“They are trying to keep me destabilised. Anybody who says anything is in danger.” -Arundhati Roy
When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.
Why I’d rather be Anna than Arundhati Roy
There was an article in The Hindu today by Arundhati against the movement for Janlokpal, she’s eloquent as usual, and she misses the point, pretty much as usual. In this article I am trying to talk about the points she raised and hopefully when we are done we might have a broader perspective of this movement than what Arundhati has projected.
Arundhati’s most important gripe seems to be that the people in the movement are raising slogans like – (a) Vande Mataram (b) Bharat Mata ki jai (c) India is Anna, Anna is India (d) Jai Hindi. Would she prefer if they said (a) India Hai Hai (b) Indian govt murdabad (c) Jeeve-jeeve Pakistan, when they come out on the streets to demand that the Indian government creates a better system for our people?
She’s lying when she says that the slogans are the answer you get when you ask questions about Janlokpal. The team that’s running Janlokpal has made every attempt to talk to anyone who is concerned about it, and to alleviate all their doubts. For months there was a public referendum on the provisions of Janlokpal, very openly, and lots of provisions were rejected, modified, and adapted according to the inputs of the people. This is a fact, not what Arundhati is saying.
Even now Anna Hazare and his team has announced that they are open to any public debate on Janlokpal and they will answer all the questions that anyone might have on any issue. Yesterday Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan did just that on a popular television network. There are videos of the team members speaking on different aspects of Janlokpal and why we need them that have been online for months.
Arundhati, lie one caught.
Her second claim is that Janlokpal seeks an overthrow of the Indian state. Lying again. For almost an year now the Janlokpal team has been working with the government, with all the members who care, to frame a strong law against corruption. They’ve met the current government leaders, opposition leaders, chief ministers, individual MPs, talking to them, and telling them why the country needs a strong anti-corruption framework. Is that working to overthrow the state?
They sat on a very hostile government panel and tried everything they could to push their proposals forward in the way government wanted them to. After the government panel wasted the nation’s time and failed to include even one, repeat, even one important proposal of the Janlokpal bill, and instead sought to push their own Jokepal which would prosecute the victims instead of the perpetrators, they decided to sit on a dharna asking the government to make a strong bill.
Let me remind Arundhati that this was done in a perfectly legal and an non-violent manner, and Anna is asking this administration to implement Janlokpal, not seeking a new government. Are you trying to tell the people of India that demanding a strong anti-corruption framework amounts to overthrowing the government? Let us hear that again more clearly.
Arundhati, lie two caught.
Next she proceeds to tell us that Anna Hazare is a ‘freshly minted saint,’ which should suggest that he has no right to speak against public injustice as apparently, only stale saints are allowed to crusade for India.
Wait a minute though, this freshly minted thing doesn’t sound true at all. Anna Hazare took voluntary retirement from the Army in 1978 and started his campaign to transform Ralegaon Siddhi. All through the next decade he worked hard for the villagers campaigning for things like liquor prohibition, grain banks for the poor, better milk production, creation of more schools (he sat on a fast for this), against untouchability and for collective marriages. In 1991 he started the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan. What was Arundhati doing then? Oh wait, she hadn’t written her first book yet.
Anna Hazare has led many movements against corrupt officials and politicians. Powerful people. People who’ve maligned him, filed false cases against him, and even sent him to jail. He has borne the worst of what the powerful and the corrupt have to offer, unlike Arundhati whose only achievement seems to be making radical statements. It’s a shame that someone like her should call a fighter like Anna a ‘freshly minted saint’.
Arundhati, lie three caught
She is also giving a distorted version of the sequence of events that unfolded during Anna’s stay at the Tihar jail. She’s saying that Anna remained in Tihar as a ‘honored guest’. If you are looking for honored guests Arundhati look for Suresh Kalmadi, Kanimozhi, A Raja, Manu Sharma, or Vikas Yadav, maybe even Afzal Guru. Anna isn’t one of them.
Let me remind you that Anna Hazare was picked up from his residence by the Delhi Police. He hadn’t been on the streets murdering people with a gun the night earlier. He was at Rajghat where he sat for an hour in meditation.
