The terse, typewritten note slipped under my door in a sealed envelope confirmed my appointment with India’s Gravest Internal Security Threat. I’d been waiting for months to hear from them. I had to be at the Ma Danteshwari mandir in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, at any of four given times on two given days. That was to take care of bad weather, punctures, blockades, transport strikes and sheer bad luck. The note said: “Writer should have camera, tika and coconut. Meeter will have cap, Hindi Outlook magazine and bananas. Password: Namashkar Guruji.”
Namashkar Guruji. I wondered whether the Meeter and Greeter would be expecting a man. And whether I should get myself a moustache.
There are many ways to describe Dantewada. It’s an oxymoron. It’s a border town smack in the heart of India. It’s the epicentre of a war. It’s an upside down, inside out town.
Red Shadow: Centenary celebrations of the adivasi uprising in Bastar; Sten gun at hand
In Dantewada, the police wear plain clothes and the rebels wear uniforms. The jail superintendent is in jail. The prisoners are free (three hundred of them escaped from the old town jail two years ago). Women who have been raped are in police custody. The rapists give speeches in the bazaar.
Across the Indravati river, in the area controlled by the Maoists, is the place the police call ‘Pakistan’. There the villages are empty, but the forest is full of people. Children who ought to be in school run wild. In the lovely forest villages, the concrete school buildings have either been blown up and lie in a heap, or they are full of policemen. The deadly war that is unfolding in the jungle is a war that the Government of India is both proud and shy of. Operation Green Hunt has been proclaimed as well as denied. P. Chidambaram, India’s home minister (and CEO of the war), says it does not exist, that it’s a media creation. And yet substantial funds have been allocated to it and tens of thousands of troops are being mobilised for it. Though the theatre of war is in the jungles of Central India, it will have serious consequences for us all.
If ghosts are the lingering spirits of someone, or something, that has ceased to exist, then perhaps the new four-lane highway crashing through the forest is the opposite of a ghost. Perhaps it is the harbinger of what is still to come.
Staying Put: People of Kudur village protest the Bodhghat dam: ‘It does not belong to the capitalists, Bastar is OUrs’y
This legacy of rebellion has left behind a furious people who have been deliberately isolated and marginalised by the Indian government. The Indian Constitution, the moral underpinning of Indian democracy, was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified colonial policy and made the State custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land. It denied them their traditional rights to forest produce, it criminalised a whole way of life. In exchange for the right to vote, it snatched away their right to livelihood and dignity.
Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population—for dams, irrigation projects, mines—it talked of “bringing tribals into the mainstream” or of giving them “the fruits of modern development”. Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry.
The most recent expression of concern has come from home minister P. Chidambaram who says he doesn’t want tribal people living in “museum cultures”. The well-being of tribal people didn’t seem to be such a priority during his career as a corporate lawyer, representing the interests of several major mining companies. So it might be an idea to enquire into the basis for his new anxiety.
The Day of the Bhumkal: Face to face with "India's greatest Security Threat".
Over the past five years or so, the governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal have signed hundreds of MoUs with corporate houses, worth several billion dollars, all of them secret, for steel plants, sponge-iron factories, power plants, aluminium refineries, dams and mines. In order for the MoUs to translate into real money, tribal people must be moved.
Therefore, this war.
When a country that calls itself a democracy openly declares war within its borders, what does that war look like? Does the resistance stand a chance? Should it? Who are the Maoists? Are they just violent nihilists foisting an outdated ideology on tribal people, goading them into a hopeless insurrection? What lessons have they learned from their past experience? Is armed struggle intrinsically undemocratic? Is the Sandwich Theory—of ‘ordinary’ tribals being caught in the crossfire between the State and the Maoists—an accurate one? Are ‘Maoists’ and ‘Tribals’ two entirely discrete categories as is being made out? Do their interests converge? Have they learned anything from each other? Have they changed each other?
The day before I left, my mother called, sounding sleepy. “I’ve been thinking,” she said, with a mother’s weird instinct, “what this country needs is revolution.”
An article on the internet says that Israel’s Mossad is training 30 high-ranking Indian police officers in the techniques of targeted assassinations, to render the Maoist organisation “headless”. There’s talk in the press about the new hardware that has been bought from Israel: laser range-finders, thermal imaging equipment and unmanned drones, so popular with the US army. Perfect weapons to use against the poor.
The drive from Raipur to Dantewada takes about 10 hours through areas known to be ‘Maoist-infested’. These are not careless words. ‘Infest/infestation’ implies disease/pests. Diseases must be cured. Pests must be exterminated. Maoists must be wiped out. In these creeping, innocuous ways, the language of genocide has entered our vocabulary.
To protect the highway, security forces have ‘secured’ a narrow bandwidth of forest on either side. Further in, it’s the raj of the ‘Dada log’. The Brothers. The Comrades.
On the outskirts of Raipur, a massive billboard advertises Vedanta (the company our home minister once worked with) Cancer Hospital. In Orissa, where it is mining bauxite, Vedanta is financing a university. In these creeping, innocuous ways, mining corporations enter our imaginations: the Gentle Giants Who Really Care. It’s called CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility. It allows mining companies to be like the legendary actor and former chief minister NTR, who liked to play all the parts in Telugu mythologicals—the good guys and the bad guys, all at once, in the same movie. This CSR masks the outrageous economics that underpins the mining sector in India. For example, according to the recent Lokayukta report for Karnataka, for every tonne of iron ore mined by a private company, the government gets a royalty of Rs 27 and the mining company makes Rs 5,000. In the bauxite and aluminium sector, the figures are even worse. We’re talking about daylight robbery to the tune of billions of dollars. Enough to buy elections, governments, judges, newspapers, TV channels, NGOs and aid agencies. What’s the occasional cancer hospital here or there?
