On Arundhati Roy

Written by  //  October 28, 2010  //  National Politics  //  29 Comments

The Guardian, of which I am a regular reader, today carried an editorial titled ‘Arundhati Roy: The Debater of Big Things’. While the by-line is ample testimony to the wit of the editor, I wonder whether a demonstration of wit and wordplay was the most appropriate reaction by a reputed newspaper on a matter of considerable importance and sentiment for Indians. Especially given the fact that the editor claims to know in the piece what is genuinely ‘Indian’-a tradition of noble and lofty argumentation rather than instinctive rabid sentiment- I was surprised that she chose wit over wisdom in her choice of title regarding a sensitive issue and a smattering of patronising orientalism over healthy respect for a widely held popular view expressed in newspapers, television and on internet fora, perhaps unpalatable to the Guardian, that Roy had overstepped the mark and needed to exercise restraint.

But the title, perhaps unwittingly, has beautifully encapsulated what is wrong with Arundhati Roy. That she is a debater of ‘big things’. Not small things, not everyday matters that affect the lives of people in India. Arundhati Roy does not stand up for the rights of girl children to go to school in Bihar, peasants fighting for right to information in Rajasthan against an obstinate bureaucracy; she does not stand up for Gorkhaland rebels in Bengal fighting for self-determination, or for farmers in Raigad fighting to save their land from a SEZ project, or slum dwellers in Mumbai who live without basic health and sanitation and a constant fear of police eviction. Of course, one cannot fight for every single issue affecting every single Indian, you may object. I agree- one can’t. But I have begun to doubt that it is a mere coincidence that every time there is a high-profile civil society issue that attracts sustained media attention, Arundhati Roy is there. For the rest of the issues which deserve popular support, they’ll just have to do with some other champion; perhaps, if they are lucky someone who actually passionately believes in it, because it’s not high profile enough for Arundhati Roy’s attention.

Let’s consider the issues Roy has taken up in the recent past. Narmada. Pokhran. Naxals. Singur. Kashmir. See a link? I see two actually- one, these are issues which are constantly covered by the media; two, they are bellwethers potentially signalling the way in which the Indian state or an entity thereof responds to popular protest at a given time. Significant in this is the timing of Roy’s intervention- she has, in these instances, never been at the forefront of the protests from the very beginning. Her love for anti-dam protests lagged behind the Narmada Bachao protests by a time period that would make the backlog in the Indian judiciary look good, her disarmament drive began only after India tested its nuclear device in Pokhran, her empathy with the Naxals, came not when the movement was at its infancy but at a time when it had attracted significant public attention; Singur was a bus she hopped on when protests had already reached fever pitch and Kashmir, well she did take her time to make her statements didn’t she? It surprises me that she has rarely, if ever espoused these causes at times when they were not popular, not headline-grabbing, not threatening to rip asunder the fabric of the nation. Her principle, inductively seems to be, when the media talks about something, so will she.

And if Roy’s espousal of these issues are an expression of her ‘love and pride’ for India, as she claims, then it is the most warped definition of love that has ever existed. What kind of love prompts you not to sympathise with a Naxal tribal policeman’s daughter whose father was killed ruthlessly by the Maoists and instead justify the murderers? What kind of love prompts you to go to Delhi and express a sentiment held dear by sections of the Kashmiri population in a flippant, provocative and utterly casual fashion? What kind of love prompts you to present one-sided pictures of a development projects like the Sardar Sarovar Dam focusing solely on the villages it may submerge and not on the villages it may irrigate? Competing views of India and its development of course exist and must be spoken about. But there is a duty on everyone to do so responsibly. Sadly, Roy is far from responsible. And how can we expect her to be responsible about anything? Because before you know it she has a new problem to solve and another inflammatory 33 page article to write.

In the final analysis, I can safely say that in India today Arundhati Roy’s espousal of an issue rings its death knell. Even those with genuine grievances should be best warned to keep Roy away since all she does is spread hate and ill-will, heighten polarisation and create a near-insuperable roadblock for an effective solution, while ensuring she herself gets a lion’s share of the spotlight.

Arundhati Roy is dangerous. Both for India and the issues that affect India most today. Instead of thinking of arresting her for sedition and allowing her to proclaim her own martyrdom at the altar of free speech, It’s best that we ignore her. She deserves nothing better.

