(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:
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.
Sagarika Ghose: Who then will break the cycle of violence? The state argues that the reason why the state has to cleanse the area or sanitise the area is because whenever it initiates development work on bridges or starts a school, those are blown up by the Maoists. Is it that the cycle of violence, according to you, can only be broken by the state, and if the state pulls back, is that what you believe?
Arundhati Roy: There is some simple sort of litmus test for that: is it the case that there are hospitals, schools and a lot of development in poor areas where there aren’t any Maoists? That’s not the case. The fact is even if you look at the studies that have been done by doctors in a place like Bilaspur, what Binayak Sen describes as nutritional aids, is happening. When you go into the schools, you see that they are used as barracks. They are built as barracks. So to say that Maoists blow up schools and they are against development is a bit ridiculous.
Sagarika Ghose: But you condemn state violence and the charge against you is that you don’t condemn Naxal violence. In fact you rationalise it and are even romaticising violence. That is a charge made against you and in fact if I can read from your essay where you have written that, “I feel I want to say something about the futility of violence but what should I suggest they do? Go to court, a rally, and a hunger strike that sounds ridiculous; which party they should vote for, which democratic institution they should approach?” You seem to be saying that non-violence is futile?
Arundhati Roy: This is a strange charge on someone who has been writing about non-violence and non-violence movements for 10 years now. But what I saw when I went into the forests was this – that non-violent resistance has actually not worked; not in the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ and not even in many other non-violent movements and not even in the militant movements. It has worked in some parts of the movement. But inside the forests it’s a different story because non-violence, and particularly, Gandhian non-violence in some ways needs an audience. It’s a theatre that needs an audience. But inside the forests there is no audience. When a thousand police come and surround the forest village in the middle of the night, what are they to do? How are the hungry to go on a hunger strike? How are the people with no money to boycott taxes or foreign goods or do consumer boycotts?
They have nothing. I do see the violence inside the forest as a ‘counter-violence’. As a ‘violence of resistance’. I do feel terrible about the fact that there is this increasing cycle of violence – that the more weapons the government arms the police with, those weapons end up with the Maoist PLA. It’s a terrible thing to do to any society. I don’t think that there is any romance in it. However, I’m not against romance. I do feel it’s incredible that these poor people are standing up against this mighty state that is sending thousands and thousands of para-military. I mean, what they are doing in those forests against those people with AK-47s and grenades?
Sagarika Ghose: But Maoists have AK-47s too? They have pressure bombs too?
Arundhati Roy: They snatched it from cops.
Sagarika Ghose: Should people like you not be raising their voices against the cycle of violence or should you actually been trying to find out a rationalisation for it because you’ve been called an ‘apologist for Maoists’. BJP has called you the “sophisticated face of Naxalism’. If you don’t raise your voice against their violence and simply say it morally acceptable, as a morally legitimate counter to the state, then are you not actually failing as member of a civil society?
Arundhati Roy: No, I’m not. Because I think it suits the status-quo to have everybody saying…this is terrible and all. So just let’s just keep on without taking it into account the terrible structural violence that actually is creating a ‘genocidal situation’ in those tribal areas. If you look at the levels of malnutrition, if you look at the levels of absolute desperation there; any responsible person has to say that the violence will stop when you stop pushing those people. When you have a whole community of tribals; which by the way, is a population larger than the population of most countries, is actually on the brink of survival, fighting against its own annihilation. I can’t equate their reactions, their resistance to the violence of the state. I think it’s immoral to equate the two.
Sagarika Ghose: Let’s bring you to the other point in your essay, where you are particularly harsh on Gandhi. You said party founder Charu Majumder has kept the dream of revolution real and present in India. Imagine a society without that dream, for that alone we can’t judge him too harshly. Especially not while we swaddle ourselves with Gandhi’s pious humbug about the superiority of the non-violent way and its notion of trusteeship. You also say do you know what to do if we come under fire….Do you think Gandhi is a figure to be mocked?