I don’t remember seeing Vedanta’s name on the long list of MoUs signed by the Chhattisgarh government. But I’m twisted enough to suspect that if there’s a cancer hospital, there must be a flat-topped bauxite mountain somewhere.
I arrived at the Ma Danteshwari mandir well in time for my appointment (first day, first show). I had my camera, my small coconut and a powdery red tika on my forehead. I wondered if someone was watching me and having a laugh. Within minutes a young boy approached me. He had a cap and a backpack schoolbag. Chipped red nail-polish on his fingernails. No Hindi Outlook, no bananas. “Are you the one who’s going in?” he asked me. No Namashkar Guruji. I did not know what to say. He took out a soggy note from his pocket and handed it to me. It said, “Outlook nahin mila (couldn’t find Outlook).”
“And the bananas?”
“I ate them,” he said, “I got hungry.”
He really was a security threat.
His backpack said Charlie Brown—Not your ordinary blockhead. He said his name was Mangtu. I soon learned that Dandakaranya, the forest I was about to enter, was full of people who had many names and fluid identities. It was like balm to me, that idea. How lovely not to be stuck with yourself, to become someone else for a while.
Arundhati Roy irritates me—her tone, her smugness, her careless use of history; specifically, her stringing of disparate events and phenomena as if they all amounted to the same old same old (eg, the lumping together of the Indian annexation of Hyderabad as part of the country’s “colonialis[t]” course, bizarre given the old order displaced was an absolute monarchy hijacked by religious revivalists in its twilight, an old order diametrically opposed to the sort of peasant insurgency one would expect Roy to be sympathetic to were the Indian state not on the “other” side), her sloppy view that the Indian polity is no more than an “upper caste Hindu state”—are annoying not only in themselves, but because they mar the force of her arguments, on issues so crucial one can ill afford to slip up (Walking with the Comrades, Mar 25). But. But. But. For the courage to talk about what other writers in English barely touch upon, and rarely without resort to the empty platitudes of those who use language not to think about problems but to avoid them, everything she writes on the plight of the Indian polity’s ultimate expendables—the tribals—can’t be missed. Umair Muhajir, New York
This is the only article of Arundhati’s that I’ve read and some of the facts she mentions ring true to me. For example, I have seen strategic hamleting in Mizoram around 1977 when I was working in the nehu. A highway was built from one end of the state to the other, villages were shifted near the highway, (and I was told) fenced off, and the villagers needed identity cards to leave the fenced area to their farms. Rahul Banerjee, who worked for about 25 years with tribals in Central India, has similar things to say in his work, Recovering the Lost Tongue: The Saga of Environmental Struggles in Central India. Anandaswarup Gadde, Melbourne
Speechless. That’s how Arundhati’s essay has left me. Dearton Thomas Hector, Kollam
Meaningless! It’s what came to my mind about my own work (I do what’s called ‘peace-building’) after reading Arundhati’s piece. Agyatmitra, Pune
The counterbalance in Arundhati’s essay lies in a paragraph in the 21st page. She echoes our misgivings about communist revolutions worldwide when she writes about the “party” being a genuine people’s party when it is the suitor, but doubts if it will remain so after the revolution. History tells us that it’s never been so. Russia, Hungary, East Germany, China, Cambodia, Nepal and, at home, the people’s government in West Bengal suffice as examples. Are Chandu, Kamla, Maase and scores of their comrades in the jungle even conscious of these? These innocents, indoctrinated by a philosophy as heady as their mahua, are caught up in the illusion of the perfect, classless world. The need to believe in something better than their miserable existence has placed them betwixt the devil and the deep sea. A generation of young will die in the forest to live the delusions of others. The country will move on. What the essay tells us about the mining companies and politicians sounds plausible. The poor will remain removed from the dream. The dream will be lived by the others. God deliver us from this indecency of living. Or send us an Avatar. Samrat Chatterjee, Raipur
Outlook confuses me. On the one hand, it reflects all that is associated with big business and ‘development’—its glossy, screaming ads testify to that. On the other, it has something as remarkable as this! Talha Chowdhry, Bangalore
Arundhati’s is the only voice of conscience in an India blinded by corporate greed, political corruption, imperial hubris and utter injustice wrought on its own common people. Alfred Abdul, New York
After the hectoring voices on TV and in other print media, Arundhati’s essay soothed my soul and mind. Mini Mathew, on e-mail
Arundhati gives voice to the voiceless, and questions the government. We Indians need to be self-critical. When we shape our country’s institutions, we must ensure they are genuinely inclusive. That said, I think Ms Roy provides no alternatives. We simply cannot have a civil war in India. The Maoists cannot continue with their guns and goonda raj. And it is equally improbable that the tribals continue with their age-old practices in the 21st century, living in the forest and competing with endangered fauna and flora—fragile natural resources. India’s population is exploding and the only way to provide decent health, education and living conditions for everyone is through common agreement and the rule of law. How can the tribals be protected in the middle of all this? How can we prevent outsiders (either Naxals/police/politicians) from taking advantage of their ignorance? That is what we have to think about. Kiran, Grenoble, France
Arundhati’s essay was brilliant—for its narrative style, marshalling of facts and the intrinsic honesty in putting forth her point of view. But more than all this, Vinod Mehta deserves special credit for giving her the platform—and space—for having her say. Which other editor of a mainstream newsmagazine today would allot 31 out of 50 editorial pages for a story like this? Derek Bose, on e-mail
Arundhati deserves praise for going where none of our armchair journalists go. Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Did Arundhati actually go to Dantewada or has she written her piece sitting in the AC study of a five-star residential address in the capital? M.J. Mansharamani, Nagpur