29 Comments on "On Arundhati Roy"

  1. Ashutosh October 28, 2010 at 6:53 pm ·

    Well-said. Roy has always been a highly misguided typical bleeding-heart liberal at best. But as you describe, she is actually a hypocrite and a self-righteous pseudo-intellectual who found herself suddenly given a voice for her irrational beliefs by the fame of her book.

  2. Jaidev October 29, 2010 at 4:01 am ·

    When I read ‘The God of Small Things’, I couldn’t not be impressed by her immense skill as a writer. And then when I looked back on the story of the novel, it communicated nothing but a tone of resignation and helplessness, and at places, morbid sorrow.

    I ask myself, “This is what a person gifted with such skill chooses to do with it?” The corruption she suffers is at a very fundamental level – an ‘artist’ who only saddens the audience can only have a retrogressive sense of life.

    Her public image is but a manifestation of the kind of attitude she espoused as a writer. Nothing she’s done yet is inconsistent or surprising.

  3. Prasan October 29, 2010 at 4:49 am ·

    While I do not agree with many things that Ms. Roy has to say, I do find it slightly disturbing that you chose to label Ms. Roy as dangerous.

    While she may have chosen to talk about causes that find themselves in the (middle and upper middle class) public imagination, it surely does not follow that she is headline grabbing. It may simply be that the media is heavily biased towards reporting what urban India wants to hear. And she might want to destabilize the facts that the media reports and those that urban India believes are true. I don’t know whether these are her actual motives or not. But I only point this out to show you that it is not a necessary conclusion from the fact she talks about issues which have significant media attention that she is headline grabbing herself.

    The second charge you level against her, is that her love for India isn’t really love for India. Now I am no pundit of nationalistic love, but I don’t think her love for India is warped in any imaginable sense.

    “What kind of love prompts you to go to Delhi and express a sentiment held dear by sections of the Kashmiri population in a flippant, provocative and utterly casual fashion?”

    Was she being flippant? I think not. Casual, no. Provocative surely. Read here. http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/pradeepmagazine/Half-stories-half-truths-about-Kashmir/Article1-618673.aspx

    “What kind of love prompts you to present one-sided pictures of a development projects like the Sardar Sarovar Dam focusing solely on the villages it may submerge and not on the villages it may irrigate?”

    It is possible to think that rights are not up for a utilitarian calculus, and she chooses to think that the benefits of uprooting people from their homelands are not worthy enough to trump those rights.

    It is not her responsibility to give competing views. She is advocating a position. And doing that is not irresponsible.

    “Even those with genuine grievances should be best warned to keep Roy away since all she does is spread hate and ill-will, heighten polarisation and create a near-insuperable roadblock for an effective solution, while ensuring she herself gets a lion’s share of the spotlight.”

    I think what she does is quite commendable. She unsettles the middle class in their cosy homes in Greater Kailash in Delhi (I betray myself to be a Delhiite). She manages to create a debate where none exists. She manages to speak for people who can’t speak. For much of our media won’t let them. Media attention is not equivalent with debate.

    All this simply to show that she is quite a long way from being dangerous.

  4. Sudeshna October 29, 2010 at 7:30 am ·

    A brilliant analysis of a lady having an identity crisis or perhaps the aftermath of a misguided life. Having had to analyze the God of Small Things for my group of English A1 students, I realized the utter desperation of a woman trying to gain attention. The bright , young and prolific students of mine, protested , angered by Roy’s callousness. Roy as a writer maybe be acceptable, depending on the continent one is, but definitely not as a harbinger of social reform, in a country which, she pretends to understand.
    A few of my students , though not in their twenties, will pen their thoughts as well.

  5. Arghya October 29, 2010 at 8:57 am ·

    Jaidev and Ashutosh, I agree with what you have to say. It’s especially true that there is an overwhelming sadness that she turned out the way it has- could have been quite different if she hadn’t chosen this path.

    Prasan, I disagree with you in the strongest possible terms. I have given Roy as much benefit of doubt as possible. But there comes a time, when time after time, she makes her appearance at very public, very high-profile events and makes provocative comments, only to move on to her next ‘project’ within days (hence flippant) that I start beginning to question her bona fides. And of course I don’t know what she intends- thankfully she hasn’t given me a secret key to her mind to do that, and I’m no psychologist. So what I’m saying is not a matter of mathematical proof, it is a product of seeing a person consistently for a last decade behaving in a certain way. Inductive logic, as you would say perhaps.

