Tag Archives: Arundhati Roy

Caste and other demons

Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’?

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar

( Review of The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste; By Arundhati Roy, Penguin, Rs 299)

“Gandhiji, I have no homeland.” The first meeting between Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, who later became chairman of the drafting committee of independent India’s Constitution and its first law minister, is memorialized in this sentence. It expresses the centuries-old plight of those most oppressed in the varna hierarchy under the “institutionalised social injustice at the heart of the country”.

Has there been a qualitative change in the situation of the ‘ex-untouchables’ since this meeting some 90 years back? Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’? Figures collated by National Crime Records Bureau show that “a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every sixteen minutes”, including four rapes a day and murders of 13 Dalits every week. And these figures do not include “the stripping and parading naked, the forced shit eating, the seizing of land and the social boycotts…” This is the backdrop of the book, The Doctor and The Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy. It earlier formed part of an introduction to an annotated 2014 edition of Annihilation of Caste — the historic pamphlet Ambedkar wrote when invited by the ‘Jat Paat Todak Mandal’ in Lahore. The invitation was withdrawn after the hosts read the lecture draft. Continue reading Caste and other demons

Save Democracy, Release Umar, Anirban and SAR Geelani, Enact Rohith Act – JNU Marches again in Delhi

For the fourth time since the early February, students, faculty and their friends marched in Delhi. Once again, there were thousands of people, walking from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar. This time, there was focused attention on the demand for the release of the detained JNU students – Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, the DU Professor S.A.R Geelani, solidarity with JNU Prof. Nivedita Menon and the poet-scientist Gauhar Raza against their media trials, and a direct attack on the creeping fascism of the Modi regime. Here are some moments from this march.

(Thanks to Aniket Prantdarshi, Kavita Krishnan, Samim Asgor Ali and Anish Ahluwalia, ‘We are JNU’ for their photos and videos, which I have taken from their Facebook pages and Youtube Channels)

Continue reading Save Democracy, Release Umar, Anirban and SAR Geelani, Enact Rohith Act – JNU Marches again in Delhi

Farmers’ Suicides and Fatal Politics: Vasanthi Srinivasan

Guest Post by VASANTHI SRINIVASAN

With depressing regularity, the newspapers have been reporting farmers’ suicides in many states. Recently, P Sainath wrote on BBC that around 296,438 farmers have committed suicide since 1995. He also mentions that cash crop cultivators of cotton, sugar cane, vanilla, pepper, groundnut etc account for the bulk of those suicides. According to a PIL heard by the Supreme Court in December 2014, around 3146 farmers in Maharashtra have committed suicide this year. Of course, farmer’s suicides only account for a fraction of all suicides reported in India. Besides, farmer’s suicides are a global phenomenon. The litany of woes is also familiar to readers, namely rising indebtedness, crop failures, falling prices, natural disasters etc.

And yet the meaning of these suicides, if any, is worth reflecting upon.

Politicians, who are used to massive debts, seem to think this is an ‘extreme step’ on the part of farmers. In 2003, the then Union Minister for Agriculture hinted that indebtedness alone may not be causing the ‘extreme step’, and that ‘family problems’ may also be a reason. In Karnataka, the Veeresh committee report had earlier identified depression, alcoholism and marital discord rather than the rising debt as the relevant causes. Never one to lag behind, the hi-tech Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu  announced compensations and proposed to get psychiatrists to rural areas. One scholar has pointed to the increasing isolation of cultivators and high levels of anxiety about failure suffered by some farmers [1]. These attempts at ‘personalizing’ the farmers’ problems may be necessary but not sufficient as long as other factors remain unexplored – increasing cultivation costs, crop failures, water shortages and falling product price. Citing the high figures of suicides (204) in Maharashtra for 2014 until April, followed by Telangana (69 until October), the Times of India  (dated Nov 26, 2014), reported that the present Central government admitted indebtedness as a possible factor.  There are also calls to increase monetary compensation to families affected by such suicides.   Continue reading Farmers’ Suicides and Fatal Politics: Vasanthi Srinivasan

Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

Guest Post by SREENANTI BANERJEE

I will begin with the by now well-known interview of author and social activist Arundhati Roy, conducted by Channel 4 (a British Media House), about the widespread protests after the horrific December 16th incident of the brutal gangrape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi. Permit me to quote Roy at length as I do not wish to take bits and pieces from her talk, and pluck them out of their context.

