award-winning Indian writer and renowned global justice activist. Her latest book is Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.
Maoist rebels in India called for a strike Monday to protest President Obama’s visit. The Indian media reports Maoists blew up a new school building and killed four persons in the eastern Indian states of Orissa and Bihar. We speak with author and essayist Arundhati Roy about the struggle of the Maoist rebels in India and her assessment of President Obama. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We move now to Arundhati Roy. Maoist rebels in India called for a strike Monday to protest President Obama’s visit. The Indian media reports, according to the police, Maoists blew up a new school building this morning and killed four people in the eastern Indian states or Orissa and Bihar.
Well, last month, I had the chance to sit down with author Arundhati Roy in London about the Maoists in India. But first I began by asking her for her assessment of President Obama.
ARUNDHATI ROY:* Well, I think the big lesson today is that — look at the richest country in the world, America, having attacked and made war on the poorest countries but not being able to win those wars. You know, they have not been able to win. And here’s the lesson. You know, you couldn’t win Vietnam, you couldn’t win Afghanistan, couldn’t win Iraq, cannot win Kashmir. You know, there has to be — Obama, I mean, he’s involved in all these war crimes. It’s not as though — you know, he has expanded the war in Afghanistan, moved it into Pakistan. You know, Pakistan is a country that is in such a lot of trouble because of this. You know, right when 9/11 happened, I remember writing saying you forced them to raise the Taliban in their midst, and now you want them to garret the pit that they grew in their own backyard. It’s going to lead to civil war. You know, you didn’t need to be a genius to figure that out. And that has happened, you know? America has interfered with Pakistan from the beginning, and Pakistan now paying a terrible price for that. I mean, I don’t know if it had a choice, when — you know, when America wants to interfere, it doesn’t give anyone a choice. So it’s destroyed Afghanistan, it’s destroyed Pakistan, it’s destroyed Iraq. And it will destroy India, if — because India doesn’t have the spine. The Indian government is just willingly allowing this to happen, the U.S. to dictate everything. So, today, Obama, I mean, whatever he’s doing in America is a separate thing. But certainly outside, he’s no less of — I mean, his foreign policy is not all that different from George Bush, you know? And if they start a war in Iran, they won’t win it. You know, I mean, it’s not possible. These wars cannot be won. So it’s about time somebody realized that and decided to change the way the world thinks about war and thinks about weapons and thinks about putting soldiers on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, since we last spoke, assassination has taken place — well, at least one — in India. Can you talk about what happened?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* It was — I mean, as you know now, there’s an almost full-fledged war going on. Actually, there are several wars are going on in India. There’s Kashmir, which is up in flames now, and there’s what’s happening in the northeast. But what I’ve been writing about recently is the war on tribal people in the tribal heartland of India, where something like 200,000 paramilitary troops have been called out to really push through about, I don’t know, 200 or more memorandums of understandings with mining companies and infrastructure companies. And there’s — it’s all being fought in the name of clearing the forests of the Maoist guerrillas.
And as the war escalates, there have been, you know, attacks and counterattacks, but really people, the poorest people in the world, are in a lot of trouble now. And there was a lot of pressure to ask for peace talks, you know, because these poor people in the villages, the tribal people, are kind of under siege — no medicines, no food, no ability to come out of the forest. And so, the government actually has been — you know, because it needs to keep on this mask of being a great democracy, it sort of offers peace talks, on the one hand, and then undermines them, on the other.
But the assassination was the assassination of a man who is known as Azad. His real name was Cherukuri Rajkumar, and he is a sort of senior leader in the politburo of the Maoist party, appointed by the party to be the negotiator in the peace talks. And somehow, you know, the carrying back and forth of these documents pulled him up to the surface. And while he was traveling on a train with a young journalist, he was caught by the police and taken to the remote forests of North Telangana, a place called Adilabad, and shot. Of course, they said, you know, he was killed in an armed encounter and so on, which they always say, but post-mortem report says that he was killed at point-blank range, along with this young journalist. So, you know, my point has always been that the government needs this war. To clear the land, it needs this war. And in a situation like this, you know, just at the beginning of peace talks, if one side kills the envoy of the other side, it’s sort of reasonable to assume that that side does not want peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the Maoists — what it represents?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* See, the Communist Party of India, of course, is an old party, which has splintered into the Communist Party-Marxist. And then in 1969, there was something called the Naxalite Uprising, with the sort of precursors of what is today the Maoist party. And, you know, there’s a huge debate, of course, between the orthodox left and the Maoists, because the orthodox left more or less functions in the cities and is more or less a bourgeois party now, you know, whereas the Maoists have operated — they believe in the sort of militant armed overthrow of the Indian state. But for years, they’ve been working among the tribal people in the forests, and they do have a sort of people’s liberation guerrilla army now.
