Collaborating Arundhati and Outlook

‘Outlook’, February 4, issue has a cover story ‘Listening to Grasshoppers- Genocide, Denial and Celebration’ by Arundhati Roy. It is an abridged version of her lecture delivered in Istanbul on January 18, 2008.
As usual, I got the copy of ‘Outlook’ from my advocate neighbour, Y P Singh. After going through, I had returned it. But Mr. Singh came back again with the magazine and a manuscript that he wrote for the editor on Arundhati’s article. He is basically a fan of Arundhati and likes her style and particularly well-research contents that she incorporates well in all of her writings. However, he had not liked her this view in this article: “It was in 1989, soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that the Government of India turned in its membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and signed up for membership of the Completely Aligned, often referring to itself as the ‘natural ally’ of Israel and the United States. (They have at least this one thing in common-all three are engaged in overt, neo-colonial military occupations: India in Kashmir, Israel in Palestine, the US in Iraq.)”

For the editor, Mr. Singh wrote,

“On page 54, she writes that India is engaged in an overt neocolonial military occupation in Kashmir and she has compared India with USA’s role in Iraq and Israel’s handling of Palestinian people. This observation is recklessly erroneous and objectionable. She has ignored the facts, which have taken place in near enough past that are still quite fresh in the mind of many Indians. The State of J&K was a part of Ranjit Singh’s empire. Later on, Dogras ruled it with Hindus and Muslims living there peacefully. In 1947, when the Muslim intruders aided by Pakistan invaded it, India sent her army in Kashmir to save it from them on request of the then King Hari Singh after he had signed a treaty of accession to India. But the Muslim intruders and militants from Pakistan kept on entering and creating trouble in the state and the situation forced the Kashmiri pundits to leave their homes and hearths. Since then the pundits are living in refugee camps of India under miserable conditions. Is this action of India neocolonial? In her account of genocides, why is she silent about the atrocities committed by the Muslims in Mediaeval Period? Why is she silent about the atrocities met out to Parsees so that they had to take asylum in India?”

Mr. Singh wanted me to look into his writing and give my views.

I am not a fan of Arundhati. Arundhati came into eminence with her Booker prize winning novel. Thereafter, I don’t remember if she has written any more novels. However, she had become celebrity and I found her joining the ever-aggrieved activists sometimes even Medha Patkar. She has also written on developmental projects and she feels the country policy makers and entrepreneurs would have taken the country into stone age rather than doing something to compete with other developed and developing nations and to reduce the poverty of the masses that was inherited by the country because of centuries of slavery and rules by foreigners.

Arundhati must provide some alternative models for the poor and deprived of the country that can improve their living conditions. Instead, for Arundhati every one is either fascists or sycophants of industrialists or politicians, be it Rattan Tata or Mukesh Ambani or Shahrukh Khan or Ram Chndra Guha. Arundhati must have some reasons for so great a negativity in her thinking that comes out clearly in her cover story. Here is some portion of her story for you to judge.

I use the word Genocide advisedly, and in keeping with its definition contained in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In the state of Gujarat, there was genocide against the Muslim community in 2002. The genocide began as collective punishment for an unsolved crime-the burning of a railway coach in which 53 Hindu pilgrims were burned to death. In a carefully planned orgy of supposed retaliation, 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered in broad daylight by squads of armed killers, organised by fascist militias, and backed by the Gujarat government and the administration of the day. Muslim women were gang-raped and burned alive. Muslim shops, Muslim businesses and Muslim shrines and mosques were systematically destroyed. Some 1,50,000 people were driven from their homes.

Even today, many of them live in ghettos-some built on garbage heaps-with no water supply, no drainage, no streetlights, no healthcare. They live as second-class citizens, boycotted socially and economically. Meanwhile, the killers, police as well as civilian, have been embraced, rewarded, promoted. This state of affairs is now considered ‘normal’. To seal the ‘normality’, in 2004, both Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani, India’s leading industrialists, publicly pronounced Gujarat a dream destination for finance capital.

In Gujarat, the genocide has been brazenly celebrated as the epitome of Gujarati pride, Hindu-ness, even Indian-ness. The helmsman, Narendra Modi, has become a folk hero, called in by the BJP to campaign on its behalf in other Indian states.
Babu Bajrangi, one of the major lynchpins of the Gujarat genocide, recorded on camera in the sting operation mounted by Tehelka a few months ago:

We didn’t spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire…hacked, burned, set on fire…we believe in setting them on fire because these bastards don’t want to be cremated, they’re afraid of it…. I have just one last wish…let me be sentenced to death…I don’t care if I’m hanged…just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs of these people stay…I will finish them off…let a few more of them die…at least 25,000 to 50,000 should die.

I hardly need to say that Babu Bajrangi had the blessings of Narendra Modi, the protection of the police, and the love of his people.

Is it reasonable to worry about whether a country that is poised on the threshold of “progress” is also poised on the threshold of genocide? Could the India being celebrated all over the world, as a miracle of progress and democracy, possibly be poised on the verge of committing genocide?

You must read the whole story through the link and yourself judge her real input as representative of India. Is it something those foreigners whom we find taking photographs of all odd things such as filths and beggars in India for the domestic consumption? Why should Arundhati vomit so many of her confusingly complex views to her listeners in Istanbul about the India that people all over the world have started respecting? Is it not an act of treachery or treason?

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