At the end of 2008, I was in Gadchiroli for some research. The stories I heard were quite different from those in Arundhati Roy’s essay. I heard about the murder of a local leader trying to organise his community. More than one person told me that a politician, afraid of the man’s rising popularity, paid the Naxalites to kill him. I heard that the Ballarpur Paper Mills pays the Naxals to cut the bamboo from the forest and that the Naxals, in exchange allow the mill owner to develop the road leading to those forests just enough to let him carry the bamboo out. I heard that there are two job opportunities for people in these villages—the State or the Naxalites. That people from the same families are either in the police force or with the Naxal force. All poor. All desperate. All with little other choice. Unless they can feed their families with one rice crop a year. I heard that Naxalites won’t allow development, yet traders from Bengal have been allowed to set up businesses—for a price. Unlike Arundhati, I couldn’t sleep under the stars in the Dandakaranya forest, enjoying the beauty I was surrounded with. I didn’t have a friend or a comrade with a gun to protect me. Could this be true of others like me? Unlike Arundhati, I would not dare to give a ‘name’ or ‘face’ to the people I spoke to and took photos of, can’t post their images or tell their story on my blog or to a magazine that would want to hear their story. I’m no fan of the machinery deployed by various official, corporate and media forces that work overtime to push the poor and dispossessed who are increasingly ‘falling into the hole’ as Arundhati so eloquently puts it. However, I have heard with my own ears in Gadchiroli the voices of ordinary villagers—the poor, dispossessed and unarmed say in no uncertain terms that the Naxalites are the one-stop shop for the violent settling of scores. Any score. Nandini Bedi, Amsterdam
Let those who have eyes, see; let those who can, read and understand. I fell in love with Comrade Kamla after reading Arundhati’s piece. T.M. Dhanaraj, Chennai
For Arundhati, this is probably a thrilling escape from elitist seminar circuits in her designer clothes. The Maoists are supplied with weapons from across the border and they openly say they want to keep elected governments under pressure. They never demand roads, schools, hospitals, in short, better governance for backward tribal areas and brainwash tribals into believing that they do not need these. I’ve seen critically ill patients being carried on tractors to hospitals tens of kilometres away in these areas. It’s not just the mining lobbies that are the cause of the tribals’ miseries. The more grave threat is actually from the Maoists who deliberately deny them a dignified life and access to healthcare and education. M.K. Devarajan, Kottayam
Would these tribals have raised a war against the state—where they stand to lose everything for nothing in return—had they not been pushed to the edge of survival? And it is we who have pushed them to this brink with our supposedly developmental policies. We are the real perpetrators of the war, not them. And it is we who need to step back and give these desperate souls room to return to an ordinary, peaceful existence. Reader Man, Calcutta
The words of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire reiterate the incisive truth reflected in Arundhati’s essay. As he says in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators, if they themselves are the result of violence? How could they be sponsors of something whose objective inauguration called for their existence as oppressed? There would be no oppressed had there been no prior situation of violence to establish their subjugation.” Raaj Mondol, on e-mail
If this was a modern country with real democratic values, Arundhati’s essay would have evoked serious debate and discussion, with debates in Parliament and media. In India, however, it will only generate ‘Has-VM-sold-Outlook-to-Ms Roy’ kind of response from its right-wing jingoistic readers or the hysteria of Arnab Goswamis. B.F. Firoz, Trivandrum
Arundhati’s piece reminded me of what the learned jurist V.R. Krishna Iyer said, “The Indian Constitution is deaf and dumb in these tribal regions. The leitmotif of people’s liberation is the spirit of autonomy, more human rights, less centralism and less illusions about peace through police actions.” S.M. Kompella, Kakinada
More often than not, mainstream media chooses to ignore the worst cases of state atrocities, not because it is not aware but because we the middle class can’t be bothered as long as there’s food on our table. Upendra, Winnipeg, Canada
It’s difficult to distinguish between the Naxals and the Navis of James Cameron’s Avatar. Mazhar Farooqui, Dubai
Journalism at its best. Thank you, Arundhati. Ashwat Ramani, Hyderabad
Instead of criticising Arundhati for speaking on behalf of people who no one else listens to, we should briefly put ourselves in the place of these men and women. What would you do if you were an adivasi doing the only thing you know how to do in the only place you know that exists and the government drives you away from there because it has conceived some fancy plan to exploit the area? Who do you turn to? It’s more difficult in India to touch a tiger belt than a tribal belt. There’s greater sympathy for animals in India than people. Sanjay Dhingra, Gurgaon
While Arundhati’s writing is persuasive, she doesn’t offer any viable alternatives. It’s true that tribal exploitation has been rampant in India and these regions are some of the most underdeveloped in the country. But by taking up arms against the state, they have ensured that doctors run away from clinics in these areas, government officials are scared to do their jobs and teachers are not prepared to go to schools. Is it Arundhati’s case that tribals do not need health and education and should be left to live happily off the forest? A majority of India’s population, however distressed we might feel by the efforts of our government, is part of the mainstream because we know it benefits us personally and as a society. Sadly, tribals know nothing better and their leaders have vested interests in ensuring developmental efforts do not reach these areas. Instead of romanticising the tribal dream, people like Arundhati should work with them to develop a way of life so that they can become a part of modern India, albeit by keeping close to their land and their way of life. Divya Bharati, London
