If you follow what happened over the last three summers in Kashmir, for
example, when tens of thousands of unarmed people faced down Indian security
forces with as much courage and determination as the people of Egypt, Tunisia,
Syria and Yemen, you cant help but wonder why the Western media
switches on the lights to cover some uprisings, and blacks out others.
Books by Arundhati Roy
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Interview with Arundhati Roy
By Dinyar Godrej
Dinyar Godrej: Your writings have grappled with ruthless state violence which is often at the behest of corporate interests. Much of the corporate-owned media in India shies away from covering the civil war-like conditions in many parts of the country. The establishment tends to brand anyone who attempts to present the other sides points of view as having seditious intent. Where is the democratic space?
Arundhati Roy: Youve partially answered your own questionnewspapers and television channels do not make their money from subscriptions or viewership; in fact, corporate advertisements actually subsidize TV viewership and newspaper and magazine readership, so in effect, the mass media is run with corporate money. Some media houses are directly owned by corporations, some indirectly by majority share-holdings. Some media houses in, say, Central India, have a direct interest in mining and infrastructure projects, so they have a vested interest in the push to displace people in the huge, ongoing land-grab in which land and resources are forcibly taken from the poor and given to the richa process which goes by the name of development.
It would be foolish to expect objective reporting: not because the journalists are bad people, but because of the economic structure of the organizations they work for. In fact, what is surprising is that despite all of this, occasionally there is some very good reporting. But overall we either have silence, or a completely distorted picture, in which those resisting their impoverishment are being labelled terroristsand these are not just the Maoist rebels who have taken to arms, but others who are involved in unarmed, but militant, struggles against the government. A climate has been created which criminalizes dissent of all kinds.
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of the poorest people in jails across the country under charges of sedition and waging war against the state. Many others are just charged under the common criminal penal code. There are the other seditionists too, of coursethose who have been fighting for self-determination after being inducted into the Union of India without their consent, when the British left in 1947. I refer to Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland in these places, tens of thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands tortured in the nightmarish interrogation centres and army camps all around the country.
And now, the Indian army is migrating to the heart of the countryto fight the Adivasi people whose lands the corporations covet. They say Pakistan is a military dictatorship, but I dont think the Pakistani army has been actively deployed against its own people the way the Indian army has been: Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Hyderabad, Goa, Telengana, Punjab and now, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa
Anti-corruption campaigning has been at the forefront of media-reported news in India.
Dinyar Godrej: Meanwhile, the relative silence on civil war conditions continues. How does one explain this gap in what makes the news?
Arundhati Roy: I have mixed feelings about the anti-corruption campaign. It gathered momentum after a series of huge scams hit the headlines. The most scandalous of them was what has come to be known as the 2G scam in which the government sold telecom spectrum for mobile phones (a public asset) to private companies at ridiculously low prices. The companies went on to sell them at huge profits to other companies, robbing the public exchequer of billions of rupees. Leaked phone taps showed how everybody, from the judiciary to politicians to high profile journalists and low profit hit-men, were in on the manoeuvring. The transcripts were like an MRI scan that confirmed a diagnosis that had been made years ago by many of us.
The 2G scam enraged the Indian middle classes, who saw it as a betrayal, as a moral problem, not a systemic or a structural one. Somehow, the fact that the government has signed hundreds of secret Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) privatizing water, minerals and infrastructure, and signing over forests, mountains and rivers to private corporations, does not seem to generate the same outrage.
Unlike in the 2G scam, these secret MOUs do not have just a monetary cost, but human and environmental costs that are devastating. They displace millions of people and wreck whole ecosystems. The mining corporations pay the government just a tiny royalty and rake in huge profits. Yet the people who are fighting these battles are being called terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. Even if there were no corruption and everything were above board on these deals, it would be daylight robbery on an unimaginable scale.
On the whole, when a political movement is mobilized using the language of anti-corruption, it has an apolitical catch-all appeal which could result in a hugely unfair system being strengthened by a sort of moral police force which has authoritarian instincts. So you have Team Anna: a sort of oligarchy of concerned citizenssome of them very fine peopleled by the old Gandhian Anna Hazare, who talks about amputating the limbs of thieves and hanging people and who has praised Gujarats Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who presided over the public massacre of thousands of Muslims in broad daylight.
