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BackYou are here: AnalysisMedia Interview with Arundhati Roy on Democracy Now

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Interview with Arundhati Roy on Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to a woman the New York Times calls India's most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence, Arundhati Roy, world-renowned Indian author and global justice activist. Her first novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize in 1997. She has a new book; it's called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers… Arundhati Roy joins us now from New Delhi, India, on the country's biggest national holiday of the year.

ANJALI KAMAT: Meanwhile, inside India, the focus has shifted to a different adversary. The stage is set for a major domestic military offensive against an armed group that the Indian prime minister has repeatedly called the country's, quote, "gravest internal security threat."

Operation Green Hunt will reportedly send between 75,000 and 100,000 troops to areas seen as Maoist strongholds in central and eastern India. In June, India labeled the Naxalite group, the Communist Party of India—Maoist—a terrorist organization, and earlier this month India's home minister came to the United States to share counterterror strategies.

The Indian government blames the deaths of nearly 600 people this year on Maoist violence and claims that Maoist rebels are active in twenty out of the twenty-eight states in the country. The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh outlined the threat to a conference of state police chiefs earlier this month.

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH: In many ways, the left-wing extremism poses perhaps the gravest internal security threat our country faces. We have discussed this in the last five years. And I would like to state, frankly, that we have not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing this menace.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, let me just pick up on what Anjali was talking about just now, about the assault that's planned on the so-called Maoists in central India. You know, when September 11th happened, I think some of us had already said that a time would come when poverty would be sort of collapsed and converge into terrorism. And this is exactly what's happened. The poorest people in this country today are being called terrorists.

And what you have is a huge swath of forest in eastern and central India, spreading from West Bengal through the states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. And in these forests live indigenous people. And also in these forests are the biggest deposits of bauxite and iron ore and so on, which huge multinational companies now want to get their hands on. So there's an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] on every mountain, on every forest and river in this area.

And about in 2005, let's say, in central India, the day after the MoU was signed with the biggest sort of corporation in India, Tatas, the government also announced the formation of the Salwa Judum, which is a sort of people's militia, which is armed and is meant to fight the Maoists in the forest. But the thing is, all this, the Salwa Judum as well as the Maoists, they're all indigenous people. And in, let's say, Chhattisgarh, something like the Salwa Judum has been a very cruel militia, you know, burning villages, raping women, burning food crops. I was there recently. Something like 640 villages have been burned. Out of the 350,000, first about 50,000 people moved into roadside police camps, from where this militia was raised by the government. And the rest are simply missing. You know, some are living in cities, you know, eking out a living. Others are just hiding in the forest, coming out, trying to sow their crops, and yet getting, you know, those crops burnt down, their villages burnt down. So there is a sort of civil war raging.

And now, I remember traveling in Orissa a few years ago, when there were not any Maoists, but there were huge sort of mining companies coming in to mine the bauxite. And yet, they kept—all the newspapers kept saying the Maoists are here, the Maoists are here, because it was a way of allowing the government to do a kind of military-style repression. Of course, now they're openly saying that they want to call out the paramilitary.

And if you look at—for example, if you look at the trajectory of somebody like Chidambaram, who's India's home minister, he—you know, he's a lawyer from Harvard. He was the lawyer for Enron, which pulled off the biggest scam in the history of—corporate scam in the history of India. We're still suffering from that deal. After that, he was on the board of governors of what is today the biggest mining corporation in the world, called Vedanta, which is mining in Orissa. The day he became finance minister, he resigned from Vedanta. When he was the finance minister, in an interview he said that he would like 85 percent of India to live in cities, which means moving something like 500 million people. That's the kind of vision that he has.

And now he's the home minister, calling out the paramilitary, calling out the police, and really forcibly trying to move people out of their lands and homes. And anyone who resisted, whether they're a Maoist or not a Maoist, are being labeled Maoist. People are being picked up, tortured. There are some laws that have been passed which should not exist in any democracy, laws which make somebody like me saying what I'm saying now to you a criminal offense, for which I could just be jailed. Even sort of thinking an anti-government thought has become illegal. And we're talking about, you know, as you said, 75,000 to 100,000 security personnel going to war against people who, since independence, which was more than sixty years ago, have no schools, no hospitals, no running water, nothing. And now, now they're being—now they're being killed or imprisoned or just criminalized. You know, it's like if you're not in the Salwa Judum camp, then you're a Maoist, and we can kill you. And they are openly celebrating the Sri Lanka solution to terrorism, to terrorism.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, we just have less than a minute. What gives you hope?

ARUNDHATI ROY: What gives me hope is the fact that this way of thinking is being resisted in a myriad ways in India, you know, from the poorest person in a loincloth in the forest saying, "We're going to fight," right up to me, who's at the other end, you know. And all of us are joined together by the determination that, even if we lose, we're going to fight, you know? And we're not going to just let this happen without doing everything we can to stop it. And that gives me a tremendous amount of hope.

September 28, 2009