    Second, of course she is advocating positions and she has every right to do so. But when the position you hold has the potential to cause disharmony, and you know that it is going to cause disharmony, it is equally imperative that you exercise your right in a responsible manner. And she has consistently failed to do that, making herself larger than the issue. It was unfortunate that after her 33-page piece in Outlook, the debate in the country was not about how to tackle the Maoists but how to tackle the intellegentsia. Surely no advocate should be greater than the work they are doing, but she consistently is.

    So what she does is not commendable and I think we shouldn’t carry our love for free speech too far in justifying her repeated instances at taking a contrarian point of view. Of course she must speak. It would be better though if no one listened. That’s surely our right too isn’t it?

  6. Shivprasad October 29, 2010 at 12:55 pm ·

    Insightful peice, Arghya. I just wanted to supplement your analysis with one instance of Arundhati Roy’s twisted logic, that bears out most of what you have said in your post .

    When Arundhati Roy was speaking about the Naxal problem she made some seriously provocative assertions- which makes you wonder whether her aim is to seek a resolution of the issue or simply flare up temperatures further- and get herself heard, not caring in the least for whether anything she says contributes towards a resolution of the issue. One of her interviews about Naxalism is a case in point.When the interviewer asked her, how is the government suposed to address the issues of the Naxals when they blow up every government building and kill government officers, she responded by saying that she could point out many places where there were no naxals and yet the government was doing no development work. From the fact that Government in some non naxal areas is inefficeint how can one infer that somehow a strong case is made out for the Government to stay out from naxal areas altogether. This is the Monty Pythonesque sort of logic, doing the work in her arguments. This is the worst sort of ad hominem argument anyone can make, let alone someone who works out of love and pride. If you pursue this twisted logic to the conclusion this is a call for anarchism. In short Arundhati Roy’s arguments counsel to the Government is stay out of the naxal areas. Is this is the logic of someone who wants to resolve issues, by working out how two disparate positions can be brought to a discourse? Or is it the call of someone who wants to polarize the disparate standpoints to a point of no reconciliation?

  7. Aishwarya October 29, 2010 at 6:04 pm ·

    Roy’s actions and comments with regard to Kashmir and the Naxals are nothing but treachery and as such she should be dealt with as a traitor. She is conveniently silent on the following, related issues:
    1) The systematic ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pundits, who have been driven out of their homeland by Roy’s cohorts, Geelani and company. By sharing a platform with Geelani, Roy has effectively become Geelani’s accomplice in these acts against humanity.
    2) The sacrifice of our brave soldiers, policemen and their families who have lost their lives or have been maimed fighting terrorists in order to defend Roy’s freedom of speech which is one amongst the many freedoms she enjoys and misuses. She could do well to remember the fact that these freedoms, which she enjoys in this country, are guaranteed by our brave soldiers and not by publicity seeking hacks like her.
    3) The innumerable acts of terror and abuse committed by her splittist cronies.

    Roy has got it wrong on all issues, especially Kashmir. She could do well to note that the people of Jammu do not seek independence from India, the people of Ladhak are loyal citizens of India, the Pundits and Sikhs of the Kashmir valley are not seeking any so called azadi. A small section of people from the valley, professing a particular religion (not all followers of this religion), duly aided and abetted by our sworn enemy Pakistan, are the only ones creating trouble.
    The Kashmir problem is nothing but an expression of political Islam, which if allowed to have its way, will mean that Roy will have to wear a burqa and be prepared to be stoned to death for her perverse writings, masquerading as serious literature.

  8. Mukul October 30, 2010 at 7:17 am ·


    I find myself to be in agreement with Prasan here. I do not think it is possible to pay tributes to her logic, it may not even be possible to be sure if she genuinely feels for the causes that she espouses but to call Roy dangerous is taking the matters too far. Even though your reasoning (that by taking up a cause she trivializes it) is different from that of the people who are calling for her to be hanged for being a “traitor”, I think your reaction is as extreme at least as that of the person you are criticizing.

    You can’t blame her for the choice of issues because well, its her choice which causes she feels for and which she doesn’t and quite obviously you can’t expect her to be a champion for the rights of people on both sides of an issue.