We are having an unexceptional reaction to an event which isn’t exceptional […] But the problem is that why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle-class girl. But when rape is used as a means of domination by upper castes, by the army or the police it’s not even punished. Continue reading Sexual Violence, Consumer Culture and Feminist Politics – Rethinking the Critique of Commodification : Sreenanti Banerjee

Of Complicity and Contamination in the Neoliberal Academy: Oishik Sircar

Guest post by OISHIK SIRCAR

Many years back as a naïve leftist graduate student in Toronto I discovered the meanings of complicity and contamination through a most ordinary event. As someone who believed that no artistic work should ever have restricted access because of copyright, I bought an online software programme that could break copy protected DVDs. I would get film DVDs from the university library and use the software to copy them onto my hard drive. In the one year that I spent there, I copied over 1000 films. Over the years I have distributed many of these films to my students and friends, and have made extensive use of them in my teaching and workshops.

By the time I was nearing the end of my stay in Toronto, I wanted to figure out whether the software would work in India – so that I can continue my copyright breaking enterprise. I was delighted to find out that it would, as long as I paid to extend the software’s use for another year. And at the time of making this payment, to my utter surprise, I saw that this software was copyrighted. The fact that a copyright breaking software could itself have a copyright was bizarrely enlightening. The software was a tool to rip through the oppressive regimes of copyright, and in doing so it also sought recognition from that very language of privatizing innovation. It got me thinking whether we could ever espouse and practice a politics that is not a constant negotiation between complicity and contamination. Whether a search for a politics of purity is both foolish and counterproductive? My naïveté has been gradually undone through events that I have observed and experienced since then. While I can treat this as a process of acquiring wisdom, it is nevertheless a disturbing wisdom to possess. It has also left a feeling of yearning for utopia in this world of cruel contradictions.

After returning from Toronto, I shook off my naïveté with such force that I ended up with a job at a university funded by one of India’s largest steel companies whose operations have wreaked havoc in the lives of adivasi populations in several parts of India. Continue reading Of Complicity and Contamination in the Neoliberal Academy: Oishik Sircar

Are We Talking to the People Who Are Out on the Streets? – Kavita Krishnan

Guest post by KAVITA KRISHNAN  (Editor, Liberation)

The people saying ‘I am Anna’ or ‘Vande Mataram’ are not all RSS or pro-corporate elites. They’re open to listening to what we have to say to them about corporate corruption or liberalization policies. The question is – are we too lofty and superior (and prejudiced) to speak to them?

Throughout the summer, student activists of All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) engaged in this painstaking exercise for months. They campaigned all over the country, in mohallas, villages, markets where there is no visible Left presence. No, these were not areas of ‘elite’ concentration – mostly middle, lower middle or working class clusters, or students’ residential areas near campuses. In most places, people would begin by assuming they were campaigners of Anna Hazare. When students introduced their call for the 9 August Barricade at Parliament, they would be asked, ‘What’s the need for a separate campaign when Anna’s already leading one?’ They would then explain that they supported the movement for an effective anti-corruption law to ensure that the corrupt don’t enjoy impunity. But passing such a law could not end corruption, which was being bred by the policies that were encouraging corporate plunder of land, water, forests, minerals, spectrum, seeds… They learnt to communicate without jargon, to use examples from the state where the campaign was taking place. They would tell people about the Radia tapes, and the role of the corporates, the ruling Congress, the opposition BJP, and the media in such corruption.

Continue reading Are We Talking to the People Who Are Out on the Streets? – Kavita Krishnan

Kitne aadmi the? We are all seditious now

Here is a very short, utterly incomplete, hastily compiled list of people charged under Section 124 A in the last two years alone.

Our very own Shuddhabrata Sengupta figures  in this roll of honour.

(Incidentally, KK Shahina, who has guest posted with us, faces charges from the Karnataka Police under IPC 506 for intimidating witnesses. Her expose in Tehelka showed how the police case against Abdul Nasar Madani, head of the People’s Democratic Front (PDP), accused in 2008 Bengaluru blasts, was fragile and based on non-existent and false testimonies.)

