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Shall We Leave It to the Experts?
"I am, apparently, a writer-activist. (Like a sofa-bed.) Why does that make me flinch?" asks Arundhati Roy. Because it suggests writers are too effete to come up with the clarity for debate. "Go and play with your toys, leave the real world to us," goes the taunt.
Free Speech: Your Take
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COMMENTS PRINT
India lives in several centuries at the same time. Somehow we manage to progress and regress simultaneously. As a nation we age by pushing outwards from the middle—adding a few centuries on to either end of our extraordinary CV. We greaten like the maturing head of a hammer-headed shark with eyes looking in diametrically opposite directions. On the one hand, we hear that European countries are considering changing their immigration laws in order to import Indian software engineers.
 
 
What is the role of writers and artists in society? Do they have a definable role? Can it be fixed, described, characterised in any definite way? Should it be?
 
 
On the other, that a Naga sadhu at the Kumbh Mela towed the district collector's car with his penis while the officer sat in it solemnly with his wife and children.

As Indian citizens, we subsist on a regular diet of caste massacres and nuclear tests, mosque breaking and fashion shows, church burning and expanding cellphone networks, bonded labour and the digital revolution, female infanticide and the Nasdaq crash, husbands who continue to burn their wives for dowry, and our delectable stockpile of Miss Worlds. I don't mean to put a simplistic value judgement on this peculiar form of 'progress' by suggesting that Modern is Good and Traditional is Bad—or vice versa. What's hard to reconcile oneself to, both personally and politically, is the schizophrenic nature of it. That applies not just to the ancient/modern conundrum, but to the utter illogic of what appears to be the current national enterprise. In the lane behind my house, every night I walk past road-gangs of emaciated labourers digging a trench to lay fibre-optic cables to speed up our digital revolution. In the bitter winter cold, they work by the light of a few candles.

It's as though the people of India have been rounded up and loaded on to two convoys of trucks (a huge big one and a tiny little one) that have set off resolutely in opposite directions. The tiny convoy is on its way to a glittering destination somewhere near the top of the world.
 
 
To be a writer in a country where something akin to an undeclared civil war is being waged on its citizens in the name of 'development' is an onerous responsibility.
 
 
The other convoy just melts into the darkness and disappears. A cursory survey that tallies the caste, class and religion of who gets to be in which convoy would make a good Lazy Person's Concise Guide to the History of India. For some of us, life in India is like being suspended between two of the trucks, one in each convoy, and being neatly dismembered as they move apart, not bodily, but emotionally and intellectually.

Of course, India is a micro-cosm of the world. Of course, versions of what happens here happen everywhere. Of course, if you're willing to look, the parallels are easy to find. The difference in India is only in the scale, the magnitude, and the sheer proximity of the disparity. In India, your face is slammed right up against it. To address it, to deal with it, to not deal with it, to try and understand it, to insist on not understanding it, to simply survive it—on a daily, hourly basis—is a fine art. Either an art or a form of insular, inward-looking insanity. Or both.

To be a writer—a supposedly 'famous' writer—in a country where millions of people are illiterate is a dubious honour. To be a writer in a country that gave the world Mahatma Gandhi, that invented the concept of non-violent resistance, and then, half-a-century later, followed that up with nuclear tests is a ferocious burden.(Though no more ferocious a burden, it has to be said, than being a writer in the United States, a country that has amassed enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth several times over.) To be a writer in a country where something akin to an undeclared civil war is being waged on its citizens in the name of 'development' is an onerous responsibility.
 
 
Rule One for a writer, as far as I'm concerned, is that There Are No Rules. And Rule Two (since Rule One was made to be broken) is that There Are No Excuses for Bad Art.
 
 
When it comes to writers and writing, I use words like 'onerous' and 'responsibility' with a heavy heart and not a small degree of sadness.

What is the role of writers and artists in society? Do they have a definable role? Can it be fixed, described, characterised in any definite way? Should it be?

Personally, I can think of few things more terrifying than if writers and artists were charged with an immutable charter of duties and responsibilities that they had to live and work by. Imagine, if there was this little black book—a sort of Approved Guide to Good Writing—that said: 'All writers shall be politically conscious and sexually moral', or, 'All writers should believe in god, globalisation, and the joys of family life...'