A long story notable for little new except Arundhati Roy’s story-telling ability. Basically what she is saying is that the tribals of Dandakaranya do not need to learn to count beyond 20 and are best off if left alone to live as they have been for thousands of years. The use of violence to protect their way of life is also completely justified. Arundhati evidently suffers not only from directional but logical dyslexia too. If the world follows her foolishly romanticised path, change, the only constant, will become a bad idea, to be opposed at all costs. In short, she is effectively condemning the people whose cause she seeks to promote. She can’t see the tyranny of it because she does not have to lead that life; for her the fruits of the development she condemns are available—including getting her article printed here. Arundhati can pick up any group of people resisting change for any reason and write what she has written with only minor changes. One cannot shake the feeling that somewhere deep down, she is filled with vicious hatred. Vinod Sharma, New Delhi
I went through Arundhati’s entire essay and while I found enough stats on how much profits corporates make, there was nothing on where comrades get their money or arms from. To me, those who use tribals as human shields are as grotesque as the cops molesting women. Both amount to a rape of humanity. Kajal Sengupta, on e-mail
By going against the state, the tribals are only providing employment to the likes of Arundhati Roy and human rights activists. The state might consider Maoists the gravest internal security threat but our home minister needs to concentrate on how to deal with an even bigger one—of Arundhati Roy and her tribe. S.S. Deo, Gurgaon
The last time I read something like this was about Robin Hood and his Merry Band! Arundhati has, as is her wont, demonstrated brilliantly how a bit of erudition and verbosity can make a complete travesty of truth. A.M. Diwakar, Bangalore
Just a few weeks back, Arundhati was exhorting us to listen to grasshoppers and see how some Indians deny and even celebrate violence. Isn’t she doing exactly the same now: denying Maoist violence, nay, even celebrating it? Rahul, Delhi
What does a directional dyslexic, capable of getting lost in life’s objectives, do? As Arundhati herself says, “Come hell or high water, I’ll be holding on to Comrade Raju’s pallu....” A.S. Raghunath, Delhi
Roy loves herself and her writing, never mind if anyone else does or not. Gayatri Devi, Delhi
There’s only one editor and one magazine in India courageous enough to publish such a daring piece of writing. But why does he allow Arundhati to be bashed up in letters on your web edition? I wish the magazine would start monitoring that space and make it a forum for healthy debate like in the Guardian or New York Times. Edava Shine Kutty, on e-mail
It is becoming increasingly clear that, in the name of development, we are helping the rich become richer and the poor are being thrown to the dogs. In waging a war against this “internal security threat”, the government seems to be forgetting that these are our people too. Aarti Khosla, on e-mail
Sixty years of freedom and none of it for people who have lived thousands of years. What a crying shame! Kailash Chandra, on e-mail
Thank you Arundhati, for making us see how blind our government is. Jan ez Jalen, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Great effort, great journalism. Pankaj Yadav, Gurgaon
The time has come to redefine what freedom and independence really mean. If I can be displaced and hounded out of a land where my forefathers have lived for centuries, will I be called free? Yet, there is a ray of hope for Indian democracy that such an article can still be published in a mainstream magazine, that journalism survives amidst gutter press reporting. Narendra Murty, Calcutta
Every time Arundhati writes, readers often pick on the writer, missing the larger point: that the poor, the adivasis, the Dalits and other marginalised people are bearing the entire brunt of the nation’s economic march. Implicit in their criticism of her is the notion that our way of life is somehow superior to theirs. All subsequent arguments stem from this belief. To dismiss her writing by accusing Arundhati of being a romantic is being naive—and dishonest. Sajosam, New Delhi
While I can understand Roy’s empathy for tribals, I will never agree with the surgical tools of the Maoists. Given that, Arundhati has used the fundamental right of freedom of expression to the fullest—something no other country except the Indian democracy would allow—even daring to take potshots at the Father of the Nation. M. Ponnein Selvan, Chennai
Arundhati and her ilk should be banished to the luxurious thousand-star suites in Dandakaranya where they can collect tendu leaves along with the tribals and “live happily ever after”. Sudharshan, Madras
No doubt our democracy is imperfect and there have been human rights violations. But to compare it to the excesses of Stalin and Mao is revolting. G. Vijayaraghavan, on e-mail
Writing novels was too easy on Arundhati’s talent, I suppose, which is why she gave it up. Many in India can write a novel, and do. But few put their writing to the use that Arundhati does. One of modern India’s greatest writers is also a true patriot. Siddharth Chowdhury, on e-mail
The greatest service Arundhati has done to the tribals is to give them a name and face. What have Mangtu, Nirmala and Venu suffered in the last 50-60 years of independent India that they are ready to fight one of the biggest and most sophisticated armies of the world with only knives and front-loading rifles? K.D.M., on e-mail
Arundhati’s travelogue on the time she spent in the jungles of Dandakaranya in the company of Maoist cadres is a celebration of revolutionary romanticism and her own rebelliousness. You might disagree with what she says but you can’t but be touched by her poetic prose. Aparajita Krishna, Mumbai
“What this country needs is a revolution,” says Arundhati’s mother, the activist Mary Roy. And along with Comrade Kamla, Arundhati is “marching, not just for herself, but to keep hope alive for us all”. Women are leading the way everywhere you look, and we better take note. Ahmed Shamim, New York
Lal salaam to Arundhati Roy and the Outlook editor for standing against the tide of state-directed media. Ranabir Roy, Agartala
India’s gravest security threat, isn’t it Arundhati herself? Arnav Das Sharma, Nagpur
Exclusive 32-page essay? I could count only 31. Did Chidambaram censor the last page out? Or does ‘The Big Lie’ start with the number of pages? Pritam Sengupta, Bangalore
Arundhati must be smoking some good tendu if she thinks the Maoists are getting their guns and grenades from the Rs 120 cut from its proceeds they extract from the leaf-buyers. Jerin Chacko, Thiruvananthapuram
If solutions flowed from the barrels of guns, the Northeast and J&K would have been restored as heavens on earth a long time back. Alok Verma, on e-mail