There would be hundreds more, not named here, charged with sedition for “criticizing” the government, for exposing corruption and police nexus with mafias, or for expressing views that run counter to official wisdom on the “integrity” of India.

As if “integrity” is something pre-existing and eternal rather than something that has to be produced at every point. The existence of a nation is a daily plebiscite, said even historian Ernst Renan, a staunch supporter of the nation form. Not so Rabindranath Tagore, who was highly suspicious of the “fetish of nationalism”. He called the Nation nothing but the “the organization of politics and commerce” and warned that when this Nation “becomes all-powerful at the cost of the harmony of the higher social life, then it is an evil day for humanity.” (In his lectures on nationalism, published by Rupa and Co. 1994) Continue reading Kitne aadmi the? We are all seditious now

Minutes of the seminar on ‘Azadi: The Only Way’

(Shuddhabrata Sengupta has written eloquently his account of the day-long seminar, ‘Azadi: The Only Way’. The seminar was organised by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. Given below are CRPP’s minutes of the seminar. You can also see, on YouTube, two short videos showing the ruckus that some Kashmiri Pandits created before Syed Ali Shah Geelani was to speak (1, 2). Also on YouTube, in two parts (1, 2), is Arundhati Roy’s speech, for which some want her booked for sedition. Those on Facebook can also see most of SAS Geelani’s speech (1, 2, 3). A small part of Geelani’s speech is on Youtube, here. Those hurling abuses at Roy and Geelani would do well to read this text, see these videos, and engage with these ideas intellectually, instead of asking for individuals to be jailed and persecuted.)

Continue reading Minutes of the seminar on ‘Azadi: The Only Way’

The Restitution of the Conjugal Rights of the State

Despite the many thoughtful critiques of the relationship between family and the state, I have always found it a little surprising that there is very little commentary on the relationship between two strange legal fictions. The first is the idea of the restitution of conjugal rights (RCR), and the other is sedition. The restitution of conjugal rights basically consists of the right of a spouse to demand that his or her- though more often his than her- spouse cohabit with him after she has ‘withdrawn from his society’. Away from the misty world of legal euphemisms, we all know what this means: that you can be forced to sleep with a somewhat less than pleasant person against your wishes. A legal commitment to love in a marriage is a serious thing indeed which only warns us that we must proceed with such a choice very carefully.

But like many marriages, the question of choice is somewhat restricted for many people- as is indeed the case of the choice of loving your country. After all isn’t sedition a crime of passion, and the punishment of an offence of the withdrawal of love for your nation. It is interesting to see that while treason in Sec. 121 of the IPC is about the waging of war against the state, sedition is about a forced love. It is about the creation of ‘disaffection’. As Nivedita Menon points out in her post, disaffection means “the absence or alienation of affection or goodwill; estrangement”.

A legal commitment to love your nation is also a serious thing indeed, and what then is the punishment of sedition if not, the restitution of the conjugal rights of the state?

Sedition: ‘The highest duty of a citizen’

Sedition: the attempt “to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India”, a crime under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, a provision introduced by the British colonial government in 1860.

The only revisions to this colonial legal provision since its passing have been over the years, to remove anachronistic terms like “Her Majesty”, “the Crown Representative”, “British India”, “British Burma” and “Transportation for life or any shorter term”.

But it seems “Disaffection towards the government”, the archaic usage notwithstanding, is a timeless crime. Section 124A, therefore, these few cosmetic changes apart, has remained unchanged for the last 150 years.

Continue reading Sedition: ‘The highest duty of a citizen’

Sedition provision gags free speech: Barun Das Gupta

This is a guest post by BARUN DAS GUPTA

The detractors of Arundhati Roy have found a fresh casus belli against her for her recent speech (Oct. 21) in New Delhi, on Kashmir. The participants in the polemics include such intellectuals as Swapan Dasgupta, a journalist and a BJP leader. The burden of their criticism is that Arundhati should be arrested for sedition because by her speeches she has caused hatred and disaffection towards the Government and actually championed the secession of a part of India, that is, Jammu and Kashmir.

