Maoistsupsurge in India, Chinese poster with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Caption reads, “Long live Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought.”
ROLE OF MEDIA, ENCOUNTER KILLINGS AND LISTENING TO GRASSHOPPERS
A N J A L I K A M A T: Arundhati, can you talk about the state of the media in India? You talk about the different institutions of democracy. How would you assess the Indian media, and what is its role in this landscape?
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: Well, if I had to talk about the—you know, I mean, the mainstream sort of corporate media, and if I were to have to make a kind of crude statement, I’d say that the mainstream media right now here is not a little to the right of Fox News. You know, that’s what’s going on here. There’s a kind of nationalist howl that I find pretty terrifying. Having said that, I think that, you know, now all we’re left with is to try and find some sane sort of bubbles within that. And there are those.
And, of course, the fact that India is a country where—I mean, forget the media; people don’t—you know, people don’t have access to water and food and basic healthcare. The kind of reach and that mesmeric spell that the media casts in, you know, developed countries, the media can’t in India. In fact, I was actually—you know, when I was in this place, Chhattisgarh, Dantewada, where the war is unfolding, a senior policeman told me, “You know, Arundhati, as a policeman, I can tell you that the police are not going to be able to solve the problem of these indigenous, you know, these Adivasi people”—“Adivasi” is the word for tribal people—“and I have told the government that the problem with these people is that they don’t have any greed. So, the way to solve the problem is to put a TV in every house. Then we’ll be able to win this war.”
So, you know, you have a situation where more and more people are just outside the barcode. You know, they are what you would call “illegible.” And we have a very, very serious situation here, where now they are planning, you know, once again, to make a—what do you call it—an electronic ID card. Of course, once again, to people who don’t have water, who don’t have electricity, who don’t have schools, but they will have ID cards, and people who don’t have ID cards are not going to exist.
But, sorry, I moved away from your question, which was a question about the media. I fear the media greatly here. You know, sometimes, like you see after the attacks in Mumbai, the government was more mature than the media. The media was spoiling for war. It was really—you know, the media and the elite and the urban middle class were spoiling for war. They were just pushing for a war with Pakistan. And so, I’d say highly irresponsible, with very little basis in fact. And a lot of my book is really a response to how the media has behaved over the last few years on very, very crucial issues. And it’s very troubling to live in a place where the media has actually no accountability.
A N J A L I K A M A T: Arundhati, can you talk a little bit about encounter deaths? You mentioned this a little earlier in the program. What are police encounters, fake encounters? This is something that’s quite common in India. But can you explain to our audience what you mean by “encounter deaths”?
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: Well, what happens now is that, you know, one of the ways in which people—the police and the security establishment deals with, you know, dissent, resistance and terrorism, or what they call terrorism, is to just deliver summary justice: kill people and say, oh, they were killed in an encounter, in cross-firing, or so on, and so on. So, in places like Kashmir and in the northeast, in Manipur and Nagaland, it’s an old tradition. In places like Andhra Pradesh, they had, you know, many, many hundreds of encounter deaths.
And, in fact, recently, there was a photo essay of an encounter death in Manipur, where the, you know, security grid just—security forces just surrounded this young boy. And it was a photo essay, you know. He was unarmed. He was a former militant, I think, who had laid down his arms, and he was in the market. And you just saw a policeman pulling out his gun, shooting him, and then they said, oh, he was killed in crossfire, you know.
So, it’s a very—you have people—we have cops here who are given medals for being encounter specialists. You know, so the more people they’ve killed, the more medals they’ll get. And in places like Kashmir, they actually get promotions. So, in fact, it’s something to be proud of, an encounter killing, for, you know, both the army as well as the police and the counterinsurgency forces.
A M Y G O O D M A N: We’re talking to Arundhati Roy. She’s speaking to us from New Delhi, India. She has just published a new book called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. Arundhati, why “listening to grasshoppers”?
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: Oh, it was the name of a lecture that I did in Turkey last year on the anniversary after the death of Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist who was shot outside his office for daring to talk about the Armenian genocide of 1915, which you’re not supposed to talk about in Turkey. And my lecture was really about the historical links between progress and genocide.
And “listening to grasshoppers” was—referred to the testimony an old lady called Araxie Barsamian, who’s the friend—mother of my friend David Barsamian, who is Armenian and who talked about how, you know, the wheat had ripened in her village in 1915, and suddenly there was this huge swarm of grasshoppers that arrived. And the village elders were very worried about this and said it was a bad omen. And they were right, because a few months later, when the wheat had ripened, the Turks came, and that was the beginning of the Armenian genocide for her.
And so, I talk about—the whole lecture was really about how societies are prepared for genocide and how genocide is, you know, it’s like part of free trade, and how, you know, genocides that are acknowledged, and denied, and prosecuted, all have to—all depend on world trade, and always have done, and about how I worry that a country like India, that is poised on the threshold of progress, could also be poised on the threshold of genocide.
And that essay was written in January of last year. And now, as you see, the troops are closing in on the forest areas where the poorest people live. And they will be sacrificed at the altar of progress, unless we manage to show the world that we have to find a different way of seeing and a different way of going about things.
But here in India, there’s the smell of fascism in the air. Earlier, it was a kind of an anti-Muslim, religious fascism. Now we have a secular government, and it’s a kind of right-wing ruthlessness, where people openly say, you know, every country that has progressed and is developed, whether you look at Europe or America or China or Russia, they have a quote-unquote “past,” you know, they have a cruel past, and it’s time that India stepped up to the plate and realized that there are some people that are holding back this kind of progress and that we need to be ruthless and move in, as Israel did recently in Gaza, as Sri Lanka has recently done with its hundreds of thousands of Tamils in concentration camps. So why not India? You know? Why not just do away with the poor so that we can be a proper superpower, instead of a super-poor superpower?
A M Y G O O D M A N: Arundhati Roy, we just have less than a minute. What gives you hope?
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: What gives me hope is the fact that this way of thinking is being resisted in a myriad ways in India, you know, from the poorest person in a loincloth in the forest saying, “We’re going to fight,” right up to me, who’s at the other end, you know. And all of us are joined together by the determination that, even if we lose, we’re going to fight, you know? And we’re not going to just let this happen without doing everything we can to stop it. And that gives me a tremendous amount of hope.
A M Y G O O D M A N: Arundhati Roy, we thank you very much for being with us from, well, not far from your home, in New Delhi, India, in this international global exclusive broadcast on the publication of your book, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, published by Haymarket Books.
Arundhati Roy was born in 1959 in Shillong, India. She studied architecture in New Delhi, where she now lives, and has worked as a film designer, actor, and screenplay writer in India. A tenth anniversary edition of her novel, The God of Small Things, for which she received the 1997 Booker Prize, will be officially published within days. She is also the author of numerous nonfiction titles, including An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire. This piece was published by Outlook India
Source: Democracy Now Cross posted at: www.outlookindia.com
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