The police sent Anna to Tihar in 7 days judicial custody. To prevent what? A non-violent protest against corruption in India. On 16th August nearly 15,000 people of New Delhi and Mumbai courted arrest. They went to JP Park, Azad Maidan, or whatever the venue was in their city, asking the police to arrest them. They did not burn buses, break glasses, or set fire to homes. I have a photograph of the special jail at Chhatrasal Stadium for you here.
The people brought to Chhatrasal Stadium after their arrest.
The government was counting on their belief that no one would come ahead for Anna, and that they would be able to dispose him the way they disposed Baba Ramdev. Unfortunately for them the people of India had had enough. Anna was made an ‘honored guest’ in your words because of all the people who were in the jail, and outside the jail for him.
Why didn’t Anna come out? Because he was asked to (a) go home, (b) leave town. When Anna Hazare asked whether he would be allowed to hold an unconditional protest the Delhi police refused. Anna said that if they release him he would lead the protest and they would have to arrest him again, so it’s better that he remain in jail until the government agrees to let him protest.
Usually when a protest is organized, the people who run the protest have enough time to make preparations. There has to be enough room, and proper arrangements to make sure that the thousands collected are managed properly and without harm. If Anna had gone to the protest before the arrangements were made it could have resulted in utter chaos that might have had serious repercussions for the people gathered. Do you realize that Arundhati?
She also said that Anna’s team whizzed in-and-out of prison and it is a privilege that no one else has. Anna’s team came out when the individuals chose to be released, and when Anna refused to budge Kiran Bedi and other team members were invited by the government to try and negotiate with Anna. How does that compare to Kalmadi having a nice tea-biscuit brunch with the Warden a few days ago? Or Manu Sharma being surreptitiously paroled? Did you hear about them at all?
Arundhati, lie four caught.
Her next claim is that MCD worked hard to prepare the grounds. Is that right? I will bet anybody that Arundhati didn’t go to the grounds to inspect the preparations, and she’s talking out of her head again. I went to the ground and saw the state it was in. Here is a photograph for you Arundhati. Do you see the MCD here? Or do you see young people who are rushing to clean the wet mud, trying desperately but in union, to make the place better than a pigsty so that the people could stand.
They dug a little canal to channel the water from the ground into the drains
She’s mopping the carpet so that it may become fit to stand on
Even if they weren’t, and even if MCD had sent all their workers to prepare the grounds for Anna Hazare’s protest, would there still be a reason to complain? What MCD did there was its job. The Ramlila Ground is supposed to be maintained by the MCD for massive gatherings. When MCD doesn’t do its job and the grounds is water-logged and mosquito infested, it creates a serious health hazard for everyone who’s there. MCD prepares the grounds for all public protests too. It did the same for Sonia Gandhi’s rally just a few months ago. Arundhati, you want the MCD to not do its job because this protest is not organized by a political party?
Arundhati, lie five caught.
She’s upset that the Lokpal has wide-ranging powers of investigation, surveillance and prosecution, and then she uses her amazing writing skills to suggest that Lokpal will practically have everything except their ‘own prisons’. I am on the verge of losing my breakfast!
Arundhati, one would expect someone who questions the Indian legal system so openly to have better knowledge about it. The police has the powers of (a) investigation, (b) surveillance, and (c) prosecution. So does the CBI. How are Lokpal’s power different? The only thing that Anna is asking for is that the Lokpal be a specialized body against corruption and that it must not need to seek permission from anybody to prosecute a corrupt office holder. Our present system puts severe restrictions on the investigative bodies. That’s why a CBI under the prime minister could not file a charge-sheet against A Raja, but when the supreme court took over the investigations A Raja was brought to jail.
Arundhati, I know that you knowingly did not make the point that the powers of Lokpal are limited to investigation, collection of evidence and prosecution. The Lokpal can bring a case to the court, and the judge will then decide on the basis of the presented evidence whether the person is guilty. How is that radically dangerous?
Arundhati, lie six caught.
