ON KASHMIR AND THE NORTH EAST
[Note to WoP readers: On request from a large number of our readers who find it more convenient to read sizable documents in a serialized set of posts, we have divided Arundhati Roy’s interview to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now in 4 parts. Readers who may still want to read this interview in a continuous, singular post (1 piece format) can as usual take the link].
And if you look at—for example, if you look at the trajectory of somebody like Chidambaram, who’s India’s home minister, he—you know, he’s a lawyer from Harvard. He was the lawyer for Enron, which pulled off the biggest scam in the history of—corporate scam in the history of India. We’re still suffering from that deal. After that, he was on the board of governors of what is today the biggest mining corporation in the world, called Vedanta, which is mining in Orissa. The day he became finance minister, he resigned from Vedanta. When he was the finance minister, in an interview he said that he would like 85 percent of India to live in cities, which means moving something like 500 million people. That’s the kind of vision that he has.
And now he’s the home minister, calling out the paramilitary, calling out the police, and really forcibly trying to move people out of their lands and homes. And anyone who resisted, whether they’re a Maoist or not a Maoist, are being labeled Maoist. People are being picked up, tortured. There are some laws that have been passed which should not exist in any democracy, laws which make somebody like me saying what I’m saying now to you is a criminal offense, for which I could just be jailed. Even sort of thinking an anti-government thought has become illegal. And we’re talking about, you know, as you said, 75,000 to 100,000 security personnel going to war against people who, since independence, which was more than sixty years ago, have no schools, no hospitals, no running water, nothing. And now, now they’re being—now they’re being killed or imprisoned or just criminalized. You know, it’s like if you’re not in the Salwa Judum camp, then you’re a Maoist, and we can kill you. And they are openly celebrating the Sri Lanka solution to terrorism, to terrorism.
A N J A L I K A M A T: Arundhati Roy, can you explain a little bit more about how India has so successfully hidden this side of it, this underbelly of democracy that you bring out in your book—murder, disappearances, torture, rapes, thousands—millions of people displaced, whether it’s for development projects or in the process of fighting wars, tens of thousands disappeared in Kashmir, the insurgency that’s being fought, the military that’s fighting the insurgency in the northeast? How is India, on a global stage, continues to be seen as this successful democracy, a place where investors are flooding to?
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: Well, precisely because it is a democracy for some of its citizens, you know? And so, in a way, it has—this whole system has somehow created an elite that is now suddenly enriched in the last, you know, twenty years since the advent of the corporate free market. We have a huge middle class that is hugely invested in this sort of a police—or, you know, a police state that isn’t acknowledged as one. So you have—it’s not just a small sort of coterie of generals, like in Burma, or a kind of military dictatorship that’s supported by the US in America. You have a huge constituency in this country that completely supports this whole enterprise, and you have a free media where 90 percent of the turnover of those media houses comes from corporate advertisements and so on. So they’re also free, but free to also embrace this particular model, in which, you know, a small section of people—well, not a small section; there are millions and millions of people, but they are not the majority of the people of this country. The light shines upon this rising middle class, which is, as I said, such a huge number that it’s a very, very attractive market for the whole world.
So, when India opens its markets, you know, because it has opened its markets, and because it’s—you know, international finance is flooding in, and all of that is so attractive, it is allowed to commit genocide in Gujarat; it’s allowed to commit civil war in the center; it’s allowed to have a military occupation in Kashmir, where you have 700,000 soldiers, you know, patrolling that little valley; it’s allowed to have laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the northeast, which allows the army to just kill on suspicion. And yet, it’s celebrated. It’s allowed to displace millions of people, but yet it’s celebrated as this real success story, because it has all these institutions in place, even though they’ve been hollowed out.
So you have, for example, a Supreme Court in which there are very erudite judges, and there are some very erudite judgments, but if you look at how it’s actually functioning, it has hollowed out. To criticize the court is a criminal offense. And yet, you have judgments where a judge openly says something like—you know, that—I’ve forgotten the exact words, but how corporate—you know, a corporate company cannot basically commit anything illegal, cannot commit an illegal act, you know? Or you have a judge in court openly talking about, let’s say, Vedanta, which is mining in Orissa for bauxite. And the Norwegian government had pulled out of that project because of the human rights violations and so on; and, you know, for a whole lot of ethical reasons, they pulled out. And in India, you know, the company was taken to court, and a judge openly, in an open court, says that, “OK, we won’t give this contract to Vedanta. We’ll give it to Sterlite, because Sterlite is a very good company. I have shares in it,” omitting to mention that Sterlite is a subsidiary of Vedanta.
You know, but there’s so much fancy footwork. If it was a military dictator, they have would have just said, “Shut up” and “Vedanta will get the project.” But here, there are affidavits and counter-affidavits and a little bit of delay and everything; everyone thinks it’s democracy. You know, you have the Supreme Court hearing on, let’s say, the Parliament attack, where openly the Supreme Court of the world’s greatest democracy says, you know, on the one hand, “We don’t have evidence to prove that the person who was charged is—belongs to a terrorist group,” and a few paras later says, “but the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if we sentence him to death.” And it’s just said so, blatantly, out there, you know? And you can’t criticize it, because it’s a criminal offense.
A M Y G O O D M A N: Arundhati Roy, talk about Kashmir. I think it’s something, certainly here in the United States, a conflict people understand very little.