Let us examine this matter of “creating hatred and disaffection” towards the Government, not from the legal point of view but from the political point of view. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code says: “Whoever brings or attempts to bring in hatred, contempt or excites disaffection towards the Government shall be punished ……” Before proceeding further, let us note that the concerned section speaks of “disaffection towards the Government”, without specifying whether by “Government” the Central Government is meant or the State Governments. Since there is no explanation, it may be inferred that “Government” means both Central and State Governments. Continue reading Sedition provision gags free speech: Barun Das Gupta

Remember, what the dormouse said …

Given the need to show ‘results’ in Chhattisgarh, the police are pulling some unlikely rabbits out of still stranger hats. The latest is Lingaram Kodopi, tipped by the police to be “Azad’s successor”, but as Jefferson Airplane reminds , If you go chasing rabbits…

The following piece appeared in The Hindu under the joint by-line of Aman Sethi and Smita Gupta.

In a press conference on Sunday, S.R.P Kalluri, Senior Superintendent of Police of Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, identified the prime suspect behind the July 6 attack on the house of Congress worker and civil contractor Avdesh Singh Gautam. According to a press release circulated by the Chhattisgarh police, “this attack was masterminded by Lingaram Kodopi, a resident of Sameli village.”
“In the last few months, Kodopi had received training in terrorist techniques in Delhi and Gujarat,” the release stated, claiming that Lingaram was “in touch” with writer Arundhati Roy, activist Medha Patkar and Nandini Sundar, a sociology professor at the Delhi School of Economics. The police also said that Kodopi was tipped to succeed Communist Party of India (Maoist) central spokesperson Azad, after the latter was killed by the Andhra Pradesh Police on July 2 this year.

Getting Indian Democracy Right: Rohini Hensman

Guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN

‘Far away, in that other fake democracy called India’: so said Arundhati Roy in a passing reference to India when she began her talk at the finale of the Left Forum 2010 in New York in the middle of March. Fake democracy? Yet in the same month her long essay ‘Walking With the Comrades,’ supporting the struggle of the CPI (Maoist) in the tribal areas, was published by a mainstream, corporate-controlled Indian magazine, Outlook. How would that be possible if India were just a ‘fake’ democracy? By way of a comparison, across the border in Sri Lanka, the March issue of Himal Southasian was seized by customs on account of an article of mine, despite the fact that I have always been sharply critical of the insurgencies of the LTTE and JVP, and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as sympathetic to terrorism or violence. Earlier editions of Himal with articles by writers critical of both the government and the LTTE have suffered the same fate. My articles have been turned down by one newspaper after another in Sri Lanka, and I do not blame their editors and owners: so many journalists, editors and owners who have been critical of the regime in power have been jailed, killed or disappeared, even if they, too, had been critical of the LTTE. Continue reading Getting Indian Democracy Right: Rohini Hensman

A Believer’s Obeisance: Soumitra Ghosh

SOUMITRA GHOSH is with the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers (NFFPFW). A guest post received via Dilip Simeon

Does the Outlook article [by Arundhati Roy] tell us anything new? The Maoists have built a dream world in Dandakaranya, and the gun has heralded that dream. The Green Hunt is meant to shatter this dream, period…Apart from good anecdotes, there’s no political analysis of the movement, and the problematique of the Maoist movement was cursorily mentioned.

It seems rationality is banished. You oppose Green Hunt means that you see in the Maoists an unending series of dreamers and visionaries, and the making of a new world order. She doesn’t even bother to be historical, the history is what her contacts tell her.

What is utterly unacceptable is this woolly-headed,mushy and journalistic portrayal of a political movement. The Maoist movement was never,and won’t be a ‘adivasi’ movement,in the sense we use the term to describe a range of social movements.

Continue reading A Believer’s Obeisance: Soumitra Ghosh

Moonwalking with the Comrades: Anirban Gupta Nigam

Guest post by ANIRBAN GUPTA NIGAM

The last book François Furet wrote before his death in 1997 was called The Passing of an Illusion. At the very beginning of the first chapter of that book, Furet spelt out the central question driving his study:

    What is surprising is not that certain intellectuals should share the spirit of the times, but that they should fall prey to it, without making any effort to mark it with their own stamp. […] twentieth century French writers aligned themselves with parties, especially radical ones hostile to democracy. They always played the same (provisional) role as supernumeraries, were manipulated as one man, and were sacrificed when necessary, to the will of the party. So we are bound to wonder what it was that made those ideologies so alluring, that gave them an attraction so general yet so mysterious.