Rule One for a writer, as far as I'm concerned, is that There Are No Rules. And Rule Two (since Rule One was made to be broken) is that There Are No Excuses for Bad Art. Painters, writers, singers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, musicians—they are meant to fly, to push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look. If you limit the trajectory of their flight, if you weight their wings with society's existing notions of morality and responsibility, if you truss them up with preconceived values, you subvert their endeavour.

A good or great writer may refuse to accept any responsibility or morality that society wishes to impose on her.
 
 
Once you've seen the silent war, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable.
 
 
Yet, the best and greatest of them know that if they abuse this hard-won freedom, it can only lead to bad art. There is an intricate web of morality, rigour and responsibility that art, that writing itself, imposes on a writer. It is singular, individual, but nevertheless it's there. At its best, it's an exquisite bond between the artist and the medium. At its acceptable end, a sort of sensible cooperation. At its worst, it's a relationship of disrespect and exploitation.

The absence of external rules complicates things. There's a very thin line that separates the strong, true, bright bird of the imagination from the synthetic, noisy bauble. Where is that line? How do you recognise it? How do you know you've crossed it? At the risk of sounding esoteric and arcane, I'm tempted to say that you just know. The fact is that nobody—no reader, no reviewer, agent, publisher, colleague, friend or enemy—can tell for sure. A writer just has to ask herself that question and answer it as honestly as possible. The thing about this 'line' is that once you learn to recognise it, once you see it, it's impossible to ignore. You have no choice but to live with it, to follow it through. You have to bear with all its complexities, contradictions and demands.
 
 
A boutique owner in Bombay once asked me if he could 'display' my book (as though it was an accessory, a bracelet or a pair of earrings) while he filmed me shopping for clothes!
 
 
And that's not always easy. It doesn't always lead to compliments and standing ovations.It can lead you to the strangest, wildest places. In the midst of war, for instance, you could find yourself fascinated by the mating rituals of a purple sunbird, or the secret life of captive goldfish, or an old aunt's descent into madness. And nobody can say that there isn't truth and art and beauty in that. Or, on the contrary, in the midst of putative peace, you could, like me, be unfortunate enough to stumble on a silent war. The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable.

Today, perhaps more so than in any other era in history, the writer's right to free speech is guarded and defended by the civil societies and state establishments of the most powerful countries in the world. Any overt attempt to silence or muffle a voice is met with furious opposition. The writer is embraced and protected. This is a wonderful thing. The writer, the actor, the musician, the filmmaker—they have become radiant jewels in the crown of modern civilisation. The artist, I imagine, is finally as free as he or she will ever be. Never before have so many writers had their books published. (And now, of course, we have the Internet.) Never before have we been more commercially viable. We live and prosper in the heart of the marketplace.
 
 
Could writers end up playing the role of palace entertainers? Or the subtle twenty-first-century version of court eunuchs attending to the pleasures of our incumbent CEOs?
 
 
True, for every so-called success there are hundreds who 'fail'. True, there are a myriad art forms, both folk and classical, myriad languages, myriad cultural and artistic traditions that are being crushed and cast aside in the stampede to the big bumper sale in Wonderland. Still, there have never been more writers, singers, actors, painters who have become influential, wealthy superstars. And they, the successful ones, spawn a million imitators, they become the torch-bearers, their work becomes the benchmark for what art is, or ought to be.

Nowadays in India, the scene is almost farcical. Following the recent commercial success of some Indian authors, western publishers are desperately prospecting for the next big Indo-Anglian work of fiction. They're doing everything short of interviewing English-speaking Indians for the post of 'writer'. Ambitious middle-class parents who, a few years ago, would only settle for a future in engineering, medicine or management for their children, now hopefully send them to creative-writing schools. People like myself are constantly petitioned by computer companies, watch manufacturers, even media magnates, to endorse their products. A boutique owner in Bombay once asked me if he could 'display' my book (as though it was an accessory, a bracelet or a pair of earrings) while he filmed me shopping for clothes! Jhumpa Lahiri, the American writer of Indian origin who won the Pulitzer Prize, came to India recently to have a traditional Bengali wedding.
 
 
Is it mandatory for a writer to be ambiguous about everything? Aren't prudence and discretion sometimes just euphemisms for pusillanimity?
 
 
The wedding was reported on the front page of national newspapers.