Arundhati Roy: I think there are some things about Gandhi, which do deserve to be mocked and I think there are some things about him which deserve a great deal of respect. Particularly, his (Gandhi’s) ideas of consumption, minimalist and sustainable living. However, let me read what he said in his thing of trusteeship. This is a quote of his notion of trusteeship, “the rich man will be left in possession of his wealth of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the good of the society”. I think that is one statement which can be mocked. I have no problem mocking it.
Sagarika Ghose: In a lecture in US in March at the Left forum you said ‘India is a fake democracy’ that ties in with your justification or your quasi-justification of violence to some extent. Do you feel that because Indian democracy is ‘fake’ there is no hope that Indian democracy can hold out to the Maoists?
Arundhati Roy: No, certainly I feel that India is an oligarchy where it does work as a democracy for the middle classes and the upper classes.
Sagarika Ghose: But it’s a fake democracy?
Arundhati Roy: Yeah, because (when) it doesn’t work for the mass of the people it’s a fake democracy. So you have an institution which has been hollowed out, you have institutions to which the poor have no access. When you look at the institution of democracy, look at the elections, at the courts, at the media and you look at the judiciary. You have a very dangerous system building. If you are increasingly excluding a vast section of the poorer people in this country, that’s why I say it fake. It works for some and it doesn’t work for others depending on where you want to place your feet; your politics is defined. If you stand in Greater Kailash; sure it’s a great and vibrant democracy, but if you stand in Dantewada – it is no democracy at all. You have a Chief Minister who basically said that those who don’t come out of the forests and live in Salwa Judum camps are terrorists. So looking after your chickens and tending to your fields is a terrorist act? Is that democracy?
Sagarika Ghose: If you have to come up with a solution to this. What would your solution be? What would be your way to break the deadlock?
Arundhati Roy: Well there are two things. First, on a philosophical level, I would say that I don’t believe that the imagination that has brought the planet to this crisis is going to come up with an alternative. So the least we can do is to stop and enlighten those who we think of as keepers of our past but could be people who have the wisdom for the future.
But on “Operation Greenhunt”, I would like to say three things, I think government should come clean on all these MoUs, infrastructure projects; declare them and tell us what they are and freeze them for now. Insist that all the villagers that have been pushed out, we are talking of hundreds and thousands of people, be rehabilitated. Guns need to be pulled back.
Sagarika Ghose: Every country uses mineral resources to grow. Growth is something our country needs. The present dispensation in Maoists, earlier they used to deal with Posco; the rate of compensation was Rs 30 Lakh per year that they used to pay to the Maoists. Now its no deals, all bets are off. Are you advocating that all projects from all those areas should wind up and go?
Arundhati Roy: You see what’s happening now with the privatisation of the mining industry. There is a very false sort of understanding that mining is going to push up growth. It will push it up in a strange way which has nothing to do with real development. But if you look at the royalties that the government gets, e.g for iron ores, Rs 27 for 5,000 tonnes of profit for the private company, we are paying without (keeping) the ecology of other people’s economy (in mind). So it’s a myth this thing called growth.
Sagarika Ghose: Are you willing to mediate between the Maoists and the government because they have put your name as well as Kabir Suman to mediate. But you declined. What are you afraid of? Why don’t you go ahead and mediate?
Arundhati Roy: I’m afraid of myself. These are not my skills. I don’t trust myself. If you are a basketball player you can’t be a swimmer. So I think there are people who would do a good job but I don’t think I’m one of them. But I think one question we have to ask is whom do we mean when we say Maoist? Who does ‘Operation Green Hunt’ want to target? Because for this there has been a discrete separation been made that here are the Maoists and here are the tribals. On the other hand, some people say Maoists represent the tribal. Neither of which is true. The fact is that about 99 per cent of Maoists are tribals. But all tribals are not Maoists, still the numbers turn into tens and thousands of people who would officially call themselves Maoists. Among them 90,000 women belong to women’s organisations. Some 10,000 belong to the cultural organisation. So are they all going to be wiped out?
Sagarika Ghose: What is your message to Home Minister P Chidambaram? What kind of message would you like to give him? Do you think he is fighting this war for ego?
Arundhati Roy: I think he is fighting with an imagination that is chained to the corporate companies that he wants served – from Enron to Vedanta, to all the companies that he has represented. I’m not necessarily accusing him of being corrupt but I’m accusing him of having an imagination that is driving this country into a very serious situation and it’s going to affect all of us.
