Democracy Now, November 15, 2011
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to the renowned Indian writer, global justice activist, Arundhati Roy. She has written many books, including The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize. Her journalism and essays have been collected in books including An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. Arundhati Roy’s latest book, just out, is called Walking with the Comrades, a chronicle of her time in the forests of India alongside rebel guerrillas who are resisting a military campaign by the Indian government.
Last week, I sat down with Arundhati Roy when she came to New York—she had just visited Occupy Wall Street on her first day in New York—to talk about the significance of this, but also we spoke about the Arab Spring. We talk about her walk with the Maoists in India. Tomorrow, she will be speaking at Washington Square Park, part of a national day of action. First, Arundhati discusses Occupy Wall Street.
ARUNDHATI ROY: You know, what they are doing becomes so important because it is in the heart of empire, or what used to be empire, and to criticize and to protest against the model that the rest of the world is aspiring to is a very important and a very serious business. So I think that it makes me—it makes me very, very hopeful that after a long time you’re seeing some nascent political, real political anger here.
It does—I mean, it does need a lot of thinking through, but I would say that, to me, fundamentally, you know, people have to begin to formulate some kind of a vision, you know, and that vision has to be the dismantling of this particular model, in which a few people can be allowed to have an unlimited amount of wealth, of power, both political as well as corporate. You know, that has to be dismantled. And that has to be the aim of this movement. And that has to then move down into countries like mine, where people look at the U.S. as some great, aspirational model. And I can tell you that there is such a lot of beauty still in India. There’s such a lot of ferocity there that actually can provide a lot of political understanding, even to the protest on Wall Street. To me, the forests of central India and the protesters in Wall Street are connected by a big pipeline, and I am one of those people in that pipeline.
AMY GOODMAN: I asked you about the Occupy Wall Street movement. What is your assessment of President Obama?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, I think, you know, when—I was never one of those people who was, you know, throwing my hat in the air when he won, even though—even though the memory of, you know, old black people, you know, feeling so happy to have a black man in the White House was something you just couldn’t ignore. But to see how he has—I mean, it’s almost reprehensible. You see—what has he done? He’s expanded the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan. Those drone attacks are killing people every day. You know, it’s—I don’t think he has any idea what he’s doing in that subcontinent. You know, no idea whatsoever. It is just devolving into a completely unmanageable, horrendous situation.
In America now, I just feel—I just feel a bit upset every time I hear that smooth, silver-tongued, you know, kind of delivery, which actually means nothing most of the time. And so, if—I keep thinking that if George Bush had done what Obama does, everybody would be saying he’s a fascist, you know, but we really step back and make so much space for what’s going on here, that—you know, it’s an old dilemma, of course, that somebody can do by day what the other person does at night. And, you know, people are so caught up in this view that the only choice you have is between the Democrats and the Republicans or between the Congress and the BJP. Our imaginations have been locked into this kind of electoral politics, so we feel like we have to say nice things about him. But I don’t feel like saying nice things about him.
AMY GOODMAN: This book, Walking with the Comrades — talk about your experiences in India with the people you call “the comrades.” Who are they?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, they are—in this case, they are the Maoist guerrillas who are in the forests of central India, fighting against the Indian state and these huge mining corporations that are now moving in to more or less annihilate the forest, as well as the adivasi people, the tribal people. So, actually, it’s a more complicated question than you may perhaps imagine, to say who are the comrades, because I, having been there, don’t know, myself, because they do call themselves Maoists, and the—you know, the Communist Party of India, Maoist, has existed in different avatars, you know, since 1967. But in fact, 99 percent of them are actually adivasi people, tribal people. And so, to what extent the adivasis have influenced Maoist ideology and to what extent the Maoists have influenced the adivasi peoples is an important question, you know, and an unresolved one, as far as I am concerned. But—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the term “adivasi.”
ARUNDHATI ROY: Adivasi is—adivasi means the original inhabitants in India, and it means, basically, indigenous, what you would call indigenous, tribal people. And they are a huge population in India. It’s about 150 million people that belong to different tribes.
AMY GOODMAN: What would be like half the population of the United States.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah. And yet, they are really facing a kind of annihilation right now. The entire machinery of Indian democracy has more or less conspired to sort of silence what is actually going on. There’s very little news that comes out of the forest. And last—year before last, the Indian government actually announced a war, called Operation Green Hunt, against the Maoists, though, for the government, anybody who’s resisting the takeover of their lands by these mining corporations, whether it’s Maoists or whether it’s Gandhians or whether it’s militant, you know, independent movements, all of them are being called Maoists.
There is a whole sort of set of laws, mostly the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, which allows them to arrest and imprison anybody, really, without a trial. And so, thousands of people are in jail, and there are 200,000 paramilitary forces moving in to these forests, heavily armed and basically pushing people out of their villages. So you have in the state of Chhattisgarh, where the—which is where I went into the forest and walked with the guerrillas, they actually also had a vigilante—a government-sponsored vigilante group of tribal people, who went in burning, raping, looting the place. And the whole idea—I mean, it’s an old idea; it’s nothing new. But they basically, more or less, forced people, something like 350,000 people, from about 600 villages to flee. And some of them were forced into roadside camps. About 50,000 people were forced into police camps on the roadside. And the others just went off the radar. Either they were hiding in the forest, some of them joined the Maoists, others fled to different states. So the idea is really to empty these forests, because in the year 2005, the Indian government signed hundreds of what we call MoUs, you know, memorandums of understanding, with various mining and infrastructure companies, and then began this war.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the great Indian writer Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things and her most recent book, Walking with the Comrades. We will play more of this interview in the coming days.