Broken Republic: Three Essays - Arundhati Roy

A month ago, on a lazy Sunday morning peering through inner pages of Mumbai Mirror were a set of colorful pins neatly clipped on oiled hair, the only source of happiness I could find in the photograph flooded with vacant eyes. The women folk of the Dongria Kondh , a little known tribe in the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha must have by now got used to the press photographers clicking their faces ; their revolution against Vedanta ( a mutli-million dollar company owned by NRI Anil Agarwal) has reached its first victorious milestone. India’s first ever open environmental hearings may have been an opportunistic pawn in the political landscape where the tribe’s “sipahi” (soldier) Rahul Gandhi prosper or a simple game of ‘vote-whoring’ (the Dongria Kondh had not voted for Congress for 30 consecutive years). Nevertheless, the political move became their gold pot that put the tribe’s struggle on the Indian center-stage with the Supreme Court prohibiting the Vedanta group from carrying out bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri Hills that begin from the point where civilization as we know ends. A battle was won; a war yet to be conquered.

Time and time again I have inferred that democracy dwells in the homes of the rich. For the poor, it is a hallucinatory dais where their lives survive with a chimerical optimism. Slums spoil the picture perfect of shining India. Pavement dwellers, poor migrants are menace to the picturesque high-rise urban infrastructure. The poor swarm the cities, stink the surrounding with their filthy shanties. The impoverished population is a hindrance to the growth of India. The poor should be sent to the villages; they can’t afford to live in the cities. Where are their villages? Where are their lands? Captured by the very own architects of India shining? Their land is seized, their houses burnt, their tribes eradicated. Everyone knows the written word, ‘the poor are a menace to the flourishing society, like the Dalits who have always been a menace to the Brahmin social order’. To be a refugee in one’s own country is worst than a maggot infested slow death. Hence, where will the poor go? In which corner of the country will they be able to find a home? Are only guns or suicide written in their pitiful fate? After all, weren’t they following the orders of their country’s supreme leader, the Prime Minister who once said that for India’s sake people should leave their villages and move to the cities.

India has fought many wars, internal and external. Political analysts have speculated the 21st century to be a festering bed for civil wars. On the international podium the Indian political leaders have shown diplomatic sympathies to countries plagued by terrorism and civil wars. Yet, blatantly these same leaders chose to ignore the white elephant that strides in their own homeland. The Indian landscapes have been birthing numerous revolutions since the day Indian achieved freedom from British colonial rule. The impoverish artisans, the landless, the Dalits, workers, farmers, et al.., have been engaged in a wide spectrum over 66 years. Arundhati Roy fires up three scintillating cerebral essays elucidating the insurgent landscape of “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by India.” – The Maoist. These members of the banned Community Party of India (CPI) are prevalent and active in Central India, dominant in areas of Lalgarh, Jharkand, Orissa and in W. Bengal . Roy who passionately adheres to her activist image asserts that the Maoist’s guerrilla army in Central India is made up of poor desperate tribal who are fighting for a dignified survival.

Nobody needs a war. Wars annihilate civilization; gift the greedy their authoritative egocentric goals. Mostly, conflict arises from a desperate need for justice; it may arise from the need for authoritative power and in some instances from the falsified ideals of the fundamentalist fraternity. But, what about those conflicts that are organized purposefully? About those wars that become crucial to the government to enhance the climate of monetary investment? Roy, claims that the mining companies need this “war” between the Maoist and the State; an old technique employed to drive away the tribal people from their land.

“To justify militarization, the State needs an enemy. The Maoist are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalist what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalist?”

To this, one is then compelled to ask as to why it becomes essential for the combat forces to target only a solitary enemy while the other make speeches on political podiums. Why are the horrendous crimes of one terror outfit vividly splashed in the media while those of the other are clandestinely swept under the carpet? If this is the case, then why are the claims of India being a ‘Hindu state’ dismissed with political fervor? Why is the Indian government treating two terror outfits with vast discrepancies? Doesn’t this scenario infer the obvious? The real problem lies in India’s race to be a superpower and the struggle to sustain a celebrated economic growth rate. India even with its 66 yrs of independence is still a child when compared to the developed First World sovereign nations that have prevailed in their freedom for several hundreds , even thousands years. Akin to a child trying to become an adult, India in its restlessness to become an adult has forgotten the adolescence years of development and advancement. This restlessness has in turn given rise to the necessary evils of corruption and other unlawful practices of empty promises. Democracy has succumbed to fascist doctrines. India’s dirty war has not only crippled its people but also the foundation of its democracy. Furthermore, supporting her stance on the India’s war with the poor; Roy articulates the oddity that arises from the governmental negativity towards the negotiation talk of ceasefire with the Maoist.