Now where does all this lead us? Is it just harmless nonsense, best ignored? How does all this ardent wooing affect our art? What kind of lenses does it put in our spectacles? How far does it remove us from the world around us?

There is very real danger that this neoteric seduction can shut us up far more effectively than violence and repression ever could.We have free speech. Maybe. But do we have Really Free Speech? If what we have to say doesn't 'sell', will we still say it? Can we? Or is everybody looking for Things That Sell to say? Could writers end up playing the role of palace entertainers? Or the subtle twenty-first-century version of court eunuchs attending to the pleasures of our incumbent CEOs? You know—naughty, but nice. Risque perhaps, but not risky.

It has been some years now since my first, and so far only, novel, The God of Small Things, was published. In the early days, I used to be described—introduced—as the author of an almost freakishly 'successful' (if I may use so vulgar a term) first book. Nowadays I'm introduced as something of a freak myself. I am, apparently, what is known in twenty-first century vernacular as a 'writer-activist'. (Like a sofa-bed.)

Why am I called a 'writer-activist' and why—even when it's used approvingly, admiringly—does that term make me flinch? I'm called a writer-activist because after writing The God of Small Things I wrote three political essays: The End of Imagination about India's nuclear tests, The Greater Common Good about big dams and the 'development' debate, and Power Politics: The Reincarnation of Rumpelstiltskin about the privatisation and corporatisation of essential infrastructure like water and electricity.
 
 
India is still struggling with the legacy of colonialism, still flinching from the 'cultural insult'. As citizens, we're still caught up in the business of 'disproving' the white world's definition of us.
 
 
Apart from the building of the temple in Ayodhya, these also currently happen to be the major preoccupations of the Indian government.

Now, I've been wondering why it should be that the person who wrote The God of Small Things is called a writer, and the person who wrote the political essays is called an activist? True, The God of Small Things is a work of fiction, but it's no less political than any of my essays. True, the essays are works of non-fiction, but since when did writers forgo the right to write non-fiction?

My thesis is that I've been saddled with this double-barrelled appellation, this awful professional label, not because my work is political, but because in my essays, I take sides. I take a position. I have a point of view. What's worse, I make it clear that I think it's right and moral to take that position and what's even worse, use everything in my power to flagrantly solicit support for that position.
 
 
Is corporate globalisation going to close the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged, between the upper castes and the lower castes, between the educated and the illiterate?
 
 
For a writer of the 21st century, that's considered a pretty uncool, unsophisticated thing to do. It skates uncomfortably close to the territory occupied by political party ideologues—a breed of people that the world has learned (quite rightly) to mistrust. I'm aware of this. I'm all for being circumspect. I'm all for discretion, prudence, tentativeness, subtlety, ambiguity, complexity... I love the unanswered question, the unresolved story, the unclimbed mountain, the tender shard of an incomplete dream. Most of the time.

But is it mandatory for a writer to be ambiguous about everything? Isn't it true that there have been fearful episodes in human history when prudence and discretion would have just been euphemisms for pusillanimity? When caution was actually cowardice? When sophistication was disguised decadence? When circumspection was really a kind of espousal?

Isn't it true, or at least theoretically possible, that there are times in the life of a people or a nation when the political climate demands that we—even the most sophisticated of us—overtly take sides? I believe that such times are upon us.And I believe that in the coming years, intellectuals and artists will be called upon to take sides, and this time, unlike the struggle for Independence, we won't have the luxury of fighting a 'colonising enemy'. We'll be fighting ourselves.

We will be forced to ask ourselves some very uncomfortable questions about our values and traditions, our vision for the future, our responsibilities as citizens, the legitimacy of our 'democratic institutions', the role of the state, the police, the army, the judiciary and the intellectual community.

Fifty years after Independence, India is still struggling with the legacy of colonialism, still flinching from the 'cultural insult'.
 
 
Hundreds of millions of Indian citizens live below the poverty line and do not have the means to eat a square meal a day. Starvation deaths (dressed up as measles and food-poisoning) are being reported from several parts of the country.
 
 
As citizens, we're still caught up in the business of 'disproving' the white world's definition of us. Intellectually and emotionally, we have just begun to grapple with communal and caste politics that threaten to tear our society apart. But in the meanwhile something new looms on our horizon.