    So what exactly is your problem with her? That the positions she takes and the manner is which she expresses them “have the potential to cause disharmony”? Really? I think you are giving her too much credit here. If you seriously think people in Kashmir or elsewhere in India would be inspired by the writings of Roy to rise up in revolution against the Indian state, you should be the person dearest to Roy.

    Also, if you think that she becomes larger than the issues she takes up, well that’s probably because it has now become acceptable in Indian media and ‘intelligentsia’ to equate people with their views and its always easier to go after the individual than his idea. Your piece here and most of the comments being a perfect example of that. Roy being a depressive person or a terrible writer have nothing whatsoever to do with her position on Kashmir. If we are focusing on her and not the issue, its not as much her fault as it is ours.

    More importantly, we need people like Roy as long as we have people who call for people to be ‘hanged’ for saying something which is against their views, as long as we have people who are quick to proclaim anyone a ‘traitor’ and ‘Pakistani’ for speaking up against the government.

    I have to admit though, that the real reason I am defending Roy here is because I get a sadistic pleasure by seeing her getting on to the nerves of certain people. Not people like you but people who think that Narendra Bhai is perfect candidate for the next prime minister!

  9. Arghya October 30, 2010 at 7:44 am ·

    Shiv, I agree entirely though with one slight caveat. I don’t think that it’s her responsibility to advocate both sides of a cause. Her responsibility is to be responsible in her comments on a sensitive matter of national importance on which people have polarised views. And I think anyone who has a serious point of view, serious concern for what’s happening in India, with Naxalism and Kashmir would take pains, great pains, to see that they advocate their view cautiously to ensure 2 things:
    1. That their view, and not they themselves, remain the focus of the debate.
    2. That they don’t say anything which is deliberately provocative that will further friction.

    She fails on both counts, and it would be too much to blame the media for both. Essentially it’s time Roy realised that if she really cares for an issue, she should keep quiet about it, if she wants the issue to be resolved because she has absolutely no credibility remaining.

  10. Arghya October 30, 2010 at 8:01 am ·


    Thanks for your comment. I have two points in response to what I think are the main points in your reply that merit further reply:

    1. “You can’t blame her for the choice of issues because well, its her choice which causes she feels for and which she doesn’t”

    Generally, I would agree with you since her mind is a place I don’t have access to. But when time after time, in headline-grabbing issue after issue, out of nowhere Arundhati Roy arrives on the scene, makes a provocative statement or two, flares up national opinion and then moves on to a new issue, I begin to seriously doubt her bona fides in this matter. So my blaming her for her choice of issues is intrinsically intertwined with what she chooses to do with those issues. And her lack of responsibility, and by that I mean a genuine desire to see issues resolved, which is nowhere apparent from any of her statements on any of her problems, makes me question her and her motives. Yes, there is a chance that I may be unfair; that’s an inherent flaw in inductive logic. But for me, she’s crossed that threshold.

    And this is why after some thinking, I decided to write my piece on her and not on Kashmir. And I’m guilty as charged- that it’s my fault and the rest of the media’s fault that this is done. But the reason I have done it is because I think we should ignore her completely- and this piece was my call for that. No more posts on Arundhati Roy from me. And hopefully the media too.

    2. “So what exactly is your problem with her? That the positions she takes and the manner is which she expresses them “have the potential to cause disharmony”? Really? I think you are giving her too much credit here. If you seriously think people in Kashmir or elsewhere in India would be inspired by the writings of Roy to rise up in revolution against the Indian state, you should be the person dearest to Roy.”

    I have stated in the post and as you seem to have grasped in the reply as well, my problem with Roy is the fact that her provocative and irresponsibly articulated views hurt her causes which she purports to champion. And the very fact that the media and people in the country instead of talking about Naxalism and how to solve it, were talking about her, instead of the interlocutors’ meetings in Srinagar were talking about her, instead of Narmada were talking about her, is to my mind, time sorely wasted on a non-issue. I am not in under any illusion that Roy wields little popular support. But a revolution is not the only way of causing disharmony. Un-bridgeable polarisation of opinion is equally detrimental and perhaps the root of most disharmony. So my problem with Roy is that she is a distraction who, willingly or unwillingly, is an obstacle to bone fide resolution of serious disputes in India. Hence, the call to ignore her.

