I do not defend the killing of innocent people by anybody, says Arundhati Roy
There exists an entire spectrum of resistance, which includes the Maoist movement, asking serious questions about democracy and civilisation, not just of our government, but of our planet, author Arundhati Roy said here on Wednesday.
Ms. Roy was giving a talk on the Indian state's War on People, organised by the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights. While stating that she was on the side of insurgency, Ms. Roy said, “I don't defend the killing of innocent people by anybody. ‘Do you believe in violence,' is a brain-dead question.”
“There is a whole biodiversity of resistance and the Maoists are at one end. While they might differ in their methods, they agree on one thing. This massive sale [of land and resources] is just not on. At the heart of this problem is land. This insurrection is asking serious questions. It's questioning the meaning of democracy and civilisation. These questions have been asked before, but in universities and seminars. But now hundreds of millions of people are asking these questions. That is the beauty of this resistance,” she said. While the Maoist movement has the strategy for resistance, it lacks the vision for a state; a vision which allows our mountains and rivers to be. The “radical question” to ask and which she wished to ask Maoists was: “Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?” She was referring to the bauxite in Orissa, which is worth $4 trillion and its mining potential.
“They [Maoists] don't believe in privatisation, but in state capitalism. You cannot say we will do eco-friendly mining. It needs tremendous amount of water and power. There needs to be a serious conversation [in the resistance movement on this]. We can't betray the causes we are fighting for.”
The government, when it followed the neo-liberal agenda had opened “two locks.” One to the Indian market and another to the Babri Masjid, sowing the seeds of capitalism and Hindu fundamentalism, she said.
Ms. Roy said the state, through its pursuit of economic agenda, had unleashed violence in the form of “a war” upon its own citizens by displacing them in millions and stripping them of their resources.
“This economic totalitarianism can only be achieved through an armed state. The middle class and the media are fighting for an armed state,” she said.
“Why does the government need this war? The government inflates the meaning of Maoist to include anybody who is refusing to surrender their land or resources. What makes it so urgent for the government to fight this war? The media say corrupt politicians have so much money, but never expose where the money comes from.”
Answering questions on development in Adivasi areas, she said: “Policies like the NREGA [since renamed Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act] are like crumbs. You take away everything from them and then you say be happy with it.”
To a question by documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan on the recent Jnaneshwari train tragedy, Ms. Roy said if Maoists attacked civilians, this would indeed erode their support base. “But they have the people's support. You have to be careful of an atrocity-based analysis. All of us talk [assuming] they don't have mass support,” she said.
Referring to her article in a news magazine recently on her visit to Dantewada, Ms. Roy said she was happy when “accused” of romanticism.
“I believe in the romance of the revolution. I believe in the romanticism of the forest. We don't have a government; we only have a corporate state now,” she said.
Leading democratic rights activist Gautam Navlakha also spoke at the event. “It is not the Maoists who are going against the law, it is the Government of India which is violating its own Constitution. War is directed against any resistance.” He emphasised that the Maoists were left with no real option than to take up arms. “What are we telling them? Either surrender your land or pick up arms. What do you think they will do?”
Questioning the lack of space for dissent, he said: “If I support their cause, I can be hauled up by the state under Section 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act [used against pro-Naxals]. So here I am, in a way challenging the state,” he said.
“The problem is we have stopped asking fundamental questions. Do we ask why are they raising this war? Why has armed revolution become acceptable among the tribals? Government reports themselves admit that the task of land reforms is still unfinished. The glass is not half full or half empty, but two-third empty. Eighty per cent population is at the receiving end,” he said.
Indian Maoists need to learn important lessons from their Nepalese counterparts. “They should first establish military power and only then bargain their position. In Nepal, 80 per cent Legislature consists of Maoists, but look at the difficulties that are created for them.”
He refuted any claim that Indians are by nature non-violent. “We are a bunch of hypocrites. When there is armed conflict going on in 235 districts out of 636, how can we say that the country is peaceful? If 47 per cent of our children are malnourished, isn't that violence? Isn't it criminal?”
“We need to look more carefully at government policies. Maoists can't be judged on the crimes that they have done, but on the background of atrocities against them. We have to say no to war against people,” he concluded.