On the other hand, to shun the anti-corruption movement and set your eyes on a long-term political goal lets the corporate looters and their henchmen in the media, parliament and judiciary off the hook. So its a bit of a dilemma.
Dinyar Godrej: Recent Indian government legislation permits web content to be shut down for a variety of reasons. Film censorship is still widely used. Why does the state take such a paternalistic role towards what its citizens have to say?
Arundhati Roy: I think overt censorship is slated to become a big problem in the near future. Internet censorship, surveillance, the project of the electronic UID (Unique Identity card) ominous. Imagine a government that cannot provide food or water to its people, a government whose policies have created a population of 800 million people who live on less than 20 rupees [about 45 US cents] a day, a country which has the largest number of malnourished children in the world, which has, as a major priority, the desire to distribute UID cards to all of its citizens.
The UID is a corporate scam which funnels billions of dollars into the IT sector. To me, it is one of the most serious transgressions that is on the cards. It is nothing more than an administrative tool in the hands of a police state. But coming back to censorship: since the US government has pissed on its Holy Cow (Free Speechor whatever little was left of it) with its vituperative reaction to Wikileaks, now everybody will jump on the bandwagon. (Just like every country had its own version of the war on terror to settle scores.)
Having said this, India is certainly not the worst place in the world on the Free Speech issue: the anarchy of different kinds of media, the fact that its such an unmanageable country and, though institutions of democracy have been eroded, there is a militant spirit of democracy among the people it will be hard to shut us all up. Impossible, Id say.
Dinyar Godrej: You have pointed out that nonviolent positions are difficult to hold on to when there is no audience to witness them, and when the opposing force does not blink at the moral challenge and responds with murder. Why do you think pointing that out caused such an uproar?
Arundhati Roy: I have written at some length about this. I do not say that nonviolent satyagraha is an obsolete tool of resistance, not at all. It can be extremely effective; but has to be carried out in the public eye, in front of TV cameras, and for demandslike anti-corruption which appeal to the sympathies of the middle class.
However, I do believe that preaching nonviolence at any cost from a safe distance to Adivasi people who live in remote forest villages and have watched hundreds of security forces arrive, surround their villages, burn their homes and kill and rape their people, can also be pretty immoral.
If the middle class were to join the battle, then of course nonviolent satyagraha would be an option. But of course it wont. It cant. That would be a political oxymoron. Why does pointing this out cause an uproar, you ask? I think because of the fear that once those millions of people who have been so cruelly dispossessed of all they have in order to fire Indias growth suddenly unshackle their imaginations and realize that they are not so defenceless after all, the Beautiful People know that no power on earth will be able to protect them. Adivasi woman
Sure, there may not be a perfect, synchronized revolution in which the masses will overthrow the ruling classes. Instead, there will be a messy insurrection, when all manner of brutality will occur. The poor may not win, but the rich will certainly lose. The feast will end. Thats why the uproar.
Dinyar Godrej: Are we talking about the narratives we like to make up and then believe in, regardless of the reality of the situation? What is your take on the narratives, especially those of the Western media, around the Arab uprisings?
Arundhati Roy: Well, when the mainstream media begins to report enthusiastically about a series of uprisingswhen they described the Arab uprisings as the Arab springand when you know how loaded the reporting around the Israeli Occupation of Palestine is, then if you have your wits about you, you have to be on your guard, a little wary of swallowing the reports hook, line and sinker. If you follow what happened over the last three summers in Kashmir, for example, when tens of thousands of unarmed people faced down Indian security forces with as much courage and determination as the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen, you cant help but wonder why the Western media switches on the lights to cover some uprisings, and blacks out others.
