Thursday, March 25, 2010

Arundhati Roy and Kafila

I was going to say more, but I think I need to re-read everything first. At any rate, it's good to see all this ferment.

What am I talking about?

Arundhati Roy's essay, 'Walking with the Comrades' in Outlook.

The responses at Kafila came quickly. First with Jairus Banaji, followed by the one that everyone is circulating all over the interwebs, Moonwalking with the Comrades. Finally, there's A Believer's Obeisance and a possibly related post, Rumours of Maoism.

[And earlier, on Tehelka.]

Update: K. Balagopal's article from early last year (what a loss his death is), 'Reflections on violence and non-violence in political movements in India'. *

Also, Falstaff's substantial exposition of his problems with Roy's essay.

*Thanks, Paromita.


km said...

All *I* want to know is if the tides of fashion have turned and if it is safe to wear my Che Guevara t-shirt again.

I did read Ms. Roy's essay a few days ago. Well, about half of it. I do plan to finish it because it is an important story.

Arundhati Roy has the cojones, an interesting point of view and a story. Most of the critics of this piece that I've read so far? Not so much.

And hell yeah, power to the people.

Falstaff said...

Personally, I'm just amused.

Did anyone seriously expect a sensible / reasonable argument from Roy? The woman's doing what she does best - which is write, and project attitude. Let's just enjoy that for what it's worth and not pretend she's a thinker.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Important story, as km says (and like km, I haven't finished it yet). The war on Naxalites is like the war on terror: you can brush any opponent with it and then do as you like. Good job, Ms Roy and Outlook.

I suppose she'll go to jail, like Binayak Sen. Well, she's already been to jail for contempt of the Supreme Court. Sometimes I think the rest of us should follow.

Cheshire Cat said...

"The question is which is to be master - that's all."

More beauty, more terror... The Maoists are winning.

km said...

"More beauty, more terror"

I want that on a t-shirt.

JP said...

8 pages? Oh dear.

This is actually an issue I've been reading about on independent blogs and sites for some years now, thanks to more cued-in people whose google reader feeds I follow. I'm glad to see it making an appearance in the mainstream media, for what that's worth.

But 8 pages of Roy's prose? Not after breakfast, lunch or dinner. No way.

Space Bar said...

km: you could try it and see what happens. :-)

About the critiques - they're not all attacks. I think they're also necessary, don't you?

falsie: What amuses you about the piece? I don't think anyone would call it an 'argument'. (I'm not saying the piece doesn't have problems, mind you. Some of them have been dealt with quite competently at Kafila.)

Rahul: Yes, important story; yes, more people need to know more about what's happening in Dandakaranya.

Remember, also, that Kishenji specifically AR and Mahashweta Devi to be intermediaries in the 'talks' that the Govt. proposed. In what sense do you mean contempt of court?

cat/km: :D nice slogan, true!

JP: Read it as a single page, no? I think it's worth a read. You could try reading the hard copy of the magazine, of course. All those ads will break up the prose nicely and then it won't be AR's writing that makes you feel slightly ill.

Falstaff said...

SB: The piece doesn't amuse me. Or amuses me mildly because of Roy's manifest inability to maintain any kind of perspective.

What I'm really amused by is the criticisms on Kafila. It's silly to offer logical criticism of someone (Roy) who has no ability to think clearly in the first place.

Also, why exactly do "more people need to know about what's happening in Dandakaranya"? I don't know that I actually learnt anything from the piece, except for some entertaining local color. Common people. Feel oppressed. Turn violent. Start to think they're Robin Hood. Yawn.

Anarchy is always romantic. And always wrong.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

sb - the contempt case was earlier (2002, relating to Narmada). This time it would be for aiding terrorists and enemies of the state, or something like that -- whatever it was that put Binayak Sen in jail (Sen was charged with acting as a courier between two Maoists -- which was probably a false charge, the true charge being that he treated an unwell jailed Maoist).

Perhaps the Central government wouldn't do it but I'm sure the Chattisgarh government would be happy to, if she set foot there again.

Whether Kishenji asked her to be an intermediary is irrelevant and perhaps makes it worse.

Anyway, I read most of it in the print edition yesterday. She certainly has guts. Perhaps there's little new in it for some of us, but there's still tremendous value in keeping the public informed of the story on the ground. One is also reminded of the stories in Bengal. Of course the Maoists' way is not going to solve the problem. Roy's sole point, as far as I can tell, is that the Maoists did not spring up in a vacuum, but are a consequence of the exploitation and resentment that have always existed in those regions. I don't think one can argue that.

So I find some of the kafila criticism unfair (and am surprised to see it on kafila). In fact, the same point that Roy makes has been made on kafila by others, with respect to Lalgarh, for example.

The point being: yes, Maoists and Naxalites are violent and dangerous. But what drove them to it? Without getting on the ground and reporting back, as Roy has done and almost nobody else has in recent times, it cannot be answered.

Of course, most people prefer to subscribe to the Bush philosophy: if you're not with us you are with the terrorists. Undoubtedly that seems to offer easier solutions -- the logical extreme of which would be, exterminate the tribals, level the forests, and invite the mining companies everywhere. To me, Mao is in the same category as Hitler and Stalin -- ie, unparalleled mass murderers; and I'm not an admirer of Che Guevara either. But I see where the admiration for them comes from.

Space Bar said...

Falsie: i don't think we're going to agree about this any time soon.

Do you find the more wide-spread iterations about Maoist 'infestations' equally amusing? They also seem to me to be instances of a 'manifest inability to maintain any kind of perspective'.

As to why people need to know about Green Hunt, Dandakaranya, Lalgarh, Dantewada is: for all that you've simplified the whole thing to a few words, it really is incredibly complex: what is the history of this whole movement? How did India address the tribals at the time of Independence? What of the forests and their resources? Who wants that land, who should own it and how? Can those forests remain 'Common' (belonging to no one and everyone)?

It may look like the acting out of a myth but it isn't. To say "Common people. Feel oppressed. Turn violent. Start to think they're Robin Hood. Yawn." is to deny it specificity, legitimacy and even the possibility of resolution.

Rahul: Certainly it's a valuable account but I'm not sure all the critiques at Kafila are attacks. I think many of them are pointing out, precisely, that being all approving of the Maoists is not useful.

You remember the time Ram Guha called AR the Arun Shourie of the Left? I think he was spot on. She does her best to put off people who were undecided and - worse - often turns movements into something that is about her.

Falstaff said...

SB: Actually, I agree with almost everything you say. My point is that Roy isn't addressing any of the questions you raise. She's peddling a fantasy image of beautiful rebels in a mythic forest without the slightest hint of criticism or objectivity. Which is why her piece deserves to be read, if it deserves to be read at all, with liberal doses of popcorn. This isn't journalism, it's a James Cameron script.

I'm not for a moment saying that the underlying issues are amusing. They're not. They're worthy of serious consideration and debate. Roy's piece, however, is not.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

sb - I have found Roy annoying in the past because of her content-free polemics, but this time it seems like shooting the messenger. It read more like a travelogue than anything else. Of course her opinions creep in, but so what?

I'm not sure the comparison with Shourie is right, if the claim was that they alienate fence-sitters. Shourie serves as the respectable face of the VHP-types and has probably persuaded many people who would be repelled by the Togadias. But then, even when I dislike Roy, I still find her better than many left-oriented writers (I've seen articles on Kafila demonising the US while simultaneously praising the Iranian regime...)

Sanjiv Kavi said...

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