Did the train, bus or motorbikes Arundhati would have used for her tryst with the Maoists appear at the wave of a magic wand? R.K. Asthana, Portsmouth
I am burning my copy of your magazine lest the police arrest me for being in possession of Naxalite/Maoist literature. Rakesh Babu G.R., Bangalore
The yuppie-commie rhetoric has of late turned its guns on the Mahatma, or so it would seem from a reading of the Arundhati Roy essay Walking with the Comrades, (Mar 29). And the neo-Dalit is not far behind in this offensive. Harijan has thus become a dirty word coined by a condescending bania! Let us not forget the sub-human lot of the panchamas for centuries. The first and foremost Indian to view their state with utter compassion was Gandhi. And he identified himself uncompromisingly with them. But for the bania’s undaunted service to uplift them and the Kashmiri Pandit Nehru’s defiant enactment of universal adult franchise that at one stroke enfranchised all the scheduled castes, would there be Kanshi Rams and Mayawatis at the helm, unceremoniously kicking off the Gandhi ladder that pushed them up? For heaven’s sake, let’s not dismiss the sovereign role of compassion. What Arundhati Roy has for the Naxals and the forest tribals is unambiguous compassion. It is strange, though, that the lady has not a word about the Andaman aborigines, mercilessly decimated by the Indian colonisers and their government (the Union government is exercised over the declining Parsi population) or the unspeakable sufferings of the people of Manipur and farther east (Kashmir monopolising all her selective perception). Gandhian satyagraha is no pious humbug. The pious humbug was open to the lady when she was hauled up before the court for contempt, but she chose to cave in rather than be jailed. Please recall the classic non-violent rin mutiny at Bombay, to cite but one instance, that heralded Indian Independence. It is again easy to be dismissive of trusteeship, expediently choosing to understand Gandhi’s words literally. To go to the spirit of trusteeship, it means only ploughing back to society whatever surplus one may command over one’s honest needs. Roy herself has so ploughed back her funds, in excess, I fondly believe, of her own honest needs. Jayant Mrtyunjaya, Bangalore
After reading Arundhati Roy’s long-winded article, I wondered if she wanted Charu Mazumdar as our president and Kishenji as our PM! Kanu Sanyal has meanwhile committed suicide, but she could give Comrade Niti a responsible post. With her as home minister, the whole country can achieve the progress Dandakaranya has. Gurudas S., Bangalore
Some three decades ago, I travelled through the parts Arundhati Roy wrote about. Later, I made the same trip in 2001. Reading her article, I realise nothing’s changed there. Roy has done a commendable job in bringing out the other side of the Maoist story. G. Sondur, Pune
In Arundhati Roy’s essay, CPI (Maoist) Dandakaranya spokesperson Gudsa Usendi says that K. Balagopal, “usually meticulous about facts”, had said that the Naxalites had massacred adivasis at Kotrapal and that “later in his book (presumably referring to the Human Rights Forum report titled: ‘Death, Displacement and Deprivation, the War in Dantewara’) acknowledged his mistake...”. This is to clarify that Balagopal or HRF, the organisation he belonged to, has never issued a press statement to the effect that the Naxalites had resorted to the massacre at Kotrapal, nor has Balagopal “acknowledged his mistake”. When reports appeared in the press in June 2005 of the killing of a large number of adivasis at Kotrapal by the Maoists, the HRF wrote a letter to various civil and democratic rights organisations calling for a fact-finding in the area. Subsequently, a team of hrf and the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights visited the area on Jul 16-17, ’05. A joint press release was put out at a media conference in Hyderabad on Aug 3 in which it was stated that “the news of the massacre of June 19 in Kotrapal...is not true.” Both the letter and the press note can be accessed from the report on our website: humanrightsforum.org. Usendi, in this case, is shoddy about facts. V.S. Krishna, Secretary, HRF, Visakhapatnam
We believers in free-market economics will rubbish all the arguments of Arundhati Roy, but despite the vitriol we pour upon her, deep in our hearts, we’ll always know she’s so goddamned right—infuriatingly, exasperatingly so! Dr Oscar Rebelo, Goa
Arundhati Roy’s article is a wake-up call to India’s political establishment to stop its misguided tyranny against our own people in the name of development. Ranbir Singh, on e-mail
It never ceases to amaze me how naive the extreme left is. Arundhati Roy goes to meet the Maoists—and that’s courageous! She gives them a voice—and it’s her right to do so! But what rubs me the wrong way is her tone that goes thus—“look at the emaciated, courageous men and women who are taking on the jackbooted government criminals”. And while criticising the government for not developing the area, she calls the companies that are taking development there colonials. How does one develop a place in a capitalist system? In my opinion, Roy is a decent person but we’re lucky she does not run our country and hopefully will never do so. Frank Hawkins, San Francisco
I don’t have anything against Arundhati Roy. She is a gifted writer and I’ve always admired people who have the time and patience to take up cudgels on behalf of others, for whatever reason. Her heart is in the right place and she is obviously committed. The trouble is, she gets so carried away in her zeal that she simply fails to take the complete picture into account. Her arguments are so utterly lacking in balance, and her words so intemperate, that she only manages to alienate even those who are relatively sympathetic to the causes she espouses. The tribals do have some very real grievances but by throwing their lot with the Maoist insurgency, they’re simply asking for more trouble. Shaili Thakur, Chandigarh
The high priests of Left philosophy—Marx, Lenin and Mao—must be turning in their graves at the unique turnaround in the tactical equations between the ‘proletariat’ and the ‘bourgeois’. Instead of the ‘proletariat’ joining hands with the middle classes to throw away ‘bourgeois’ hegemony, now we have a situation where the ‘bourgeois’ intellectual elite represented by the likes of Arundhati Roy are joining hands with the ‘proletariat’ (read tribals in this case) to prevent the emergence of an Indian middle class in this globalised world. Upside down, inside out! Mihir Kumar Jha, Patna