I found it a little disconcerting how enthusiastically the 19-day revolution in Tahrir Square was being reported, how excited [New York Times foreign affairs columnist] Thomas Friedman was about itbut only a few months ago reports seemed to suggest that Hosni Mubarak was sick and dying
Then you had headlines like Egypt free, army takes charge and you know that the army is intricately entwined with the US. I worry that the anger and energy of people who have been repressed for years by puppet dictators is being siphoned off, carefully defused, while the West jockeys to retain the status quo one way or another and replace the old despots with a more streamlined, less obvious form of despotism. The last I heard, people were beginning to gather in Tahrir Square again
Dinyar Godrej: Surges of people power, as in Tunisia and Egypt, and earlier in the Philippines, are capable of forcing climactic moments and sudden change. But the aftermath often sees a return to old systems and old corruptions. Why is human social organization so resistant to the change we yearn for?
Arundhati Roy: While people in these countries lived under repressive regimes and yearned for democracy, perhaps they didnt know that real democracy has been taken into the workshop and replaced by the market-friendly version, which is a far more sophisticated form of despotism, not easy for beginners to decode. It might take a little time for people to realize theyve been sold the wrong model. But meanwhile they have fought heroic street battles, faced down tanks, celebrated victory. Theyve been applauded all the way, while they let off steam. For them to build up that head of steam again isnt easy. Itll take years. Human society isnt resistant to change: it wants change; but sometimes it isnt smart enough to get what it wants.
Dinyar Godrej: Another world is possible. What are the ways in which we can make it likely?
Arundhati Roy: To work out the complex ways in which we are being conned and corralled into being good. To realize were on our own. Help wont come. We have to conserve energy, know how and where and when to deploy it. We have to fight our own battles. Ask the Sri Lankan Tamils what it feels like when the chips are down and the international community slinks away while your people are slaughtered and then returns to cluck and commiserate in hollow ways.
Dinyar GodrejIndian-bornis a former editor of New Internationalist, works as a freelance journalist based in Europe.
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Arundhati RoyPrincess to Pariah
Excerpts by Shoma Chaudhury
Seers are never comforting people. And no-one can ever accuse Arundhati Roy of being comforting. Over the last decade, she has been there first at almost every trench-line: illuminating, dissecting, warning, presaging. Taunting the cosy out of their towers. Magnifying the fights of the voiceless. No other contemporary Indian writerperhaps no Indian writer beforehas engaged so fiercely and urgently with the idea and reality of India. And none have taken it apart as unflinchingly.
In keeping with the conflicted nature of India, this has earned Roy curious returns: huge love and huge anger. Two years ago, for instance, India was convulsed by a gruesome terror attack that has come to be known as Mumbai 26/11. For three days, a stupefied nation watched as a group of young gunmen held a city hostage, blasting people at will, in full view of the world. As the tragedies piled up, news came that Hemant Karkare, chief of Mumbais anti-terror squad, had been killed. Karkare was widely considered an honest officer and as the grieving praise poured in, a prominent Indian television anchor leaned into the screen and said: We hope Arundhati Roy is listening. We havent invited her to this show because we think she is disgusting.
The immediate provocation for this outburst lay in an incident earlier that year in Delhi. There had been a shootout in a minority neighbourhood and a police squad had killed two young Muslim boys, claiming they were terrorists. Swimming against the tide, Roy had condemned the incident stridently, asserting the cops had killed in cold blood and asking for an inquiry. Karkares martyrdom was now being used to hand out a stinging slap to her for these supposedly anti-national stances. But the ugly hostility of the television anchor is not a stray incident: it embodies the way a certain kind of privileged, English-speaking Indian has come to regard Roy. It is the legacy of her writing and activism. In a sense, it is the story of contemporary India.
It is difficult to understand the profound, yet scrappy, impact of Roys political writing and activism on India unless one recalls the dizzy euphoria of her arrival and the irony of the journey she picked for herself afterwards. Roy was first announced to the world by a breathless article in a leading Indian magazine. The year was 1996. Liberalization of the Indian economy was just five years old. A jubilant middle class was looking for a mascot. Arundhati Roy came tailor-made from heaven: she had an elfin beauty, a diamond flash in her nose, a mane of gorgeous hair, a romantic back-story, and a manuscript that crackled with heart and scintillating prose and had triggered an international bidding war. India loved her.