It’s really amazing to see how Arundhati Roy can go to ridiculous lengths to fill the reader’s mind with garbage against Janlokpal. If you didn’t know about her problems with the Indian government, you could easily imagine she has been paid by it to write the article. She’s actually suggesting that the hawkers who pay the beat constable to set up their stalls might have to pay the ‘lokpal representative’.
Lokpal representative? Now she can frame those words and hang them on the Red fort for all to see and it still wouldn’t become true. The Lokpal is not a policing body. They can’t go and collect ‘hafta’ from the hawker.
When land-owner’s land is grabbed illegally and a mall is built there, or when a poor person’s store is unjustly removed, or when the beat constables or MCD representatives, or other government agency officials unjustly seek bribes from the people, that is corruption. The Lokpal is built to take care of that.
According to the provisions of the Janlokpal Bill, a citizen can make a complaint against an office holder, and the lokpal will investigate the complaint. If it is found true action will be taken. Lokpal is not going to send beat lokpallers to collect hafta from the poor. That’s downright ridiculous and only a fancy imagination could have conceived it.
Arundhati, lie seven caught.
She also says that the choreography, and aggressive nationalism seems to be like that of anti-reservation. It’s a clear attempt to draw the dalits away from the fight against corruption. And how inappropriate an attempt it is! It is the deprived, the dalits, who have to the bear the worst of corruption. The rich and the influential are filled with upper caste people who can actually use the present system to their advantage because they have money power, influence, and contacts.
The dalits don’t have the same advantages, that’s why when all other things being equal, it is the dalit who stands to lose when they compete with the upper caste. All due to corruption!
Now coming to the choreography. What sort of vague word is that? ‘Choreography’, what are we supposed to understand from it? If she’s talking about the slogans, we’ve already dealt with that. What else could she be talking about?
The anti-reservation protest was fraught with street violence and self-immolations. The people who opposed reservations closed down schools, colleges and offices, burnt buses, had violent clashes with the law, and burnt themselves to death. That hasn’t happened in Anna’s movement. This movement is perfectly peaceful and organized. Even when people are on a march, they stop at the red lights and crossings to let the traffic pass before continuing. What the hell is Arundhati trying to imply with her ‘Choreography’ then?
Arundhati, lie eight caught.
The next bit is very cruel. She craftily tries to separate Irom Sharmila, Bastar, Jaitapur, from the fast and implies by extension that Anna Hazare does not oppose Posco, or the farmer deaths in Maharashtra, or any of the other myriad problems that our country is battling right now. This couldn’t be furthest from truth.
Unlike Arundhati, Anna Hazare has recognized that too many of the problems that our country is facing are a direct result of corruption. That’s why a Madhu Koda is able to earn thousands of crores in graft money directly depriving the adivasis. That’s why Yeduyarappa is able to give illegal miners a free hand. That’s why Bastar and Irom, and Niyamgiri exist. Because of corruption.
If our framework made the responsible people accountable, it would create a huge difference in all of these issues. Imagine a bastar free of poachers, miners and land grabbers, a maharashtra village where the government’s benefits schemes are truly implemented. Forget all the other instances, just imagine what Manrega can really do for the people if it is implemented honestly.
You’ve also claimed that Anna doesn’t care about the farmers in Maharashtra, or in other places, even though he has spent his entire demonstratively in fighting for the poor and deprived villagers and farmers. Maybe you didn’t hear about this because you were too busy hobnobbing with India haters.
Arundhati, I believe that fighting corruption is fighting on behalf of all the people you’ve named, and not against them. If you believe otherwise, give me your reasons.
Arundhati, lie nine caught.
The next slander if of course the ultimate weapon that anyone can hurl at Anna. That he supports Raj Thackarey or Narendra Modi’s alleged wrongdoings. This is a joke, specially in sight of the fact that many of the hardliners aligned with the BJP, the hindu-brigade, and Narendra Modi are up with cudgles against Anna Hazare. They’re making the claim that Anna Hazare is an agent of Congress, propped up by Congress to facilitate the crowning of Rahul Gandhi.