Arundhati, mercifully, did not blame the invention of the wheel, and fire, for all the rot in the current civilisation. We wonder why she came back at all from her haven of violence. She could have had all the fun walking and dancing with her comrades, exchanging ‘lal salaams’. Bharat Trivedi, on e-mail
Instead of justifying the violence unleashed by the Maoists, she would have done well to question the central and state governments on the funds allocated year after year in their budgets for rural and tribal development. Where does the money go? T.R. Viswanathan, Mumbai
I am not an admirer of Arundhati Roy but her poetic piece was superb, to put it mildly. Jawahar P. Sekhar, Dubai
Arundhati Roy has obviously expended considerable energy in reporting from ground zero, but I dare say that the essay tends to romanticise the Maoist cause. She has conveniently glossed over all the needless murders and incidents of looting, arson and vandalisation these ‘comrades’ have been committing in the name of justice and alternate governance. It also seems from the essay that the whole movement is now itself victim to the adage, ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same’. What with different departments and an elaborate hierarchy, the janatana sarkars are beginning to resemble the same labyrinthine, faceless entities, without spontaneous popular support—much like the system the Naxalites are purportedly fighting against. Rahul Gaur, Gurgaon
Arundhati Roy’s article was to my expectation: Hindus are to blame for all of India’s failings; the victims are about everyone else. More than just pretty writing, the most striking part was the picture on the cover: the dainty, city-slicker activist in socks and sandals, well-protected from the elements, in sharp contrast to the barefoot Maoist girl sitting next to her. Lokesh Raina, Mumbai
Arundhati ought to realise at her age that there is no such thing as a perfect society. Man has always exploited man through the ages, and a Communist China or militarised Myanmar do nothing but exploit ideology. Common people like us have to just put up with whatever we have. By creating unrealisable hopes among adivasis, Maoists have only prolonged their misery, caught as they are between them and the state. We city-dwellers also feel the agony of the exploited. But aren’t we also exploited at every step? Santhanam, on e-mail
Arundhati Roy’s article has opened my eyes. I got to know for the first time about the kind of life Naxalites lead, the hurdles they face in their day-to-day life, the reasons for their taking to arms, even the food they eat. Sandeep Shankar, Delhi
This is to congratulate both you and Ms Roy for the courageous and remarkably revelatory article on the tribal Maoists of Bastar. In the deeply distressing face of state violence and the caricature state and media present the tribal struggles as, it is literally Ms Roy’s pen and your magazine that give us hope, doing not just the history and humanity of tribal aspirations a service, but the conscience of us all. In this regard, I wanted to share with you a painting I just completed and that is currently being exhibited at the Reflection Art Gallery in Shahpur Jat in a group exhibition themed ‘Hope’. Titled The Truth Wins, it celebrates precisely what Ms Roy’s article and your magazine are in the process of achieving. The body in the painting is taken from a photograph of five innocent people piled in the back of a trailer, killed on April 15, 2009, by the police in an alleged anti-Naxalite operation. What struck me about the photo was the fact that surviving the terrible violence visited upon this body was a little ball-point pen clipped serenely to the dead man’s shirt pocket. That pen symbolises truth to me, whether through the media or courageous individuals standing up and speaking out.
Are you happy now, Arundhati? Some 76 innocent lives lost, thanks to people like you who glorify Maoist criminals. Ashwin, Chennai
Now that 75-odd Indians have been killed by their fellowmen in the jungles of Dandakaranya, perhaps the bleeding heart and tormented soul of Arundhati can be at peace. Balakrishnan Unny, Gurgaon
Congrats, Arundhati. Your men struck well, claiming 76 lives. Why don’t you now go and live in your thousand-star hotel forever? Chetan Rathor, Delhi
Will Arundhati now go to the homes of those brave men who were killed to write about them and their families? People like Arundhati should be made accountable for such killings as articles like hers create sympathy in the minds of most readers and portray the government, especially the forces, negatively. Nishant Chaudhary, Bokaro
The problem with Sonia staffers like Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram is that they breathe the polluted air of dynastic politics. So it is that neither the families of the killed CRPF jawans nor the rest of the countrymen have any hope from this toothless government. There can be no politics or logic when it comes to dealing with the terrorists. Suraish Kumar, Chandigarh
When the mecca of human rights, Amnesty International, can become a terror-supporting charity, why be surprised at Arundhati supporting violence against the government and her own countrymen? Narayan, Zurich
Even if we do not agree with what she says, we have to concede that Arundhati writes from her heart and that her heart is in the right place. Angarag, Guwahati
Arundhati’s might be embedded journalism alright. But none can deny that people like her arouse the conscience of the nation. The Maoists are indeed social fascists—mouthing socialism at one level but indulging in fascist methods of intolerance and cruelty on their opponents on the other. Their ideas may sound ideal but their understanding of the modern social reality and political-economic scenarios is outdated and archaic. Yet, one can’t, on this pretext, support state terrorism on tribal populations either. G. Niranjan Rao, Hyderabad
All men and women have human faces, however dehumanised they may be. If one were able to meet the attackers of 26/11 while they were among their kith and kin, revealing their “hearts and homes, motives and motivations”, they would have probably come across as equally gentle and deserving of sympathy as the comrades Arundhati walked with. Also, had she spent as much time with security forces as she did with the Maoists, she would have known better than to say —“Nagas and Mizos are sent to fight in Chhattisgarh, Sikhs to Kashmir and Tamilians to Assam”. Indians of all regions and religions form the sword arm of the government either in mixed- or class-based security forces. Thus they can’t be influenced by local pressures, or their families be open to harm, being far. When misinformed half-truths poison and bias minds, they move beyond the pale of “freedom of speech”. They are sacrilege for those who have the thankless task of defending the nation. Geeta Katoch, Udhampur