From the moment The God of Small Things was published, Roy was deemed the chosen one. As the successes of the book piled uphuge advances, translations to 40 languages, and finally the 1997 Booker Prizeit was a done deal. Arundhati Roy was Indias triumphant entry on the global stage; she was the princess at the ball. No-one could have anticipated that the princess would strike the gong even before the midnight hour. Willfully bust the party. Pick open the seams of the gown. Expose the chariot for a pumpkin. Smash the glass slipper. But that is what Arundhati Roy did. In May 1998, barely a few months into the rollercoaster ride of her Booker win, the right-wing BJP-led government tested Indias nuclear bomb. In August 1998, Roy wrote The End of Imagination, an angry impassioned critique of the bomb, her first piece of writing after the novel.
There can be nothing more humiliating for a writer of fiction to have to do than restate a case that has, over the years, already been made by other people in other parts of the world, and made passionately, eloquently and knowledgeably, she wrote. But I am prepared to grovel . . . because, in the circumstances, silence would be indefensible. Since The End of Imagination, there has never been a silence from Roy. It was the first in a series of essays that would grow in moral strength and clarity, moving from the somewhat over-emotional hyperbole of the nuclear piece to the clear-eyed discomfitures of her later ones. She had crossed over to the dark side.NewInt
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Arundhati Roy (born 24 November 1961) is an Indian novelist. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, and has also written two screenplays and several collections of essays. Her writings on various social, environmental and political issues have been a subject of major controversy in India. . . . Roy began writing her first novel, The God of Small Things, in 1992, completing it in 1996. The book is semi-autobiographical and a major part captures her childhood experiences in Aymanam. The publication of The God of Small Things catapulted Roy to instant international fame. It received the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction and was listed as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year for 1997. It reached fourth position on the New York Times Bestsellers list for Independent Fiction. From the beginning, the book was also a commercial success: Roy received half a million pounds as an advance; It was published in May, and the book had been sold to eighteen countries by the end of June.
The God of Small Things received stellar reviews in major American newspapers such as The New York Times (a “dazzling first novel,” “extraordinary,” “at once so morally strenuous and so imaginatively supple”) and the Los Angeles Times (“a novel of poignancy and considerable sweep”), and in Canadian publications such as the Toronto Star (“a lush, magical novel”). By the end of the year, it had become one of the five best books of 1997 by TIME. Critical response in the United Kingdom was less positive, and that the novel was awarded the Booker Prize caused controversy; Carmen Callil, a 1996 Booker Prize judge, called the novel “execrable,” and The Guardian called the contest “profoundly depressing.” In India, the book was criticized especially for its unrestrained description of sexuality by E. K. Nayanar, then Chief Minister of Roy’s homestate Kerala, where she had to answer charges of obscenity.Wikipedia
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Arundhati Roy: I was never one of those people who was, you know, throwing my hat in the air when he [Obama] won, even thougheven though the memory of, you know, old black people, you know, feeling so happy to have a black man in the White House was something you just couldnt ignore. But to see how he hasI mean, its almost reprehensible. You seewhat has he done? Hes expanded the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan. Those drone attacks are killing people every day. You know, itsI dont think he has any idea what hes doing in that subcontinent. You know, no idea whatsoever. It is just devolving into a completely unmanageable, horrendous situation.