Furet’s book emerged from an autopsy of his own past as a as a Communist “between 1949 and 1956.” He wrote, further, that his years as a Communist bequeathed to him an enduring desire to unlock the mystique of revolutionary ideology. Given this, it’s not difficult to see why he pioneered some of the most brilliant historiographical work on the French Revolution. The question we are concerned with here is the one I have quoted at length above; for it seems that in our own day, this strange romance between (formerly) fiercely independent intellectuals, scholars, activists and the – a – party, continues.

The latest document of this affair is a long essay by Arundhati Roy (once famous for her declaration of herself as an”independent mobile republic”), titled ‘Walking with the Comrades,’ published in the latest issue of Outlook. It makes for exciting reading, as a lot of well-written travel literature does; but it is significant for another reason: in the current debate over ‘Operation Green Hunt,’ with many versions of ‘ground realities’ fighting amongst themselves, this document is Roy’s attempt at producing an (her) authentic truth, so immersed in the charming details of revolutionary existence that everything else becomes secondary. If we were ever to perform an autopsy of our twentieth century’s ‘Communist’ pasts, ‘Walking with the Comrades’ would probably be as good a place to start as any. Continue reading Moonwalking with the Comrades: Anirban Gupta Nigam

Response to Arundhati Roy: Jairus Banaji

This is a guest post by JAIRUS BANAJI

Arundhati Roy’s essay “Walking with the Comrades” is a powerful indictment of the Indian state and its brutality but its political drawbacks are screamingly obvious.  Arundhati clearly believes that the Indian state is such a bastion of oppression and unrelieved brutality that there is no alternative to violent struggle or ‘protracted war’. In other words, democracy is a pure excrescence on a military apparatus that forms the true backbone of the Indian state. It is simply its ‘benign façade’. If all you had in India were forest communities and corporate predators, tribals and paramilitary forces, the government and the Maoists, her espousal of the Maoists might just cut ice. But where does the rest of India fit in? What categories do we have for them?  Or are we seriously supposed to believe that the extraordinary tide of insurrection will wash over the messy landscapes of urban India and over the millions of disorganised workers in our countryside without the emergence of a powerful social agency, a broad alliance of salaried and wage-earning strata, that can contest the stranglehold of capitalism?  Without mass organisations, battles for democracy, struggles for the radicalisation of culture, etc., etc.?  Does any of this matter for her?

Continue reading Response to Arundhati Roy: Jairus Banaji

The monster in the mirror

Arundhati Roy wants you to choose:

There is a fierce, unforgiving fault-line that runs through the contemporary discourse on terrorism. On one side (let’s call it Side A) are those who see terrorism, especially “Islamist” terrorism, as a hateful, insane scourge that spins on its own axis, in its own orbit and has nothing to do with the world around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics. Therefore, Side A says, to try and place it in a political context, or even try to understand it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself.

Side B believes that though nothing can ever excuse or justify terrorism, it exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm’s way. Which is a crime in itself. [The Guardian, Saturday, 13 December 2008]

Freedom from each other

Arundhati Roy on the freedom struggle in Kashmir:

To expect matters to end there was of course absurd. Hadn’t anybody noticed that in Kashmir even minor protests about civic issues like water and electricity inevitably turned into demands for azadi? To threaten them with mass starvation amounted to committing political suicide.

Not surprisingly, the voice that the Government of India has tried so hard to silence in Kashmir has massed into a deafening roar. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people have come out to reclaim their cities, their streets and mohallas. They have simply overwhelmed the heavily armed security forces by their sheer numbers, and with a remarkable display of raw courage.

Raised in a playground of army camps, checkposts and bunkers, with screams from torture chambers for a soundtrack, the young generation has suddenly discovered the power of mass protest, and above all, the dignity of being able to straighten their shoulders and speak for themselves, represent themselves. For them it is nothing short of an epiphany. They’re in full flow, not even the fear of death seems to hold them back.

And once that fear has gone, of what use is the largest or second-largest army in the world? What threat does it hold? Who should know that better than the people of India who won their independence in the way that they did? [Outlook]