It's not war, it's not genocide, it's not ethnic cleansing, it's not a famine or an epidemic. On the face of it, it's just ordinary, day-to-day business. It lacks the drama, the large format, epic magnificence of war or genocide. It's dull in comparison. It makes bad TV. It has to do with boring things like water supply, electricity, irrigation. But it also has to do with a process of barbaric dispossession on a scale that has few parallels in history. You may have guessed by now that I'm talking about the modern version of corporate globalisation.

What is globalisation? Who is it for? What is it going to do to a country like India in which social inequality has been institutionalised in the caste system for centuries? A country in which hundreds of millions of people live in rural areas. In which 80 per cent of the landholdings are small farms.
 
 
We all remember the East India Company. This time around, the coloniser doesn't even need a token white presence in the colonies.
 
 
In which almost half the population cannot read or write.

Is the corporatisation and globalisation of agriculture, water supply, electricity and essential commodities going to pull India out of the stagnant morass of poverty, illiteracy and religious bigotry? Is the dismantling and auctioning off of elaborate public sector infrastructure, developed with public money over the last 50 years, really the way forward? Is corporate globalisation going to close the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged, between the upper castes and the lower castes, between the educated and the illiterate? Or is it going to give those who already have a centuries-old head start a friendly helping hand?

Is corporate globalisation about 'the eradication of world poverty' or is it a mutant variety of colonialism, remote controlled and digitally operated? These are huge, contentious questions. The answers vary depending on whether they come from the villages and fields of rural India, from the slums and shantytowns of urban India, from the living rooms of the burgeoning middle class or from the boardrooms of big business houses.

Today, India produces more milk, more sugar, more foodgrain than ever before. Government warehouses are overflowing with 42 million tonnes of foodgrain. That's almost a quarter of the total annual foodgrain produce.Farmers with too much grain on their hands were driven to despair. In regions that wielded enough political clout, the government went on a buying spree, purchasing more grain than it could possibly store or use.
 
 
Everything works in Paradise, a communist State as well as a military dictatorship! But in an imperfect world, is it corporate globalisation that's going to bring us all this bounty?
 
 
And yet, under the terms of its agreement with the World Trade Organisation, the Indian government had to lift import restrictions on 1,400 commodities, including milk, grain, sugar, cotton, tea, coffee, rubber and palm oil. This, despite the fact that there was a glut of these products in the market. While grain rots in government warehouses, hundreds of millions of Indian citizens live below the poverty line and do not have the means to eat a square meal a day. Starvation deaths (dressed up as measles and food-poisoning) are being reported from several parts of the country.

From 1 April, 2001—April Fools Day—once again according to the terms of its agreement with the WTO, the Indian government is contracted to drop its quantitative import restrictions. The Indian market is already flooded with cheaper imports. Though India is technically free to export its agricultural produce, in practice most of it cannot be exported because it doesn't meet the first world's 'environmental standards'. (Western consumers don't eat bruised mangoes, or bananas with mosquito bites, or rice with a few weevils in it. In India we don't mind the odd mosquito-bite or the occasional weevil.)

Developed countries like the US, whose hugely subsidised farm industry engages only 2 to 3 per cent of its total population, are using the WTO to pressurise countries like India to drop agricultural subsidies in order to make the market 'competitive'.
 
 
Fortunately, I haven't had that knock on my door yet, though I'm as non-conforming a unit as the rest of the lot targeted by the Supreme Court.
 
 
Huge, mechanised corporate enterprises working thousands of acres of farmland want to compete with impoverished subsistence farmers who own only a couple of acres.

In effect, India's rural economy is being garrotted. Farmers who produce too much are in distress, farmers who produce too little are in distress and landless agricultural labour is out of work as big estates and farms lay off their workers. They're all flocking to the cities in search of employment.

'Trade not Aid' is the rallying cry of the headmen of the new Global Village, headquartered in the shining offices of the WTO. Our British colonisers stepped on to our shores a few centuries ago disguised as traders. We all remember the East India Company. This time around, the coloniser doesn't even need a token white presence in the colonies. The CEOs and their men don't need to go to the trouble of tramping through the tropics risking malaria, diarrhoea, sunstroke and an early death. They don't have to maintain an army or a police force, or worry about insurrections and mutinies. They can have their colonies and an easy conscience. 'Creating a good investment climate' is the new euphemism for third world repression. Besides, the responsibility for implementation rests with the local administration.

