Vast parts of the country today are in a much more severe Emergency-like situation. But this contemporary Emergency has gone into the workshop for denting-painting. It’s come out smarter, more streamlined. I’ve said this before: look at the wars the Indian government has waged since India became a sovereign nation; look at the instances when the army has been called out against its ‘own’ people—Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Kashmir, Telangana, Goa, Bengal, Punjab and (soon to come) Chhattisgarh—it is a State that is constantly at war. And always against minorities—tribal people, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, never against the middle class, upper-caste Hindus.
How does one curb the cycle of violence if the State takes no action against ultra-left ‘terrorist groups’? Wouldn’t it jeopardise internal security?
I don’t think anybody is advocating that no action should be taken against terrorist groups, not even the ‘terrorists’ themselves. They are not asking for anti-terror laws to be done away with. They are doing what they do, knowing full well what the consequences will be, legally or otherwise. They are expressing fury and fighting for a change in a system that manufactures injustice and inequality. They don’t see themselves as ‘terrorists’. When you say ‘terrorists’ if you are referring to the CPI (Maoist), though I do not subscribe to Maoist ideology, I certainly do not see them as terrorists. Yes they are militant, they are outlaws. But then anybody who resists the corporate-state juggernaut is now labelled a Maoist—whether or not they belong to or even agree with the Maoist ideology. People like Seema Azad are being sentenced to life imprisonment for possessing banned literature. So what is the definition of ‘terrorist’ now, in 2012? It is actually the economic policies that are causing this massive inequality, this hunger, this displacement that is jeopardising internal security—not the people who are protesting against them. Do we want to address the symptoms or the disease? The disease is not terrorism. It’s egregious injustice. Sure, even if we were a reasonably just society, Maoists would still exist. So would other extremist groups who believe in armed resistance or in terrorist attacks. But they would not have the support they have today. As a country, we should be ashamed of ourselves for tolerating this squalor, this misery and the overt as well as covert ethnic and religious bigotry we see all around us. (Narendra Modi for Prime Minister!! Who in their right mind can even imagine that?) We have stopped even pretending that we have a sense of justice. All we’re doing is genuflecting to major corporations and to that sinking ocean-liner known as the United States of America. Continue reading

Hyderabad meeting to focus on Green Hunt, economic crisis

Apr 19, 2012, IANS

Hyderabad: Resistance group Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), at its first conference here on April 22-23, will demand an end to the anti-Maoist Operation Green Hunt and discuss how to turn the current economic crisis in the country into a revolutionary opportunity.

More than 300 delegates from across India, including writer and activist Arundhati Roy, historian Amit Bhattacharya, Maoist leader Tusharkanti Bhattacharya’s wife Soma Sen and Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde, will be present at the meet. At the two-day event, which includes a procession and a public meeting, the RDF will press for the withdrawal of paramilitary forces from the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Continue reading