In her essay, Arundhati asks; “Is (the) armed struggle intrinsically undemocratic? Is the sandwich theory accurate? Are ‘Maoists’ and tribals two discrete categories?” My answer to all three questions is a resounding ‘yes’. Arundhati spreads the canard that the Indian police are being trained by the Mossad. She tries to distort the meaning of words to suit her discourse. She makes unsubstantiated allegations about judges and media. She calls B.K. Ponwar (who runs Kanker’s jungle warfare school) a dirty name. She uses sarcasm in place of facts. It doesn’t work. All I want to say is: if tribals wish to live a primitive life, so be it. No one should force them to change or convert. If they believe that industrialisation impinges upon their freedom, it should stop. Maoists have made a point; now, they should relent and eschew violence. Is that asking for too much? Madhu B. Thaker, Vallabh Vidyanagar
It is really unfortunate that we still believe that a military operation can solve the Naxal problem. China, Vietnam and various other situations have proved time and again that when a movement has the people’s support, even mighty powers have to surrender. S.P. Deolalkar, Hyderabad
The state can’t avoid answering the questions Arundhati raises. Mouthing platitudes about constitutional governance is all very fine, but what when it doesn’t reach people at all? A.V. Gurunath, Prathipadu
I’m fully convinced now how good a writer of fiction Arundhati is (Walking with the Comrades, Mar 29). She should go to Dantewada independently—without the protection of the Maoists. She should try to talk to the adivasis when the Maoists aren’t around. Maybe she should learn what Maoism is herself and then test the adivasis on their knowledge of that ideology. Let her do her work through independent and free research and then write. Chandru Kalsi, Mumbai
How I wish Arundhati understood Gandhi before calling the Maoists ‘Gandhians with Guns’. Doesn’t matter, though! After all, her tirades are meant for consumption by the West. If she finds nothing worth praising in the country she lives in, why doesn’t this mobile republic just migrate? Aditya Trivedi, Bangalore
What Arundhati conveys in her essay is not very different from what Mahatma Gandhi and other enlightened people who worked for the uplift of the worst off in India have said—that there is something drastically wrong with the neo-liberal economic path we have taken and that we need an alternative development model. With disarming honesty, she says she doesn’t know what alternative to offer the adivasis who have taken to the path of violence. But I think something is amiss if someone like Arundhati sees no hope in what she calls Gandhi’s “pious humbug”. Coming to think of it, Arundhati, Gandhi had the answer. As a Jain, I believe violence in all forms—manasa, vacha, karmana—is wrong. Kritee Shah, Ahmedabad
The reactions to Arundhati’s piece on the Maoists appear to me way off the mark. In a democratic set-up like ours, we have a large group of people who have been deprived of their rights and have therefore been forced to take up arms against their countrymen. The Maoist uprising in adivasi regions is an indication of the poverty, deprivation and frustration the inhabitants experience. Let the adivasis live peacefully in their lands and let them join the mainstream on their own. Let us not impose ourselves on them. Amar Heblekar, Goa
Apropos of Arundhati’s piece on the Maoists and Muhajir’s analysis of the piece and its context, I think what Muhajir says is true: we need more essays like Arundhati’s, but by others. Your cover story on the Maoists (Feb 22) carried more credibility than Arundhati’s. Ironically, by promoting the self-righteous Arundhati’s shrill demonising and romanticising of issues, Outlook will keep the middle class inured to the issues she passionately champions. Recoiling from the horror of reading Arundhati’s piece, they will continue to dwell in blissful ignorance. R.S. Krishna, Bangalore
Arundhati never supported the Maoists in any way in her writing. All she did is spend time with them and then pen down what she saw. It would be preposterous to expect the Barkha Dutts and Arnab Goswamis to open their eyes to reality. Firos, Thiruvananthapuram
The Maoists could not have found a better advocate than Arundhati Roy to justify their violence (Walking with the Comrades, Mar 29) . Instead of bringing peace and prosperity, Maoist acts have put development in reverse gear. P.C. Sockey, Hazaribag, Jharkhand
Arundhati admits it is impossible to defend much of what the Maoists have done but in the very next breath adds that the Congress and bjp have more sordid achievements to their credit! Her ambivalence is also visible when she doubts the future behaviour of the “people’s army” but adds the face-saver that one should not immobilise oneself in fear of the future. Why forget that humanity advances through trial and error. One could preserve tribal culture, promote check dams instead of big dams, and work out a via media to take development to certain parts without “immobilising” adivasi society. V.A. Deshmukh, Ex-MLA, by fax
Thank you, Arundhati! I put off reading your piece on the Maoists because I knew it would make me angry. Sure enough, it did! Keep writing. Shivani Dogra, New Delhi
Is the murder of Azad in accord with the upa’s approach to India’s “greatest internal security threat”? Yes, if you recall Arundhati Roy’s words in Walking with the Comrades (Mar 29): “An article on the Internet says that Israel’s Mossad is training 30 high-ranking Indian police officers in the techniques of targeted assassinations to render the Maoist organisation ‘headless’.”
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
I totally agree that 'Capitalism' without restrictions or intelligent checks is failing our country, and we really must rethink our strategies to include and accomodate every citizen.
But include them in what? Have we ever thought about what these guys REALLY want?
Basically they seem to be gun toting 'lotus-eaters'.
The ultimate existential contradiction if you ever saw one. They want 'status quo' for their surroundings, and use the gun to keep things the way they are. Ms. Roy takes at face value their claim that the guns are reserved only for their enemies 'the state', but in her romantic dreams of revolutions, she completely overlooks the fact that the same gun has been entirely successful in expanding 'maoist territories' to the sizes they are today. Does she think think maoists are gaining ground through 'popularity' alone?? What a laugh.