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: Well, Kashmir—Kashmir was an independent sort of kingdom in 1947 at the time of independence and partition. And when—I mean, just to cut a very complicated story short, when partition happened, both India and Pakistan fought over it and hived off parts of it, and both now have military presence in this divided Kashmir. But to give you some idea of the military presence, it’s—you know, let’s say the US has 165,000 troops in Iraq. India has 700,000 troops in Kashmir.
Kashmir used to have a Hindu king and a largely Muslim population, which was very, very backward and so on at the time, because at the time, you know, Muslims were discriminated against by that princely—in that princely state.
But now, for—I mean, in 1990, after a whole series of events, which culminated in a sort of fake election, a rigged election in 1987, there was an armed uprising in Kashmir. And really, since then, it’s been convulsed by militancy and military occupation, encounters, disappearances and so on. Last year, there was a—you know, last year, they began to say everything is normal, you know, tourists are going back to the valley. But, of course, that was just wishful thinking, because there was a huge nonviolent uprising in which hundreds of thousands of people, you know, flocked the streets, day and night, demanding independence. It was put down with military force.
And now, once again, you have a situation where you can hardly walk from, you know, twenty meters without someone with an AK-47 in your face. Sometimes in places like Srinagar, which is the capital, it’s well hidden. But it’s a place where every action, every breath that people, you know, breathe in and breathe out, is kind of controlled by military force. And this is how—you know, people are just being asphyxiated; they cannot breathe.
And, of course, there’s a huge publicity machine. You know, I mean, I’d say that the only difference between what’s happening in Palestine and Kashmir is that, so far, India has not used air power on the people of Kashmir, as they are threatening to do, by the way, in Chhattisgarh, you know, to its own poorest. It has not—you know, the people, technically, they are able to move around, unlike the people of Gaza and the West Bank. Kashmiris are able to move around in the rest of India, though it isn’t really safe, because their young get picked up and disappeared and tortured and so on. So, you know, it’s not something that they easily will do. And there has not been this kind of system of settlements, you know, where you’re trying to sort of take over by pushing in people from the mainland. So, other than those three, I think we’re talking about an outright occupation.
A M Y G O O D M A N: We’re speaking with the great writer Arundhati Roy, social justice activist. She’s speaking to us from New Delhi, India. When we come back, we’ll talk about India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the view of President Obama from India. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.
A M Y G O O D M A N: We continue with our exclusive global broadcast with Arundhati Roy in New Delhi, India, the world-renowned author, social justice activist. Her first book, The God of Small Things, translated all over the world, won the Booker Prize in 1997. Her new book, just out: Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.A M Y G O O D M A N: We continue with our exclusive global broadcast with Arundhati Roy in New Delhi, India, the world-renowned author, social justice activist. Her first book, The God of Small Things, translated all over the world, won the Booker Prize in 1997. Her new book, just out: Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.
I’m Amy Goodman with Anjali Kamat. Anjali?
A N J A L I K A M A T: Arundhati, years ago, under the Bush administration, you called yourself a “subject of empire.” Today, can you talk about what Obama’s America looks like from India, from New Delhi, as the Obama administration expands the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan?
A R U N D H A T I R O Y: Well, I think, you know, when people would ask me what I thought of Obama, I said I hope that he would land the American empire gently, like the pilot who landed the—who crash-landed the plane in the Hudson.
Yes, he’s expanding the war in Afghanistan. I think, basically, people, including Obama, just don’t know what to do in Afghanistan, and expanding the war is certainly not going to end that war or create any kind of just peace in that region. It’s, in fact, going to exacerbate the situation, draw Pakistan into it, and when Pakistan is drawn into it, so will India, and so on. So it goes.
I think, you know, the real change that has taken place in the last, you know, ten years is also the rise of India and China as kind of imperial powers, you know, playing out their games in Africa and also in parts of Latin America. So it’s a very—and, of course, the rise of Russia.
So, I think the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir is very volatile. And, of course, let’s not forget that these are nuclear powers, even though a scientist recently has announced that India’s nuclear tests were a damp squib and that they were not successful, but I don’t know what that’s about and why he’s coming out with it now.
But I think we are headed for a lot of chaos. And in India, you know, as I said, while the situation in Kashmir—even now, as I speak in the studio, there’s news coming in of what they call “encounter killings,” you know, almost a few every day. So, obviously, given that nonviolent protest has been put down violently, things are going to go back to a previous era of some kind of militant violence there. And, you know, the heart of India being sort of hollowed out by this civil war and this assault on its poor.
I really don’t know what to say or what to expect, except to say that this kind of pressure can never result in an orderly submission, even if people wanted to submit. What’s going to happen and what is happening is that unpredictable kinds of battles and chaos is erupting all over the place, and, you know, the government is constantly firefighting and trying to douse those flames.
But out of this chaos, something new has to come, and will come, because it cannot go on like this. And I don’t know whether that thing will be worse or will be better, but it can’t go on like this. You know, the kind of polythene bag over our heads has to burst open at some point. You know, we have to be allowed to breathe. And this kind of surveillance and drone attacks and all this that’s being planned is not going to be able to hold down millions of people who are just getting impoverished and hungry and homeless.
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Source: Democracy Now Cross posted at: www.outlookindia.com
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