In India, in order to clear the way for 'development projects', the government is in the process of amending the present Land Acquisition Act (which, ironically, was drafted by the British in the nineteenth century) and making it more draconian than it already is.State governments are preparing to ratify 'anti-terrorist' laws so that those who oppose development projects will be counted as terrorists.
 
 
67 per cent of Delhi's pollution comes from motor vehicles. Is it conceivable that the Supreme Court will come up with an act that bans private cars, or limits the number of cars a household can own?
 
 
They can be held without trial for three years. They can have their lands and cattle seized.

Recently, corporate globalisation has come in for some criticism. What happened in Seattle and Prague will go down in history. Each time the WTO or the World Economic Forum wants to have a meeting, they have to barricade themselves with thousands of heavily armed police. Still, all its admirers, from Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and A.B. Vajpayee to the cheering brokers in the stalls, continue to say the same lofty things. If we have the right institutions of governance in place—effective courts, good laws, honest politicians, participatory democracy, a transparent administration that respects human rights and gives people a say in decisions that affect their lives—then the globalisation project will work for the poor, as well. They call this 'globalisation with a human face'.

The point is, if all this was in place, almost anything would succeed: socialism, capitalism, you name it. Everything works in Paradise, a communist State as well as a military dictatorship! But in an imperfect world, is it corporate globalisation that's going to bring us all this bounty? Is that what's happening in India now that it's on the fast track to the free market? Does any one thing on that lofty list apply to life in India today? Are state institutions transparent? Have people had a say? Have they even been informed—let alone consulted—about decisions that vitally affect their lives? And are Mr Clinton (or now Mr Bush) and Mr Vajpayee doing everything in their power to see that the 'right institutions of governance' are in place? Or are they involved in exactly the opposite enterprise? Do they mean something else altogether when they talk of the 'right institutions of governance'?

In November 2000, the World Commission on Dams report was released by Nelson Mandela.
 
 
It's time to snatch our futures back from the 'experts'. Time to ask, in ordinary language, the public question and to demand in ordinary language, the public answer.
 
 
It is the first time ever that any serious attempt has been made to study the performance of big dams. For those of us who are opposed to big dams, the WCD report is a contested document with many unacceptable, wishy-washy clauses. However, at least it attempted to address the serious social and ecological issues that have been raised and debated over the years. At least, it attempted to set out guidelines for those governments and agencies engaged in building dams. At least, it attempted to estimate how many people have been displaced by big dams.

India is the only country in the world that refused permission to the World Commission on Dams to hold a public hearing. The government of Gujarat, the state in which the Sardar Sarovar dam is being built, threatened members of the Commission with arrest.

In February 2001, the Indian government formally rejected the World Commission on Dams report.
 
 
The Manusmriti, the Vedic Hindu code of conduct, says that if a Dalit overhears a shloka or any part of a sacred text, he must have molten lead poured into his ear.
 
 
Does this sound like a transparent, accountable, participatory democracy?

Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of 77,000 'polluting and non-conforming' industrial units in Delhi. The order will put 500,000 people out of work. What are these 'industrial units'? Who are these people? They're the millions who have migrated from their villages, some voluntarily, others involuntarily, in search of work.They're the people who aren't supposed to exist, the 'non-citizens' who survive in the folds and wrinkles, the cracks and fissures of the 'official' city. They exist just outside the net of the 'official' urban infrastructure.

Close to 40 per cent of Delhi's population of 12 million—about 5 million people—live in slums and unauthorised colonies. Most of them are not serviced by municipal facilities—no electricity, no water, no sewage systems. About 50,000 people are homeless and sleep on the streets.These 'non-citizens' are employed in what economists rather stuffily call the 'informal sector', the fragile but vibrant parallel economy that both shocks and delights the imagination. They work as hawkers, rickshaw-pullers, garbage recyclers, car-battery rechargers, street tailors, transistor-knob makers, buttonhole stitchers, paper-bag makers, dyers, printers, barbers. These are the 'industrial units' that have been targeted by the Supreme Court. (Fortunately, I haven't had that knock on my door yet, though I'm as non-conforming a unit as the rest of them.)