“Odd isn't it? That even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China? But, when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard ball”.

What a preposterous question? It is like asking a murderer who has already inserted a 6-inch knife in your stomach, whether death would be the final outcome? Why would the sadistic government want diplomatic conversations with the poor, when all they want is their land even at the cost of their life? Do the poor own nuclear weapons like Pakistan and China? This brings to the lingering question of what happens when the poor do really pick up weapons. Roy declares that it is an obvious form of combat for the poor to regain their dignity and freedom after being brutalized as there is no other “better” option rather than to fight. Suicide being a farthest option in this chaos. It is here that I find a bit discomfort in digesting the fact that if every violent action is generalized as self-defense then all the crimes would be acquitted on the ground of self-defense. If the poor who have chosen to defend themselves on their own through combat after being denied the said rights by the government then it also becomes acceptable for the victims on the other side of the conflict zone to raise their guns in self-defense. At this intersection it gets bit tricky to grasp Roy’s sentiments on the topic as in the third essay, she questions Operation Green Hunt’s self-defense theory whilst situating the clause of self-defense on favorable grounds with respect to the applicants of Maoist recruitment.

The main element in Mr. Chidambaram’s War is the establishment of Operation Green Hunt that is talked about in hush tones within the corridors of the Parliament; asserting its presence is an unimaginable thought. Chidambaram ( Union Minister of Finance) has always alleged that ‘Operation Green Hunt’ is the figment of imagination of Indian media and such an combat entity in reality does not exists. Interestingly, generous funds and armed forces have been allocated to the said eradication warfare program. The irony of the entire thing being the very existence of the name ‘Green Hunt’ that is out there to annihilate the environmental greenery, displacing thousand of tribals for the benefit for few yet influential imperialist forces.

What this country needs is revolution.

In Walking with the Comrades, Roy humanizes the brutal image of the Naxalite as she travels along with the Naxalites in the dense of forests aligning Dantewada. One can comprehend Roy’s empathetic demeanor to the Maoist and their struggle, when she questions the validity of Salwa Judum (Purification Hunt); the government sponsored vigilante groups helmed by a shrewd Congress MLA Mahendra Karma that was responsible for rapes, burning down the villages and other related brutality committed in conflicts of land grabbing. Mahendra Karma was killed in a specialized revenge attack strategize by the Naxalites to avenge the brutalities of Salwa Judum in the Bastar region. Do you think the poor tribals who worshipped their lands and mountains want a brutal war? Would they have joined the Naxalites, if their lands and homes were not seized by unlawful tactics and policies? Roy makes a strong case that stands by the helplessness of the tribes that are caught in the crossfire between the State and the Maoist. Roy’s prose is always a controversial one. Opinionated arguments have found a line of attack as far as Arundhati Roy is concerned; depending on which side of the fence one prefers to stand. Duplicitous workings of a corporation become vivid with the construction of a Cancer Hospital on the outskirts of a mining area. In the vein of a laughable diatribe one can assume the company slogan, "First we gift you cancerous cells and then we try and cure them". Aren’t they a gem of a people? It is at this point I chose to be on the same side with Arundhati , irrespective to my differences with her other political scrutiny. When Roy questions the diabolical aspects of the Maoist and tribals being different entities, it further deepens the hypocrisies and the falsehood of the Indian government. Nevertheless, to be empathetic to the Maoist becomes a transitive factor of defending the bloodshed and the brutalities committed by the Maoists.