The communists have no love for Hazare, the right wingers have no love for Hazare, and the Congress has no love for Hazare. My God! He must be awesomely right!
Answering your gripe, Anna Hazare has said it publicly multiple times that he is against any oppressive actions targeted against any community and that he supports a system that gives equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their religion.
And if you think you were succeeding in your nefarious scheme to distance the muslims from the movement, you’ve failed. Muslims as a community have lent their support to Anna Hazare in a massive way. Many Imams and Maulavis have made public statements, and the Dar-ul-Uloom, which is the biggest body of Muslims in India has said that it is the duty of every Muslim and citizen of India to support Anna Hazare. If they are wrong, then you must know something that they don’t. Care to share?
You’ve also brought the ‘Youth for equality’ into this. So what if Anna’s movement is supported by the Youth for Equality? It is also supported by the All India Youth Federation. Let me show you a pic of AIYF activists who marched against corruption for Anna. Lest you’ve forget the AIYF is the youth wing of the Communist Party of India.
They supported Anna because they want a corruption free India
Do you realize that when it comes to this fight against corruption Anna does not choose who supports him. He gratefully accepts their support. Of course he doesn’t give them anything in return except a law that’s strongly against corruption.
That’s why the Gyan Das Akhara of Ayodhya, and Hashim Ansari, the famous anti-temple litigator have jointly expressed support for Anna Hazare. Do you have the courage to rise above your own pettiness?
Arundhati, lie ten caught.
You are also very misinformed, or maybe you choose to present wrong information to the people. You have said that ‘Kabir’ is an NGO run by Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia. Actually Arvind Kejriwal does not run Kabir. He is an executive member because Manish Sisodia is an old associate from Parivartan, but he does not manage it, or intervene in it. It is managed by Manish Sisodia. Arvind Kejriwal’s foundation is the PCRF. They have got no donation from Ford, and their balance sheets are available on their website for public inspection. Have a look at all the money this foundation has.
Arvind started this foundation with 14 lakhs, the money he got with his Magsaysay Award. He used it for public cause and to support RTI in India.
The PCRF maintains complete accounts for the present anti-corruption movement too. Details of all incoming donations are available on the website of India Against Corruption, and expenses are detailed too. You should have a look at that.
The amount Kabir has received as donation from Ford is $200,00 and $400,000 as you claimed. This is verifyable form the website of the ford foundation (Grant Search | Ford Foundation). You could have done well to note that this donation has nothing to do with the present movement, but you did not. I will do this for you here. This donation was made in 2011 to Kabir to promote the use of RTI in India, and not to support the India against corruption movement.
Arundhati, lie eleven caught.
You say next that the present bill fails to bring the corporates and the NGOs against the ambit of Lokpal. Does our present legal system allow that? Does our present legal system allow surveillance of the functioning of privately funded NGOs or corporate bodies in the same manner that it allows the surveillance of government organisations? The legal experts have said no, and this is the reason according to the team that they are not proposing this at the present time.
What you’ve forgotten is the fact that it is the government system that’s the worst offender when it comes to corruption, because it allows its misuse by the private sector resulting in the problems you’ve mentioned. There are already checks and systems to prevent and prosecute the wrong-doings of the private sector, but they are compromised because the investigative bodies are in the graft, or their masters are.
If we can make this start by creating a law that forces the government systems to work properly it will undoubtedly lead to better handling of the private sector too. Can you imagine the telecom companies benefiting from 2G the way they did if they didn’t have A Raja working for them? Or the various private companies making huge profits from CWG tenders if Kalmadi and Sheila Dikshit didn’t back them so brazenly?
Anna’s team has given the commitment to keep fighting, to further the cause, and take fresh measures to rid the people of corruption once the Janlokpal bill is in place. By making the Janlokpal bill an excuse to talk about all the different malaise we have you are attempting to short-circuit the anti-corruption drive itself. How is fighting government corruption any less holier than fighting corruption in private organisations?
Arundhati, lie twelve caught.