  11. Suhrith October 31, 2010 at 3:41 am ·

    Brilliant piece, Arghya. I think this media craze that Roy has craved and found has by itself discredited her standing. As you correctly say, it’s her right to choose the movements that she feels most strongly about. But I think had she not sought this media attention with constant hyperbole and, at times, views that are utterly illogical, I would imagine we would have looked at her in entirely different light. And, perhaps, as you say charging her with sedition and continuing to shower attention on her would only give her what she wants, but I think if we allow this to run its course, it’s ultimately likely to tarnish her reputation entirely.

  12. Prashant November 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm ·

    Come what may, if I was protesting a cause, I would be chilled to the bone if Ms. Roy came to my side and said “I support your cause and I will publicize your cause”. As eloquent as she may be, there is no denying that Ms. Roy is ‘over-exposed’ as of now. Talking about the ‘Dam’, ‘Afzal Guru’, ‘Kashmir’, ‘Maoist’ in the most provocative manner have led to Ms. Roy being branded in a certain matter which evokes only extreme hatred amongst the middle class. Like it or not the ‘middle class’ matters to this country and it is paramount that they be educated without being alienated. The danger of Ms. Roy lies in the fact that once she takes up a cause it automatically gets negative publicity which as Arghya said is often the death knell for that cause. Take the Maoist movement for example – somewhere deep down a lot of Indians were troubled by the fact that these were ‘our people’ and not foreigners who are much easier to demonize. However one 33 pages article by Ms. Roy and an evolving debate in the pages of Outlook gets extremely polarized. If you were to study the letters to the editor in Outlook after Ms. Roy’s article there is no denying the fact that this women is causing more harm to Naxalites than the Indian state itself. Why is that brilliant writers like P. Sainath have managed to educate the ‘middle class’ and ensure a debate on the topic instead of his own personality. The answer is simple – they base their writings on research and not rhetoric.

  13. Mukul November 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm ·

    Arghya, thanks for responding to the points that you think ‘merit’ further reply 🙂

    There is one more point that I was trying to make but don’t think was able to bring it out successfully. So let me try once again. Is Roy a distraction?Perhaps. Is she irrational? Perhaps. Is she the only one? Certainly not. If this was a perfect world and everybody was only slightly to the left or right of the centre, Roy certainly would have been a catastrophe. But sadly, this is not the case. We all know that our country is blessed with innumerable irrational right wingers and hardliners. So does it really hurt to have one irrational ‘bleeding heart’ liberal? It is quite rare in India for people (other than politicians who also invaribly follow their ‘high command’) to take a public stand on any issue of national importance. So much so that cricketers and actors are literally forced to eat their words whenever they try to take a stand which runs foul of any politcial outfit’s sentiments. Is it really so bad then that we have a woman sticking her neck out every now and then although a bit awkwardly and naively? I would think its not and that the fact of her speaking up outweighs the disadvantages of the content of her speech. If not for anything else then for the fact that a diverse democracy like ours needs voices on both ends of the spectrum and we have already have too many on one end. I am sure you disagree.


    Your depiction of the ‘middle class’ sounds like that of a spolit brat that needs to be delivered its medicine with a sugar coating. If the middles class really needs people like Roy to disappear to not feel alienated from its country, probably it already is too late. The kind of people who write hateful letters to Outlook editor are the ones who write xenophobic comments on youtube videos or who think India is the greatest country in the world for having organised spectacular common wealth games. ‘It’ needs to educate itself. I am not sure that if its the same as it ‘needs to be educated’. If it is, it really needs to grow up.

    On the point of Roy hurting the cause she takes up, if this is the case, I am sure that people will start disassociating themselves from her. Let Geelani not share a dais with her. Let Medha Patkar give her a cold shoulder. Till then let her speak even if we don’t like what she says.

  14. Arghya November 1, 2010 at 8:51 pm ·

    Yes. Let her speak. I’ll silently suffer her.

  15. Prashant November 2, 2010 at 9:22 am ·

    I agree with you Mukul when you say she has the right to continue talking. Nobody has the right to stop her. The problem however is she does not have to necessarily share a stage with Geelani or Medha Patkar, all she has to do is right a 33 page article in Outlook to damage a cause.

    As for the middle class being a spoilt brat, I completely agree, it is a spoilt brat and you can’t be brash with a spoilt brat. If your objective is to bring about change or even awareness, the focus should be on a constructive dialogue with the spoilt brat rather than a provocative action which is bound to agitate the spoilt brat who will now dig in for a fight against the cause itself.


