Arundhati Roy, writer, celebrity, activist – well known for her Booker Award winning brilliant book The God of Small Things, always manages to shake things up. Whether it is talk of Kashmir separatism, Narmada Andolan, US Foreign policy, or her recent Maoist sympathies, she is articulate and manages to infuse her prose with a lyrical beauty. But are we lured by the beauty of her words to the extent that we, like her, cease to be rational and logical?
Arundhati Roy on Walking with the comrades
“The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organised, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion. The Maoists and the paramilitary are old adversaries and have fought older avatars of each other several times before: Telangana in the ’50s; West Bengal, Bihar, Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh in the late ’60s and ’70s; and then again in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra from the ’80s all the way through to the present. They are familiar with each other’s tactics, and have studied each other’s combat manuals closely. Each time, it seemed as though the Maoists (or their previous avatars) had been not just defeated, but literally, physically exterminated. Each time, they have re-emerged, more organised, more determined and more influential than ever. Today once again the insurrection has spread through the mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal—homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.”
Responses to this self-indulgent piece have been plentiful. Here is ONE:
“Ever since I read Arundhati Roy’s latest novel travelogue essay, I’ve been toying with a response — and each time, tossing the thought aside for want of both time and energy.
Now I can stop “toying”, thanks to good — if elusive — friend Salil Tripathi, who constructs the counter argument with his usual skill in Mint. The payoff:
Fascination with Maoism is beyond moral sensibility. It is a parallel universe, where recalling Gandhian hunger strikes evokes hysterical laughter; where poor treatment of women in the forests is equated with their poor treatment in the cities. This takes moral equivalency to a new low. This is amoral nihilism.
It is also Roy’s Hanoi Jane moment. She is a voyeur, with the sky as her bed sheet, stars as her guiding light and birdsongs as her alarm clock. She connects those stars to form an intricate pattern. To us, it is Ursa Major; to her, an AK-47. In this surreal landscape, children don’t go to school, but learn to kill from ambush videos; tribals and rebels are one; and majoritarian justice by a show of hands is considered fair because everything else has failed. This is where cultural relativism leads us: In this Maostan, they probably speak Na’vi, and Roy is their Avatar.”
And an even more scathing one from Sivaram Srikandath:
“ut where she loses the plot is in making her world is so strikingly mono-chromatic. Just black and white, with barely a shade of grey. No prizes for guessing who is black and who is white. The villains in the story are those who wield power – vast, unfettered power, namely the Indian State – and the heroes are the Maoists of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army operating in the Dandakaranya forest of Central India.
The heroes and the villains live in starkly differing worlds and the author adroitly paints the two in opposing semantic shades as an effective literary device.. The devious universe of the Indian s tate is best described, and lampooned by ominous sounding phrases like Gentle Giants Who Really Care, Gravest Internal Security Threats, Killing Machines, Looti Sarkar, etc; the capitalized alphabets being Roy’s cute, trademark style marker.The Maoist reality on the contrary is romanticized as a peaceful way of life that leaves a “lighter carbon footprint than any climate change evangelist.” It is a world of stars and fireflies; of private suites in a thousand star hotel; and of sweet Bastar tamarind trees “watching over the land like a clutch of huge, benevolent, Gods.” A forest where the floor is a carpet of gold, and the air is suffused with the slightly heady smell of the flowering mahua.”
Sudhanva Deshpande WRITES
“In this essay, she introduces us to a veritable cast of characters: Comrade Maase, who “seems to have to swim through a layer of pain to enter the conversation”; the senior Comrade Venu (Sushil, Sonu, Murali) who “looks for all the world like a frail village schoolteacher”; Comrade Sukhdev, “a crazy workaholic”; Comrade Kamla, who prefers watching ‘ambush videos’ to Hindi movies.
Eh…ambush videos? Roy describes one, which starts with “shots of Dandakaranya, rivers, waterfalls…. Then suddenly…a cavalcade of motorcycles is blown up. There are mutilated bodies and burning bikes”. Roy was outraged and shocked, as all of us were, when Hindutva goons reportedly videographed violence against Muslims in Gujarat. Comrade Kamla, who only likes watching videos of “mutilated bodies and burning bikes”, is marching, Roy persuades us, “to keep hope alive for us all”. Some ironies escape the best writers…..
On every criticism of Maoist tactics and methods, she responds with rhetoric, not reason. Charu Mazumdar fetishises violence and gore—but, says Roy, look at the beautiful dancing tribals. The Maoists believe in protracted war—naturally, counters Roy, because the Indian state is waging the really protracted war. The Maoists don’t take part in non-violent protest and mass politics—what did non-violence win the Narmada Bachao Andolan? The Maoists dish out summary justice in jan adalats—but they don’t kill everybody, Roy tells us, and anyhow we all know how skewed our judicial system is.
Roy’s essay is a piece of embedded journalism. Trekking with rebels on starlit nights is doubtless a reporter’s fantasy. We need such accounts, which give a sense of the dreams and desperations that drive young women and men to the gun. What Roy does not do is question the Maoists’ conceptual framework. In her world, the only alternative to the violence of the state is the violence of the Maoists. The Maoists and the tribals, according to her, are one entity. That the Maoists should claim so is hardly surprising. But this is an argument that suits the Indian state perfectly as well.
It is in the nature of embedded journalism to get close enough to the ‘action’ to give us an authentic sense of the smells and sights. Roy does that. It’s also in the nature of embedded journalism that it remains prisoner to the embedder’s conceptual framework. A truly critical intelligence would cut through it. Roy, however, chooses to be smitten.”
Now we have an event that has shaken up an entire nation. In the very region that Ms. Roy chose to visit and write so eloquently about, we saw Maoist rebels kill 75 soldiers of the paramilitary in an ambush.
Even the rescue teams were ambushed. Home Secretary GK Pillai told the BBC that they had gone looking for rebel training camps on “specific intelligence inputs”, but had not found any.
An improvised explosive device detonated under an armoured vehicle just as the troops came under heavy fire from rebels positioned on a hillock, police officials said.
As the troops took cover behind the trees, they found that the rebels had booby trapped the trees with explosives. Troops in the open were gunned down by the rebels.
Police officials said that a vehicle accompanying a rescue team which rushed to the area to take away the dead and the injured was also blown up by an improvised explosive device, killing its driver.
“We were totally outnumbered. And they [rebels] had far too much ammunition. How could just 80 of us [soldiers] fight more than 1,000 of them? We got no time and no opportunity to retaliate,” Pramod Kumar, a soldier who survived the ambush, told The Times of India newspaper.
The Maoists have stepped up attacks in recent weeks in response to a big government offensive along what is known as the “red corridor”, a broad swathe of territory in rural eastern and central India where the Maoist rebellion has been gathering strength.
Nearly 50,000 federal paramilitary troops and tens of thousands of policemen are taking part in the operation in several states.
Will the Maoists succeed in tearing apart the fabric of a state and perhaps a nation? Or will public opinion over-ride the rosy glow imparted to these “rebels” by misguided personas like Ms. Roy? Will the government suitably arm the CRP and other law enforcement forces and root out the Maoists? This could well end up a struggle that may in the long run determine the fate of the nation.