The only sense you are making is in the last paragraph when you say that Anna’s movement is the result of the failure of the legislature which is filled with criminals and millionaire politicians who have ceased to represent their people. You know, that’s exactly the point that Anna Hazare has been making. Our MPs are totally living in denial of the people’s needs and aspirations. They believe that 9% growth of GDP is an achievement worth having 11% food inflation for. It is their corrupt mindset and disconnect which must be challenged, and that’s exactly what Anna is doing when he mobilizes people in such a massive manner against corruption. The fact is, we should all be thankful to Anna Hazare for reminding the MPs that a democracy is not just made up of the parliament, but also of the people.
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every revolution needs a skeptic
but not its very own village idiot.
Arundhati, you’ve done India proud in your time, but now you’re just trying harder than ever to stay relevant through controversies by assuming a half-assed political position based on a quarter-assed analysis.
So pretty please, piss off.
The war in Kashmir valley is almost twenty years old now, and has claimed about seventy thousand lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have “disappeared”, women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about one hundred sixty-five thousand active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation). The Indian army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir, Perhaps that’s true. But does military domination mean victory?
Arundhati Roy: “Anybody who says anything is in danger.”
I just love this woman. She’s one of my biggest role models and inspirations.
The Booker prize-winning novelist on her political activism in India, why she no longer condemns violent resistance – and why it doesn’t matter if she never writes a second novel
by Stephen Moss, for the Guardian. Sunday 5 June 2011
This is not an ideal beginning. I bump into Arundhati Roy as we are both heading for the loo in the foyer of the large building that houses her publisher Penguin’s offices. There are some authors, V S Naipaul say, with whom this could be awkward. But not Roy, who makes me feel instantly at ease. A few minutes later, her publicist settles us in a small, bare room. As we take our positions on either side of a narrow desk I liken it to an interrogation suite. But she says that in India, interrogation rooms are a good deal less salubrious than this.
Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a “new modernity” based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.
Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government’s attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. “Everybody’s in great danger there, so you can’t go round feeling you are specially in danger,” she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they’re under siege.
Her time with the guerrillas made a profound impression. She describes spending nights sleeping on the forest floor in a “thousand-star hotel”, applauds “the ferocity and grandeur of these poor people fighting back”, and says “being in the forest made me feel like there was enough space in my body for all my organs”. She detests glitzy, corporate, growth-obsessed modern Indian, and there in the forest she found a brief peace.
There is intense anger in the book, I say, implying that if she toned it down she might find a readier audience. “The anger is calibrated,” she insists. “It’s less than I actually feel.” But even so, her critics call her shrill. “That word ‘shrill’ is reserved for any expression of feeling. It’s all right for the establishment to be as shrill as it likes about annihilating people.”
Is her political engagement derived from her mother, Mary Roy, who set up a school for girls in Kerala and has a reputation as a women’s rights activist? “She’s not an activist,” says Roy. “I don’t know why people keep saying that. My mother is like a character who escaped from the set of a Fellini film.” She laughs at her own description. “She’s a whole performing universe of her own. Activists would run a mile from her because they could not deal with what she is.”
I want to talk more about Mary Roy – and eventually we do – but there’s one important point to clear up first. Guerrillas use violence, generally directed against the police and army, but sometimes causing injury and death to civilians caught in the crossfire. Does she condemn that violence? “I don’t condemn it any more,” she says. “If you’re an adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”
Her critics label her a Maoist sympathiser. Is she? “I am a Maoist sympathiser,” she says. “I’m not a Maoist ideologue, because the communist movements in history have been just as destructive as capitalism. But right now, when the assault is on, I feel they are very much part of the resistance that I support.”
Roy talks about the resistance as an “insurrection”; she makes India sound as if it’s ripe for a Chinese or Russian-style revolution. So how come we in the west don’t hear about these mini-wars? “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers,” she says, “that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.” I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.