Sagarika Ghose: Are you worried about the case that has been filed against you? There has been a complaint filed against you under the Chhattisgarh Special Powers Act (CSPA) and police are investigating about lending your support to the Maoists after your article. Are you worried about state prosecution?
Arundhati Roy: Obviously, I would be a goon not to be worried. But I won’t be the first one they have gone after. I think what they are trying to do is send out a warning to the people because I feel they want to intensify this war. I think we are going to see drone attacks on the poorest people of this country. Moreover they want to cordon off the theatre of war and try to warn people who might have a different view from that of the government not to go in the air.
Sagarika Ghose: Why do you think your writings are as controversial as they are? Why does India love to hate Arundhati Roy? Why is there are so much hate mail directed at you? Why do people think you say things that people don’t agree with? Why are you the writer that India loves to hate?
Arundhati Roy: I think it is very presumptuous of you to represent India. I feel the opposite. Like somebody, who is embraced wherever I go, whether it is to Orissa or Narmada; it is just the people with the voice, the people with a huge stake in the things I’m writing about where that stake is threatened – that hate me. But if I did feel that whole of India hated me, I have been doing something terribly wrong, as a political writer would I be crazy to carry on what I’m doing? The fact is I feel very deeply loved, that’s the real issue.
Sagarika Ghose: But do you think there is a problem? Do you think the government, the media, the kind of dominant culture that is targeting intellectuals, is targeting people like human right activists? Is this dangerous?
Arundhati Roy: Of course this is very dangerous. I read one article that says Dantewada comes to Delhi in the charge against Kobad Ghandy. People’s Union for Democratic Rights….all institutions are being called front organisations.
There is this manic barricade-like accusation to any one who has a different view that they are Maoists. Hundreds of people who are not known have been picked up and jailed. There is a whole bandwidth of people’s movements from the non-violent ones outside the forests to the armed struggle inside the forests which have actually held off this corporate assault, which I have to say has not happened anywhere else in the world.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me just ask you what a viewer wrote to me, “when I see a 16-year-old with a gun, I would feel scared and mourn that. Why would Arundhati Roy, when she looks at a 16-year-old with a gun, celebrate and say she is so beautiful, she has a lovely smile”?
Arundhati Roy: Because if I saw a 16-year-old being raped by a CRPF man and watching her village being burnt and watching her parents being killed and submit to it, I would mourn that. When I see one standing up and say I ‘m going to fight this, I would feel terrible. I think it’s a terrible thing to come to that. But it’s better than having her accept her annihilation.
Sagarika Ghose: Let me read out some of the criticisms that have been made against your fellow thinkers and activists, who said “ she equates their cynical quest for power with genuine demands, rights and concern of the people who live in the forests. She gives new meaning to the binary logic, something which she ridiculed George W Bush for. She is at the moment a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome. And another parlance is that she would be described as an embedded journalist”. How do you react to this criticism?
Arundhati Roy: I think embedded is not in itself a bad thing, it depends on who you are embedded with, whether you are embedded with the media or with the corporate? Or are you embedded with the side that sees itself in resisting this. Here I don’t refer to the Maoists. Who are the Maoists? Of course, the Maoist ideologues – (we say) their aim is to overthrow the Indian state when people who form there fighting forces don’t know what the Indian state is? But surely there is a coincidence of aims and the movement; both are using each other. I want to say that Maoists are not the only people who are trying to overthrow the Indian state; whereas the Indian state has been thrown already by the ‘Hindutva’ project and by the corporate project.
Sagarika Ghose: So you believe that the Constitution has ceased to exist?
Arundhati Roy: I believe it’s been deeply weakened.
Sagarika Ghose: Do you think of ever giving up on India and living somewhere else?
Arundhati Roy: Absolutely not. For me that’s the challenge, that’s the beauty, that’s the wonder because the people in this country are staging India’s most difficult struggle anywhere in the world. I feel so proud. I really salute them on what’s going on here. As I belong here, even if CSPA wants to put me into jail I’m not going to live in Switzerland.