  16. AiryNap November 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm ·


    I agree with you when you say we must just ignore Arundhati Roy, with one caveat (yes), we as people and media should ignore her and her fate, let law takes its own course. If she is to booked for sedition, sedition it should be. Media, foreign or domestic should not have any influence on the police machinery of the Indian state. The author of ‘Arundhati Roy: The Debater of Big Things’, in all his wit and quips, seems to be in absolute ignorance 0f 124A IPC, and in ignorance of Indian Criminal Justice System. It is not for us or him or the Government to decide whether Arundhati Roy is guilty for sedition, its for the Courts to decide in accordance with law. However the State is very much within its power and right to book her for the offence of Sedition, guilty or not. Anyone who contests the right of the Indian State to book a citizen for an offence, is clearly in ignorance of the constitution. The least expected from an author of a reputed publication such as Guardian is the knowledge of the Constitution of the Republic he wishes to mock. The irony of that article is the photograph alongside showing “peaceful” human right activists and political worker/ protesters in kashmir burning what seems like a police vehicle.

  17. Animesh November 3, 2010 at 7:24 pm ·

    I disagree with a lot of what has been said here.
    This here is what is she said: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3zrr0zUhJI
    Her views on kashmir and the history of kashmir that she relies on to justify them is something new, this discourse of Kashmir having a right to ‘azadi’, has been a very strong one, whether you agree with it or not.

    The problem of Kashmir may not be as black or white as Roy sees it, but she is perfectly within her rights to express her opinion. I find it astonishing that a writer of all the people, is being criticized for describing a world that she is a citizen of ( in fact i disagree with Arghya, pick any of her recent books up, she has been writing on Kashmir extensively), as she sees it. To label a voice that troubles you deeply as sedition and treachery will cause more damage than that voice can ever cause. Such Intolerance is a greater evil than any evil it sets out to destroy.

  18. Animesh November 3, 2010 at 7:25 pm ·


    What are your views of this, Arghya?

  19. Arghya November 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm ·

    Thank you Animesh for linking this article by Shoma Chaudhuri; I think it’s an illuminating read to see exactly what is wrong when we take exalted idealised notions of certain concepts and seek to apply it, without any regard for particular cases at hand.

    Two points, both in your response as well as in the piece particularly struck me. First, the article makes a strikingly accurate assessment of why Roy keeps hogging the media. Roy, once the poster girl of the middle class has now fallen out. True, but my question is, so what? Of course the people of the country, the vast majority of ‘middle class India’ is entitled to hate her, is entitled to take offence at what she says and is entitled to say that she is way off the mark. Surely the same liberalism which allows her to speak, allow me and everyone else who feels the same way to dislike her and the content of what she says. I would go further and say that yes, India needs all kinds of voices in the country, discordant ones, those who don’t share the pervasive opinion of ‘India Shining’ and this entire discourse of a superpower waiting to emerge. Anything else would be a recipe for totalitarianism. But Roy is not one such voice. Contrary to what you say she does not talk or write about Kashmir regularly and hasn’t done so. Moreover she undermines the peace process and the movement towards a solution. The appointment of three non-political interlocutors by the Congress government was perhaps the valley’s best chance for peace. It was clear from the opinions of Dileep Padgaonkar, that there would be innovative solutions proposed and a report would be prepared that would in all likelihood be unpalatable to large swathes of public opinion. Surely this should be good news for Roy and those of a similar mindset whose ostensible motive is a peaceful and just resolution of the Kashmir dispute. But instead, at that time, she makes an entirely uncalled for and provocative speech which inflames the passions which had been doused after considerable time and effort. That is one of petty political opportunism, a cheap publicity stunt or incredible stupidity. I don’t think her worst detractors would call her stupid. Hence the former options seem to me to be the only logical conclusion.

    Second, let’s keep this issue of sedition aside as a separate issue. Nowhere in my article have I advocated it and I am against it being used in such circumstances. It’s an extreme move and as has been written elsewhere, the country has better things, more important things to do than try her.