AMY GOODMAN: Of how many?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* Thousands. One doesn’t know. I mean, I don’t really know the exact figure. But right now, the Maoists are just the militant end of a bandwidth of resistance movements who are fighting the onslaught of this kind of "India shining" India, which is really about grabbing land from the poor, you know, and turning them either into mines or into special economic zones. I mean, when I wrote about dams ten years ago, I was talking about the fact that just dams alone had displaced 33 million people. Today, with the reforms and the structural adjustment that the IMF demanded of our country, India, which you know —- you know, in America and in Europe is known as the country with the second-highest growth rate in the world, but today, you know, we have more poor people in India than 26 of Africa’s poorest countries put together. You have -—
AMY GOODMAN: More poor people in India than 26 African countries?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* Africa’s poorest countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Poorest countries.
ARUNDHATI ROY:* Put together.
AMY GOODMAN: How many poor people is that that you have in India?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* That’s — you know, for example, you have 830 million people living on less than 20 rupees a day. That’s less than half a dollar a day, 830 million people, you know? So, that is where the struggle is now. You know, you have the guerrillas in the forest, you have the militants in the villages, you have the Gandhians on the street, but on the whole, they’re all fighting the same battle right now.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you think needs to happen? What are you calling for?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* At the moment — I think, at the moment, there needs to be a ceasefire, and I need — from both sides. And I think that the government should come clean on all these contracts and MOUs that it’s signed. And everybody should know exactly what is on the cards, what local people want. You know, all these public hearings and all the sort of rituals of democracy have just been marginalized, you know? But we really need to know what the plans are. Why should it be secret? Why should it be a secret what’s happening to the forests and the rivers and the people and the mountains and the mines?
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel threatened? I mean, a number of critics have said you are now the most prominent spokesperson for a violent revolution in India. What is your response to that?
ARUNDHATI ROY:* No, I am not a spokesperson for the Maoists. But the government wants everybody who doesn’t agree with it — they want to call all of us Maoists, you know? I have never, ever said that I’m a spokesperson for the Maoists. I have — you know, I have my own views on them, which I have written about. You know, I admire some things; I criticize other things, and so on.
But, you know, I mean, Azad was murdered. Many — this is the government’s way of dealing with dissent. They have — you know, one of the things that they’re very, very upset about is that it had sort of thought that the Maoists are in the forest, we’ll just encircle them, demonize them, and finish them off, you know? And when people in urban areas started to complicate the whole debate and say it’s not that simple, you know, this is not acceptable to us, these policies and so on, they started to target those people, who they seem to be almost more annoyed with, because they don’t know what to do with many of us.
AMY GOODMAN: You have an interesting quote in your piece in Outlook: "When the government uses the ploy of peace talks to draw [the] deep-swimming fish up to the surface and then kill them, do peace talks have a future? Does either side want peace or justice? Perhaps our Preamble should read, 'We, the upper castes and classes of India, [having] secretly resolved to constitute India into a Corporate, Hindu, Satellite State...'”
ARUNDHATI ROY:* Well, you know, this was — I’ve written a lot in this piece about what happens when a government, you know, institutes a constitution or its — a democracy only functions with a constitution as its legal and moral base. So, when that government is vandalizing the constitution, and in fact, whether it’s the Maoists or whether it’s any of the other resistance movements, if you listen to what they’re saying right now, they’re only people demanding their constitutional rights. So the government is vandalizing the constitution. The "terrorists," in quote-unquote, are demanding their constitutional rights. So I said, look, if the government is not going to respect the constitution, then maybe we should change the constitution, whose preamble, the Indian constitution, says we are a secular, democratic, socialist republic. So change it and say we are a corporate, Hindu, satellite state.
AMY GOODMAN: Author Arundhati Roy, speaking to us in London. She lives in New Delhi. We spoke in September.