Although the word 'terrorist' can be easily manipulated by the egoistic political power-mongers, the word should not be loosely labeled. Terrorism is a politically and emotionally charged vocabulary. Hence, it is ambiguous. But, still isn't the act of terrorism born from the desperation of need of a dignified survival? If you trace the historical events of terrorism, it is evident that the struggle has always been for the rights of people, the land, for freedom. Aren't the dreams of a terror outfit, nightmarish to the rest of the world? If we start humanizing every act of terror by categorizing them by the degree of helplessness then violence would never stop until the last trace of civilization is eradicated from this planet. Terror can never be empathetic on the grounds of self-defense. There is no pardoning to brutality on human grounds. If that ever happens, then the entirety of terrorism would be acquitted on the said judicial grounds. War would then become a way of life. However, when the question arises of its origin, one is stumped by the much thought. Yes, it is true that Maoist are not the only one who seek to despise the Indian state, Hindu fundamentalist are even nastiest than the Maoist. And, what about the candidates of economic totalitarianism, who have compelled the poor towards suicidal desperation. Unfortunately, the Indian government has singled out Maoist as a terror outfit in order to win their ‘organized war’. Therefore, on the basis of these fundaments, it becomes plausible to identify with Roy’s inferences and viewpoints. Roy also points out the cruelty of the police force being imparted on any poor tribal with even the slightest resemblance to Maoist irrespective whether they being an active member of the group. But, isn't this modus operandi works the other way too. Don’t the Maoists slaughter policemen on a slightest suspicion irrespective to their stand on the ongoing revolution? This stance has always been questionable.

“If the cinema smelled--- then films like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ would not win Oscars. The stench of that kind of poverty wouldn't blend with the aroma of warm popcorn.”

The poor appeal our fascination when they are framed artistically at an art exhibition or a festoon the cover pages of a book. Like the movie, we want to see the poor without their stench. We want to sympathize with their adverse fates over cups of frothy cappuccinos, but despise their presence in our backyards. ‘Trickledown Revolution’ begins with the lingering inquiry over the status of pavement dwellers being the refugees of India Shining- “people who are being sloshes around like toxic effluent in a manufacturing process that gone berserk” . Roy goes on to make a legitimate point with her analysis of the political execution of Cherukuri Rajkumar (Azad) just months ahead when the senior most member of the CPI was on the verge of negotiating a diplomatic dialogue between the Maoist and the State. Azad has said that “a ceasefire even a temporary one would give respite to ordinary people who are caught in the war”. The truth may have been lost in between the barrage of bullets and bloodshed, but one can’t deny the solid truth of ‘equality being a Utopian fantasy’ in the “other” India. The government needs this war; the tribals need their lands. With almost 100 million surviving tribal population, Roy seeks an alternative.

“Can we expect that an alternative to what looks like certain death for planet will come from the imagination that has brought about this crisis in the first place?”

Ultimately, where would one find India’s true democracy? Would it be found on the political dais at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi? Would it found in the combat of the helpless poor or in the mangled pages of Indian Constitution? Does democracy lurks through the monetary bribes given to the poor in exchange of their electoral votes? Will democracy ever cross the threshold of an affluent household? Or like Roy audaciously asserts, is India truly a ‘broken republic’

“Can you leave the water in rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their war.”

Arundhati Roy’s words bring the best of me as a reader and the worst of me as a citizen. As a reader I may have a zealous streak while penning an appraisal , but as a citizen I turn off the news channel with the speed of a light as I’m more concerned about missing my favorite TV show rather than the anti-poverty protests happening in the city. I criticize the deeds of the very corporations while I immensely enjoy their fruits. Until the Niyamgiri revolution I was ignorant about the Vedanta group belonging to Mr. Anil Agarwal , but, I precisely knew which Bollywood star performed at Mr. Agarwal’s family function. I’m more interested in the size of the rice grain and not the farmer who committed suicide on the same land from where the rice had come. I’m pleased when slums are demolished as they would no longer spoil my ocean view. I have luxurious data about various world tribes right from the jungles of Amazon to the deserts of Africa. Yet, when it comes to knowing the tribal culture thriving in my own homeland I’m at loss of words. It is disgraceful to know that my awareness of tribes in India increases with every political conflict that is exaggerated in the media. Unlike the tribals, I understand greed. In fact, it festers within me with every monetary acquisition. The Superintendent of the Police was accurate in his conclusion about the tribals lacking the element of greed.
“See, ma’am frankly speaking this problem can’t be solved by us police or military. The problem with these tribals is that they don’t understand greed. Unless they become greedy there’s no hope for us. I have told my boss, remove the force and instead put a TV in every home. Everything will be automatically sorted out.”

It is the shameful truth! I live with it, guiltless.


The author interviewing the Maoist.