    I have two further issues regarding the Tehelka article and what you wrote which have troubled me. It seems that because she is a writer of repute we should cut her some slack and be chary of doing something or saying something against her. I think we must be very clear here- Arundhati Roy cannot be an author at her convenience. When the going gets tough, let’s remember she’s actually an author, a moral voice of society and so let’s not say too much against her. I don’t think someone can conveniently take advantage of two hats that they wear. When an author, Pamuk, Llosa, Roy or whoever features prominently in the political arena, makes clearly political statements, we must judge those statements not on the basis of their literary quality or lyrical eloquence but as political statements. And so just because Roy is an author does not give her any additional license to be irresponsible. Her public persona requires her to be responsible; and her failure to do so consistently must not be excused because she’s a writer or should I say once was a writer given that political speeches at inopportune times seem to be her full-time job now.

    Second, is the characterisation by the so-called left-leaning intellegentsia of the Indian middle class and its political views and preferences and this entire ‘two India’ business. Let’s be clear about something- there is a rich India, and there is a poor India. But there is also a super-rich India, a semi-rich India, an upper-middle class India, a middle class India, a lower middle class India, a poor but APL India, a marginal BPL India and a way below BPL India. An urban India, a rural India and many mant similar kinds of Indias. India has always been a state which has accommodated different kinds of people, different classes, creeds, castes and religions. Creating two monoliths of rich and poor, middle class and non-middle class, Hindu on the one side and Muslim, tribal and poor on the other is a crass generalisation that is based on no serious thought or introspection. To believe that the entire middle class finds Arundhati Roy unpalatable is unfair to the middle class itself and the diversity of views exist within it, a microcosm of which is evident from the reactions which this post has drawn. It also assumes a holier-than-thou attitude on part of the author, an attempt at taking a moral highground, taking a contrarian position which the country does not agree with, supposedly in the interest of lofty ideals of free speech. There is no one middle class view and no one non-middle class view. Binaries don’t exist and it’s a cheap trick that a politician may use to win over a vote bank but when journalists do it, it seems like a desperate effort to continue to remain contrarian and retain a moral highground. Disagree because it is cool to do so, almost.

    The Indian ‘middle class’ as the article says may have bought into the India Shining story. And yes, the country needs voices which see things differently. But responsible voices, sane voices, voices expressing opinions bona fide, with India’s interest as the absolute bottom line. Roy, for me, by continuously taking ideologically-driven, publicity-seeking, anti-state positions is not one such voice. Hopefully other more responsible voices will emerge over time and they won’t turn out to be “Arundhati wannabes”.

  20. vidhu November 7, 2010 at 5:29 pm ·

    Party pooper extraordinaire

    What are claimed as ‘high profile’ cases – nuclear disarmament, naxal strife, Kashmiri independence and displacement of owners of lands, which Roy, an internationally acclaimed writer has apparently contrived to amass publicity, have in fact not been given their due space in our public discourse. National dailies like the Times of India and equally vacuous publications like the India Today have chronically failed to offer any insights worth a second look.

    Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of mainstream media to garner publicity, Roy has in fact used her international repute and civil consciousness to draw our attention to the fundamental problems of our beloved nation state. She has offered a perspective which is both robust and probing, and puts a question mark on the conventional wisdom regarding these issues. She has used her popularity and repute to internationalise the aforementioned issues, and through her relentless efforts has ensured that our extremely lackadaisical mass media does not relegate these simmering realities to the back-burner.

    What is particularly amusing is our reaction to Roy. We have accused her of flippancy and provocation in public debate and at the same time have not deliberated enough on the various challenges and their reasons, which the Indian state and its institutions face in large parts of the sub-continent.

    Instead of ‘creating’ ill will and an atmosphere of mistrust, Roy has been vociferous in sustaining, what could well prove to be a vigorous and controversial debate between competing visions of India. As far as ‘non-dangerous’ figures in our society are concerned im happy to name a few: Thackeray and Modi, whose antics are perhaps more headline-grabbing and ‘threatening to rip asunder the fabric of the nation’.

    Let us refrain from trivializing the issue by expecting her to emerge as a dynamo of all the endless issues we face today. Why has she allied with some issues and not the others? questions like these are completely off the mark. What is more important is what she is bringing to the party though her political expressions. As far the accusation her being vain goes, she has been known across the world for a while and is perhaps even more popular than our film stars and similar characters. As they say say in Urdu: Aap kisi ki pehchan ki muhataaj nahin hain.

    She has allied with some of the most fundamental issues of today: what does it mean to be an Indian and its limits for some? role of free speech? and the need to politicise development. How correct she is in her appraisal is not as important and we are free to disagree. However to vilify her actions seems rather obtuse, especially when we have far too many dangerous practices and personalities lurking in our back yard.