They are scaring every simple villager around them into succumbing without a hiccup or a whimper. They have, with their guns, taken over hundreds of thousands of acres belonging to other people, and are now eating at these peoples' expense. How difficult is it to 'convert' a poor man when you're waving a killing machine and saying it will get him what he wants?
They are prepared to use their guns to get whatever 'benefits' they can get from the state for continuing to 'do nothing'. Their gun toting laziness is all they can offer.
They've rejected offers of 'jobs' from the companies that might take over their lands and 'develop' it. They claim to be happy eating leaves and marketing them..but they are clearing their forests of all wildlife to make it entirely safe for themselves.
What they seem to overlook entirely, is that the reason they are still living happily in their little lotus eating world is because India is still an impossibly soft state.
If a real Maoist or Marxist regime takes over tomorrow, these guys will first be BOOTED, and put into airless factories, to WORK, while their pretty lands (stripped of wildlife as they already are) will be used for mines dams and factories.
Status Quo, is not possible. For anyone.
If you want 'development', you have to 'WORK', no one knew that better than Marx or Mao.
But that is a series of life changing actions these people do not want to even consider.
All they want to do is carry illegal killing weapons to hold everyone to ransom.
Arundathi is wrong in the following:-
> She seems a castiest and therefore seems to dereive sadist happiniess by demeaning Hinduism and India subtly even where such insinuations have no connection to what she is writing. (Accepting the fact that neither hinduism nor India is perfect but so are all other religions and countries)
> She forgets (or) seems to be oblivious to the fact that none of these villagers are tribals. If they can mingle with a complex charecter like arundathi roy, they are highly sociable. Also if all they want is more pay for tendu leaves or Bamboo, It would be better to settle and work in an area rather than being a nomad wandering without direction.
> If every woman in this country who feels that domination of men can be solved by killing, then there is nothing left. (personally, i believe a life without woman is barren, including mother, sister, wife and daughter. I also firmly believe that only a house/country where woman are happy will alone prosper. But it takes 2 hands to clap)
> Arundathi Roy's mind is filled with hate. It is one thing to love what you like which is a universal right, but it is not correct to hate what you dont like. She hates the govt. She hates companies that build cancer hospitals. She is cynical. She has lost the message of hope and love. Hate is not a activity worthy of human and that too a woman.
> I wish to remind arundathi that your freedom ends where others freedom starts. If you want to enforce you rights with the sword then you will surely die by the sword.
>Let me remind readers here that this is not a review about a new hill station for you to sit and dream and give comments. Imagine a cow. Now if this cow behaves itself, no one wants to harm it and people call it sacred. But the moment this cow starts harming people, will you and arundathi roy keep quiet. Arundathi Row is sowing seeds of hatered in the minds of ordinary people who are filled with love. She also spews venom by using here literary skill to make poeple thing that love has no hope.
> DONT BELIEVE IN HATERS. LOVE YOUR COUNTRY AND ALSO THE TRIBALS. SUPPORT THE CAUSE OF TRIBALS IN LEGAL WAY. SALWA JUDUM WAS DEALT WITH BY SUPREME COURT SO ACTION HAS ALREADY BEEN TAKEN.
IF YOU STILL WANT TO PROFESS THE RELIGION OF HATE AND SPREAD DARKNESS IN THE COUNTRY THEN YOU WILL SEE THAT WE WILL ALL START A ANTI ARUNDATHI SABHA (AAM) AND ALL THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN DISGUSTED BY YOU PROFESSING OF HATE WILL HAVE TO BECOME MAOIST TO STOP YOU AND YOUR LIKE FROM SPOILING THE FUTURE OF THIS COUNTRY.
AND DID YOU KNOW THAT HATEMONGERS SUFFER A STRONG PRIMITIVE CURSE. ALL HATEMONGERS DIE A DEATH OF UNTOLD SUFFERING AND ARE MADE TO BURN IN THE HEAT OF THEIR OWN HATE. SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO US FOR SUPPORTING TALIBAN. BUT THERE IS STILL HOPE. ONCE TO START LOVING, YOU ARE FORGIVEN. QUICK, CHANGE , QUICK QUICK
Woman .. What have u been smoking in the forests?!!!!! Insofar as to say that Big Dam Projects are a curse to humanity is Blasphemy... What do u suggest ?nWe all go back to the hunting gathering lifestyle? Well If you are really sucha martyr for saving Forests and wildlife why would you eat ' Ant Chutney'? And throughout this passage it loooks like most of ur impressions about the tribals came at the hands of the ' indoctrinated' Maoists... Woman Please give up writing.. U pollute the Internet..!!!
Roy is wonderful indeed. Bravo for her courage and good intentions.
I would humbly beg to differ in her approach. More maturity is required in tackling such occurrences. Individuals cannot fight with FDA or States refer naturalnewstv.com for mind boggling info. REALITY IS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE PERCEIVE. Our perceptions are always wrong and conclusions and approaches are based wrongly on such beliefs that we have.
Many people like us just read and sympathise or appreciate and go away to eat our food as a consumer of the earth to kill the earth. There is no democracy to voice our opinions or assert our rights. What they need is different for different people and for themselves.
Democracy is failing and humanism is challenged thru out the world. Good people are just earning popularity and getting killed and we say Tsoo! tsoo!
We have to organise ourselves in a different way acceptable to all, and promote changes
in the Govt administrations legitimately instead of trying to achieve illogically.
I may be wrong. I want roy to be strong and living long for the benefit of all of mankind.
Whistleblowers starting from our own little humble homes are facing a tuff situation thru out the world. Today there are biggest threats from Medical MNCs, Politicials, Bureaucrats,etc.,
I humbly try to reach good messages for curing oneself from any disase without HARMFUL DRUGS thru my site sunflowerdancecom. Roy is great ! Praying for her Welfare and strength.
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