She sounds like a member of a religious sect, I say, as if she has seen the light. “It’s a way of life, a way of thinking,” she replies without taking offence. “I know people in India, even the modern young people, understand that here is something that’s alive.” So why not give up the plush home in Delhi and the media appearances, and return to the forest? “I’d be more than happy to if I had to, but I would be a liability to them in the forest. The battles have to be fought in different ways. The military side is just one part of it. What I do is another part of the battle.”
I question her absolutism, her Manichaean view of the world, but I admire her courage. Her home has been pelted with stones; the Indian launch of Broken Republic was interrupted by pro-government demonstrators who stormed the stage; she may be charged with sedition for saying that Kashmiris should be given the right of self-determination. “They are trying to keep me destabilised,” she says. Does she feel threatened? “Anybody who says anything is in danger. Hundreds of people are in jail.”
Roy has likened writing fiction and polemic to the difference between dancing and walking. Does she not want to dance again? “Of course I do.” Is she working on a new novel? “I have been,” she says with a laugh, “but I don’t get much time to do it.” Does it bother her that the followup to The God of Small Things has been so long in coming? “I’m a highly unambitious person,” she says. “What does it matter if there is or isn’t a novel? I really don’t look at it that way. For me, nothing would have been worth not going into that forest.”
It’s hard to judge whether there will be a second novel. The God of Small Things drew so much on her own life – her charismatic but overbearing mother; a drunken tea-planter father whom her mother left when Roy was very young; her own departure from home in her late teens – that it may be a one-off, a book as much lived as written. She gives ambiguous answers about whether she expects a second novel to appear. On the one hand, she says she is engaged with the resistance movement and that it dominates her thoughts. But almost in the same breath she says others have “picked up the baton” and she would like to return to fiction, to dance again.
What is certain is that little of the second novel has so far been written. She prefers not to tell me what it is about; indeed, she says it would not be possible to pinpoint the theme. “I don’t have subjects. It’s not like I’m trying to write an anti-dam novel. Fiction is too beautiful to be about just one thing. It should be about everything.” Has she been blocked by the pressure of having to follow up a Booker winner? “No,” she says. “We’re not children all wanting to come first in class and win prizes. It’s the pleasure of doing it. I don’t know whether it will be a good book, but I’m curious about how and what I will write after these journeys.”
Are her agent and publisher disappointed still to be waiting for the second novel? “They always knew there wasn’t going to be some novel-producing factory,” she says. “I was very clear about that. I don’t see the point. I did something. I enjoyed doing it. I’m doing something now. I’m living to the edges of my fingernails, using everything I have. It’s impossible for me to look at things politically or in any way as a project, to further my career. You’re injected directly into the blood of the places in which you’re living and what’s going on there.”
She has no financial need to write another novel. The God of Small Things, which sold more than 6m copies around the world, set her up for life, even though she has given much of the money away. She even spurned offers for the film rights, because she didn’t want anyone interpreting her book for the screen. “Every reader has a vision of it in their head,” she says, “and I didn’t want it to be one film.” She is strong-willed. Back in 1996, when The God of Small Things was being prepared for publication, she insisted on having control of the cover image because she didn’t want “a jacket with tigers and ladies in saris”. She is her indomitable mother’s daughter.
I insist she tell me more about her Fellini-esque mother. She is, says Roy, like an empress. She has a number of buttons beside her bed which, when you press them, emit different bird calls. Each call signals to one of her retinue what she requires. Has she been the centre of her daughter’s life? “No, she has been the centre of a lot of conflict in my life. She’s an extraordinary women, and when we are together I feel like we are two nuclear-armed states.” She laughs loudly. “We have to be a bit careful.”
To defuse the family tensions, Roy left home when she was 16 to study architecture in Delhi – even then she wanted to build a new world. She married a fellow student at the age of 17. “He was a very nice guy, but I didn’t take it seriously,” she says. In 1984 she met and married film-maker Pradip Krishen, and helped him bring up his two daughters by an earlier marriage. They now live separately, though she still refers to him as her “sweetheart”. So why separate? “My life is so crazy. There’s so much pressure and idiosyncrasy. I don’t have any establishment. I don’t have anyone to mediate between me and the world. It’s just based on instinct.” I think what she’s saying is that freedom matters more to her than anything else.