The trains that leave Delhi these days carry thousands of people who simply cannot survive in the city.
 
 
One cannot help but marvel at the fantastic range and depth and wisdom of the hundreds of people's resistance movements all over the county. They're being beaten down, but they simply refuse to lie down and die.
 
 
They're returning to the villages they fled in the first place. Millions of others, because they're 'illegal', have become easy meat for the rapacious, bribe-seeking police and predatory government officials. They haven't yet been driven out of the city but now must live in perpetual fear and dread of that happening.

In India, the times are full of talk of the 'free market', reforms, deregulation and the dismantling of the 'licence-raj'—all in the name of encouraging entrepreneurship and discouraging corruption. Yet, when the state obliterates a flourishing market, when it breaks the backs of half-a-million imaginative, resourceful, small-scale entrepreneurs, and delivers millions of others as fodder to the doorstep of the corruption industry, few comment on the irony.

No doubt it's true that the informal sector is polluting and, according to a colonial understanding of urban land use, 'non-conforming'. But then we don't live in a clean, perfect world. What about the fact that 67 per cent of Delhi's pollution comes from motor vehicles? Is it conceivable that the Supreme Court will come up with an act that bans private cars, or limits the number of cars a household can own?

If pollution is indeed the main concern of our courts and government, why is it that they have shown no great enthusiasm for regulating big factories run by major industrialists that have polluted rivers, denuded forests, depleted and poisoned groundwater, and destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people who depend on these resources for a living? The Grasim factory in Kerala, the Orient Paper Mill in Madhya Pradesh, the noxious 'sunrise belt' industries in Gujarat.
 
 
India's too diverse, too grand, too feral, and -- eventually, I hope -- too democratic to be lobotomised into believing in one single idea, which is, eventually, what corporate globalisation really is: Life is Profit.
 
 
The uranium mines in Jaduguda, the aluminum plants in Orissa. And hundreds of others.

This is our in-house version of first world bullying in the global warming debate, i.e., we pollute, you pay.

In circumstances like these, the term 'writer-activist' as a professional description of what I do makes me flinch doubly.First, because it is strategically positioned to diminish both writers and activists. It seeks to reduce the scope, the range, the sweep, of what a writer is and can be. It suggests, somehow, that writers by definition are too effete to come up with the clarity, the explicitness, the reasoning, the passion, the grit, the audacity and, if necessary, the vulgarity, to publicly take a political position. And conversely, it suggests that activists occupy the coarser, cruder end of the intellectual spectrum. That activists are by profession 'position-takers' and therefore lack complexity and intellectual sophistication, and are instead fuelled by a crude, simple-minded, one-sided understanding of things. But the more fundamental problem I have with the term is that this attempt to 'professionalise' protest has the effect of containing the problem and suggesting that it's up to the professionals—activists and writer-activists—to deal with it.

The fact is that what's happening today is not a 'problem', and the issues that some of us are raising are not 'causes'. They are huge political and social upheavals that are convulsing the world. One is not involved by virtue of being a writer or activist. One is involved because one is a human being. Writing about it just happens to be the most effective thing a writer can do. It is vital to de-professionalise the public debate on matters that vitally affect the lives of ordinary people. It's time to snatch our futures back from the 'experts'. Time to ask, in ordinary language, the public question and to demand in ordinary language, the public answer.

Frankly, however trenchantly, angrily, persuasively or poetically the case is made out, at the end of the day, a writer is a citizen, only one of many, who is demanding public information, asking for a public explanation.

Speaking for myself, I have no personal or ideological axe to grind. I have no professional stakes to protect. I'm prepared to be persuaded. I'm prepared to change my mind. But instead of an argument, or an explanation, or a disputing of facts, one gets insults, invective and the Experts' Anthem: You don't understand and it's too complicated to explain. The subtext, of course, is: don't worry your little head about it. Go and play with your toys. Leave the real world to us.

It's the old Brahminical instinct. Colonise knowledge, build four walls around it, and use it to your advantage. The Manusmriti, the Vedic Hindu code of conduct, says that if a Dalit overhears a shloka or any part of a sacred text, he must have molten lead poured into his ear. It isn't a coincidence that while India is poised to take her place at the forefront of the Information Revolution, millions of her citizens are illiterate. (It would be interesting, as an exercise, to find out how many 'experts'—scholars, professionals, consultants—in India are actually Brahmins or from the upper castes.)