In America now, I just feelI just feel a bit upset every time I hear that smooth, silver-tongued, you know, kind of delivery, which actually means nothing most of the time. And so, ifI keep thinking that if George Bush had done what Obama does, everybody would be saying hes a fascist, you know, but we really step back and make so much space for whats going on here, thatyou know, its an old dilemma, of course, that somebody can do by day what the other person does at night. And, you know, people are so caught up in this view that the only choice you have is between the Democrats and the Republicans or between the Congress and the BJP. Our imaginations have been locked into this kind of electoral politics, so we feel like we have to say nice things about him. But I dont feel like saying nice things about him.DemocracyNow
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Come SeptemberBut what does the term .anti-American mean? Does it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you’re opposed to freedom of speech? That you don’t delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don’t admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans? This sly conflation of America’s culture, music, literature, the breathtaking physical beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government’s foreign policy (about which, thanks to America’s .free press., sadly most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It’s like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire. But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government’s policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in U.S. government policy come from American citizens. When the rest of the world wants to know what the U.S. government is up to, we turn to Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Ed Herman, Amy Goodman, Michael Albert, Chalmers Johnson, William Blum and Anthony Arnove to tell us what’s really going on.Arundhati Roy
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Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics
By Andras Szanto
Propaganda. Manipulation. Spin. Control. It has ever been thusor has it? On the eve of the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s classic essay on propaganda (
), writers have been invited to explore what Orwell didn’tor couldn’tknow. Their responses, framed in pithy, focused essays, range far and wide: from the effect of television and computing, to the vast expansion of knowledge about how our brains respond to symbolic messages, to the merger of journalism and entertainment, to lessons learned during and after a half-century of totalitarianism. Together, they paint a portrait of a political culture in which propaganda and mind control are alive and well (albeit in forms and places that would have surprised Orwell). The pieces in this anthology sound alarm bells about the manipulation and misinformation in today’s politics, and offer guideposts for a journalism attuned to Orwellian tendencies in the 21st century.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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In 1975, at the height of Indira Gandhis Emergency, V. S. Naipaul returned to India, the country his ancestors had left one hundred years earlier. Out of that journey he produced this concise masterpiece: a vibrant, defiantly unsentimental portrait of a society traumatized by centuries of foreign conquest and immured in a mythic vision of its past. Indira Gandhi Drawing on novels, news reports, political memoirs, and his own encounters with ordinary Indiansfrom a supercilious prince to an engineer constructing housing for Bombays homelessNaipaul captures a vast, mysterious, and agonized continent inaccessible to foreigners and barely visible to its own people.
He sees both the burgeoning space program and the 5,000 volunteers chanting mantras to purify a defiled temple; the feudal village autocrat and the Naxalite revolutionaries who combined Maoist rhetoric with ritual murder. Relentless in its vision, thrilling in the keenness of its prose, India: A Wounded Civilization is a work of astonishing insight and candor
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Dorothy Sterlings biography of Robert Smalls is Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1958). In most history books, the contributions of Negroes during the Civil War and Reconstructions are ignored. Robert Smalls was one of the heroes who is rarely mentioned. He was a Negro slave who stole a ship from the Confederates, served on it with the Union Army with distinction, and finally served several terms in Congress.
All this was accomplished against the handicaps first of slavery, then of the prejudice of the Union Army, and finally of the Jim Crow laws, which eventually conquered him. Besides its value in contradicting the history book insinuation that the Negro was incapable of political enterprise and that the South was right in imposing Jim Crow laws, Captain of the Planter is an exciting adventure story. Captain Smalls escape from slavery and his battle exploits make interesting reading, and the style is fast moving.Barbara Dodds
Cockburn reminded his audience about Dan Mitrione, an American kidnapped and murdered by the Tupamaru guerillas at about the same time.
. . . Mitrione was among the US advisers teaching Brazilian police how much electric shock to apply to prisoners without killing them. In Uruguay, according to the former chief of police intelligence, Mitrione helped “professionalize” torture as a routine measure and advised on psychological techniques such as playing tapes of women and children screaming that the prisoner’s family was being tortured.
And, of course, no one involved in Latin American politics can forget the School of the Americas, operated by the US Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, at which more than 60,000 soldiers and policemen from Latin America (including Jamaica) were trained from the 60s onward.
U.S. Army intelligence manuals advocating torture techniques and how to circumvent laws on due process, arrest and detention were used for at least a decade to train Latin American soldiers at the U.S. Armys School of the Americas, (SOA) renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC. SOAWatch.org
Most of this information will be news to 99% of Americans. Many of them will simply not believe it. Between their authoritarian Administration and their compliant, cowardly press, they have been protected from the truth and inoculated against reality.
Getting rid of Rumsfeld will solve nothing and make no difference to a culture of fundamentalist intolerance and racist impunity.
Copyright©2004 John Maxwell
update 16 December 2011