She chose not to have children because it would have impinged on that freedom. “For a long time I didn’t have the means to support them,” she says, “and once I did I thought I was too unreliable. So many of the women in India who are fighting these battles don’t have children, because anything can happen. You have to be light on your feet and light in your head. I like to be a mobile republic.”
Roy has in the past described herself as “a natural-born feminist”. What did she mean by that? “Because of my mother and the way I grew up without a father to look after me, you learned early on that rule number one was look out for yourself. Much of what I can do and say now comes from being independent at an early age.” Her mother was born into a wealthy, conservative Christian community in Kerala, but put herself outside the pale by marrying Ranjit Roy, a Hindu from West Bengal. When she returned to her home state after her divorce she had little money and was thus doubly marginalised. The mother eventually triumphed over all these obstacles and made a success of the school she founded, but growing up an outsider has left its mark on her daughter.
Roy says she has always been polemical, and points to her run-in with director Shekhar Kapur in the mid-1990s over his film Bandit Queen – she questioned whether he had the right to portray the rape of a living person on screen without that woman’s consent. It may be that the novel is the exception in a life of agitation, rather than the agitation an odd outcrop in a life of fiction-writing. But has she sacrificed too much for the struggle – the chance to dance, children, perhaps even her second marriage? “I don’t see any of these things as sacrifices,” she says. “They are positive choices. I feel surrounded by love, by excitement. They are not being done in some martyr-like way. When I was walking through the forest with the comrades, we were laughing all the time.”
We’re Prisoners of War,” Chacko said. “Our dreams have been doctored. We belong nowhere. We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joys never happy enough. Our dreams never big enough. Our lives never important enough. To matter.
gosh i love this woman. some wonderful excerpts:
To be able to express yourself, to be able to close the gap—inasmuch as it is possible—between thought and expression is just such a relief. It’s like having the ability to draw or paint what you see, the way you see it. Behind the speed and confidence of a beautiful line in a line drawing there’s years of—usually—discipline, obsession, practice that builds on a foundation of natural talent or inclination of course. It’s like sport. A sentence can be like that. Language is like that. It takes a while to become yours, to listen to you, to obey you, and for you to obey it…
For me, what’s more interesting is trying to walk the path between the act of honing language to make it as private and as individual as possible, and then looking around, seeing what’s happening to millions of people and deploying that private language to speak from the heart of a crowd. Holding those two very contradictory things down is a fascinating enterprise…
Finding out about things, figuring out the real story—what you call research—is part of life for some of us. Mostly just to get over the indignity of living in a pool of propaganda, of being lied to all the time…
But sometimes I feel as though I lack a skin—something that separates me from the world I live in. That absence of skin is dangerous. It invites trouble into every part of your life. It makes what is public private and what is private public…
My question is, if you are an Adivasi living in a village in a dense forest in Chhattisgarh, and that village is surrounded by eight hundred Central Reserve Police Force who have started to burn down the houses and rape the women, what are people supposed to do? Are they supposed to go on a hunger strike? They can’t. They are already hungry, they are already starving. Are they supposed to boycott goods? They can’t because they don’t have the money to buy goods. And if they go on a fast or a dharna, who is looking, who is watching? So, my position is just that it would be immoral of me to preach violence to anybody unless I’m prepared to pick up arms myself. But I think it is equally immoral for me to preach nonviolence when I’m not bearing the brunt of the attack…
I think it worries them that I’m not a victim and that I don’t pretend to be one. They love victims and victimology. My writing is not a plea for aid or for compassion towards the poor. We’re not asking for more NGOs or charities or foundations in which the rich can massage their egos and salve their consciences with their surplus money. The critique is structural…
’m not sure what backing a resistance movement means—saying nice things about it? I think I meant that we should become the resistance. If people outside Iraq had actually done more than just weekend demonstrations, then the pressure on the U.S. government could have been huge. Without that, the Iraqis were left on their own in a war zone in which every kind of peaceful dissent was snuffed out. Only the monstrous could survive. And then the world was called upon to condemn them…