If you're one of the lucky people with a berth booked on the small convoy, then Leaving it to the Experts is, or can be, a mutually beneficial proposition both for the expert and yourself. It's a convenient way of easing your conscience, shrugging off your own role in the circuitry.And it creates a huge professional market for all kinds of 'expertise'. There's a whole ugly universe waiting to be explored there. This is not at all to suggest that all consultants are racketeers or that expertise is unnecessary, but you've heard the saying—There's a lot of money in poverty. There are plenty of ethical questions to be asked of those who make a professional living off their expertise in poverty and despair.

For instance, at what point does a scholar stop being a scholar and become a parasite who feeds off despair and dispossession? Does the source of a scholar's funding compromise his or her scholarship? We know, after all, that World Bank studies are the most quoted studies in the world. Is the World Bank a dispassionate observer of the global situation? Are the studies it funds entirely devoid of self-interest?

Take, for example, the international dam industry. It's worth tens of billions of dollars a year. It's bursting with experts and consultants. Given the number of studies, reports, books, PhDs, grants, loans, consultancies, eias—it's odd, wouldn't you say, that there is no really reliable estimate of how many people have been displaced by big dams in India? That there is no estimate for exactly what the contribution of big dams has been to overall food production? That there hasn't been an official audit, a comprehensive, honest, thoughtful, post-project evaluation of a single big dam to see whether or not it has achieved what it set out to achieve? Whether or not the costs were justified, or even what the costs actually were?

What are the experts up to?

On the whole, in India, the prognosis is—to put it mildly—Not Good. And yet, one cannot help but marvel at the fantastic range and depth and wisdom of the hundreds of people's resistance movements all over the county. They're being beaten down, but they simply refuse to lie down and die.

Their political ideologies and battle strategies span the range. We have the maverick Malayali professor who petitions the President every day against the communalisation of history texts; Sunderlal Bahuguna, who risks his life on indefinite hunger strikes protesting the Tehri dam; the Adivasis in Jaduguda protesting uranium mining on their lands; the Koel Karo Sangathan resisting a mega-dam project in Jharkhand; the awe-inspiring Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha; the relentlessly dogged Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; the Beej Bachao Andolan in Tehri-Garhwal fighting to save the biodiversity of seeds; and of course, the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

India's redemption lies in the inherent anarchy and fractiousness of its people and its political formations. Even our heel-clicking, boot-stamping Hindu fascists are undisciplined to the point of being chaotic. They can't bring themselves to agree with each other for more than five minutes at a time. Corporatising India is like trying to impose an iron grid on a heaving ocean, forcing it to behave. My guess is that India will not behave. It cannot. It's too old and too clever to be made to jump through the hoops all over again. It's too diverse, too grand, too feral, and—eventually, I hope—too democratic to be lobotomised into believing in one single idea, which is, eventually, what corporate globalisation really is: Life is Profit.

What is happening to the world lies, at the moment, just outside the realm of common human understanding. It is the writers, the poets, the artists, the singers, the filmmakers who can make the connections, who can find ways of bringing it into the realm of common understanding. Who can translate cash-flow charts and scintillating boardroom speeches into real stories about real people with real lives. Stories about what it's like to lose your home, your land, your job, your dignity, your past, and your future to an invisible force. To someone or something you can't see. You can't hate. You can't even imagine.

It's a new space that's been offered to us today. A new kind of challenge. It offers opportunities for a new kind of art. An art which can make the impalpable palpable, the intangible tangible, the invisible visible and the inevitable evitable. An art which can draw out the incorporeal adversary and make it real. Bring it to book.

Cynics say that real life is a choice between the failed revolution and the shabby deal. I don't know...maybe they're right. But even they should know that there's no limit to just how shabby that shabby deal can be. What we need to search for and find, what we need to hone and perfect into a magnificent, shining thing, is a new kind of politics. Not the politics of governance, but the politics of resistance. The politics of opposition. The politics of forcing accountability. The politics of joining hands across the world and preventing certain destruction. In the present circumstances, I'd say that the only thing worth globalising is dissent. It's India's best export.


From The Algebra of Infinite Justice, published by Penguin Books India.

More Essays By Arundhati Roy

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