Corporate power, women, and resistance in India today
Arundhati Roy interviewed by David Barsamian Final Part
ARUNDHATI ROY is the celebrated author of The God of Small Things and winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. The New York Times calls her, “India’s most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence.” She is the recipient of the Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom. Roy is the author of many books including The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers, and Walking with the Comrades. She spoke to DAVID BARSAMIAN of Alternative Radio in Chicago on March 17, 2013.
So a lot of dirty games. Even this parliament attack was a dirty game. We don’t know who attacked parliament, but we know that a lot of lies were told and the wrong people were caught, the wrong man was hanged. And now just in the run-up to elections is the time when India, ironically, is the most violent, the most frightening, the most devious. You are really swimming in murky waters from now until when the elections happen. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2014, when the American troops move out of Afghanistan, because that equation will also change between India and Pakistan.
RAM SINGH allegedly hanged himself in Tihar Jail. He was the driver of the bus in which the infamous rape and murder took place. That set off all kinds of questions about how could this happen in such a secure facility.
WELL, IT does seem very odd, because I’ve been in that jail and I know the size of the cell. If three people are sleeping, your bodies are touching each other. So if one chap is going to get up in the night, where did he find the rope? They say he unthreaded some rug or something and made the rope and hanged himself. It does seem that somebody wanted him dead.
Again, as I say, the nexus between the police and criminals is so tight, that even in this incident, when first of all, before they caught the girl and raped and killed her, they robbed somebody, the police didn’t follow up that. And after they threw the girl and her friend off the bus—I think she might have been already dead or nearly dead—the police just stood around and didn’t really do anything. They were fighting about which police station had the responsibility. They didn’t want to deal with it. So the nexus is very, very complete.
I just want to say one more thing about this issue. In India, when a girl is raped, because the stigma is so enormous, nobody is allowed to disclose her name. So all the various newspapers and media outlets, in their excitement, kept giving her different names. So someone called her Damini and somebody called her Nirbhaya, which means the fearless one, though I don’t know how they assumed that she was fearless. What a strange thing to do to a young girl who was murdered in that way.
But John Kerry recently wanted to honor her on Women’s Day or something in the United States because he seemed so moved by this story. And that I found so grotesque, because in the last few years the Americans have in terms of what they’ve done to the women of Iraq, what they’ve done to the women of Libya, driven whole countries, millions of women back into purdah, back into the most inequitable lives—women who were poets and writers and doctors and scientists being pushed back against their volition. It’s not that they were women who chose to be like that, but the situation that was created by these wars has pushed them back. And then you pick up a young girl who was raped and honor her, when you’re pushing millions of women backwards and putting the hands of the clock back for millions of women. You come and pick up this one case, which is completely unpolitical. What happened to her was a criminal act. What happens to the women of Libya and the women of Iraq and the women of Afghanistan is political. You’re not committing a criminal act on one person but a criminal act on countries of women.
IT’S EASY to be virtuous about the Delhi rape and murder case as opposed to drone attacks on Pakistan.
YES, IT’S very easy. I remember I was in Sharjah when President Obama won his second term. He came up on stage with his wife and his daughters and was talking about whether they should or should not have another dog. And a man from that bombed area of Pakistan was quoted in the media saying, “I’ve lost my wife and my children and my entire family in a drone attack. So to see the appearance of Obama and his family in this way, what am I supposed to think?”
PEOPLE ALWAYS ask me, ask Arundhati when is she going to write another novel? You did start on one a few years ago. How is that progressing?
RIGHT NOW that’s what I am fully engaged in. It’s difficult to know how long it will take, but I feel as though—whatever I’ve written about and gone through and looked at in these last years, to me now there is no direct way of expressing what I’m thinking and feeling. I need the subversion of fiction, I need the truth of fiction.
CAN YOU hint at what the topics are, what you’re writing about?
TO ME, novels are never about topics. Novels are about the—I won’t even say the human condition, because that would be small. I think novels should be about everything, in a way. It’s not just about some subject, because that’s what I’ve done with my nonfiction writing. But fiction has something so delicate and so beautiful about it. It isn’t topic-driven.
YOUR POLITICAL essays are characterized by a focused rage and crisp writing. Do you have any models who have inspired you?
THERE ARE so many writers that I admire, whether it’s Galeano or Berger or older writers as well. Nowadays I’m reading The Iliad. And I find it’s so absorbing. To me, what is beautiful and real about writing eventually is, does it stand the test of time. Because all of us can easily believe that what’s happening to us now has never happened before and it’s unique. But it is and it isn’t. Especially now, I think India is becoming very much like the United States, so self-absorbed, and the Indian middle class more and more arrogant, more and more insular. To me, it’s very, very important to be able to write something which is true to the place but which also doesn’t recognize those boundaries, which also resonates in the hearts and in the minds of people who are experiencing similar terrors, similar loves, similar fears, similar but not the same. How do you join people up with that? To me, people like Eduardo Galeano and John Berger do that.
But the art of writing is one that’s so artless in some ways, and yet it’s something that takes up a lot of my waking hours. How do I communicate this or how do I explain this? Not to someone in particular. Even the rage, it comes from love. It comes from believing that somebody should know or somebody wants to know what this is about. I have said in the past that there’s not such a great difference between fiction and nonfiction. But there is. When I’m writing now, I know that there is. And the play that you allow yourself in fiction is completely different. You don’t have to be crisp and to the point and focused. You mustn’t be. You must play. (The End)