  21. Ruchira November 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm ·


    I find myself agreeing with you because I’m no Roy fan (Well, God of Small Things was a good read, I admit.) yet I think it’s more important to engage with Roy than to ignore her. Filing her for sedition is a bad idea but articles like yours are a good idea.

    I won’t however, treat Roy as a delinquent with an attention problem. It is important to put her in context -to see her not as someone who takes up various issues but as someone who belongs to a political tradition.

    Roy belongs to a generation of middle class, debatably intellectual, political activists who believe that the Indian State is a feudal State and essentially stands up for the cause of landlordism, mining interests and communalism. (That’s why they sympathise with the killing of State functionaries like the police.)

    They claim that the only way one can deliver justice in the Ayodhya issue is to rebuild the Babri Masjid and they see the UPA as practioners of soft communalism. Most importantly, they stand up against any act of repressive control by the Indian State -whether it be Kashmir or Gorkhaland or separatist movements in the North East. They also support both, Free Palestine and Free Tibet movements (which makes them very attractive to political novices like me as the organised Left justifies Chinese aggression with regard to Tibet -I find that very unsavoury).

    In the political spectrum, one can locate them as sympathisers of the CPI Maoist though they are not party members per se and therefore, cannot be arrested. I have to deal with them everyday because they work in a group called the Democratic Students’ Union in JNU.

    A political tradition like this should be tackled politically. Roy should be asked whether it is entirely fair to equate the State to mining interests. Chidambaram may have worked with Vedanta but Ramesh did have the gall to deny it environmental clearance. Roy should be shown how it is possible to work with the State -how to pressurise it to accede to the demands of ordinary people, of tribals rather than those of mining corporations. Roy should be questioned on whether it is democratic for a bunch of people to claim that they represent tribal interests without any way of knowing whether a majority of the tribal population actually thinks of the Maoists as its messiah. Roy should be asked whether she would support the creation of a State on entirely communal lines (like Khalistan) as opposed to anti imperialist lines (the grounds on which the mainstream Left supports Palestine.)

    No Arghya, let us not ignore Roy. Let us badger her with questions. Let us give her a hard time.

  22. Arghya November 10, 2010 at 12:28 am ·

    You have a point Ruchira. But I don’t think engaging her is worth anyone’s time or effort. But, in principle, it’s a laudable idea. Will be happy if anyone can make her come around to some form of responsible and consequently respectable activism.

  23. kabir November 28, 2010 at 9:39 am ·

    Sainath may be more palatable today, but Arundhati is ‘doing a number for eternity.’

    Roy’s novel was largely acknowledged an instant classic, but I also think that people will be admiring Roy’s non-fiction a hundred years from now. The odds are that what might look like childish petulance to some and bilious hysteria to others will strike future generations of a more egalitarian India as a timely, dignified and frighteningly lonely voice.

  24. Hari October 17, 2011 at 9:00 am ·

    Absolutely. I donot understand why people spend so much time in Roy as a person and her intentions (hidden). What ever she has done , as i can see , is only for the good. She , for her stature , has some how managed to discomfort the upper middle class to break the blind shields to see the other BIGGER side and not call an ‘Invisible India’ anymore. Whether she does for her own publicity or not is irrelevant and unnecessary for an issue. The direct or indirect outcome has been to get a glimpse of the other side so called the ‘Invisible India’ to the privileged class and that is a revelation.

  25. Nikhil April 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm ·

    Without really debating on the issue at hand – however, to shed a lot more light with respect to the issue regarding Orissa (Odisha now)- I do recommend and strenuously urge you to read this book by Felix Padel and Samarenndra Das titled- “Out of this Earth”. It has detailed research on the issue of mining and the aluminium cartel’s operations.

  26. Arghya April 13, 2012 at 7:21 am ·

    Great suggestion, Nikhil. Looks like a seriously good book.

  27. Citizen Noir May 21, 2012 at 9:27 am ·

    Arundhatti Roy falls into that sad category of “activist for hire” – she holds no real beliefs but anything that will draw the foreign media – boom she is there. She is dangerous – she is in fact the torch bearer of the liberal, socialist anti Indian scum that populates India today. They hate everything that is India and love everything that is western.

    But hey that is only my opinion I may be wrong.

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