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Arundhati Roy, Author of the God of Small Things, Faces Prison for Speaking Out Against the Privatization of Rivers, Energy, and Other Essential Resources in India

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As the situation in Israel-Palestine escalates, some of the worst ethnic fighting in decades has also erupted in India. In the last six days alone, more than five hundred people have been killed, many in clashes between Hindus and Muslims. There is no telling when and how the violence will end.

Meanwhile, as hundreds die in ethnic in-fighting in India, thousands continue to lose their lives ­ and livelihoods ­ to the privatization of essential resources like water and energy. While Enron has been by far the highest profile example of this kind of privatization, another and equally disastrous example has been unfolding around the construction of big dams in the Narmada Valley.

The Narmada Valley is home to millions of people in Central India, many whose families have been working its soil or fishing its rivers for generations. These days, however, it is also home to one of the country’s largest “big dam” projects ­ a project, which involves the construction of hundreds of dams and an extensive irrigation system. While dams have been hailed for decades as a means of boosting development in India, these projects have more often led to further impoverishment, degraded environments, and human rights violations. In the process they have also spawned a social movement ­ one of the most significant and vibrant in India today.

Among the most clarion and intrepid of voices in the fight against big dams has been that of the great writer, Arundhati Roy. After publishing her acclaimed first novel, The God of Small Things, in 1997, Roy became increasingly active in the struggle for the Narmada Valley, as well as in struggles around nuclear disarmament, Enron, and most recently the so-called war on terror. She has walked miles in protest, written pages in outrage, and spoken movingly in front of thousands. But in a surreal twist, Roy’s activism has recently led her to the brink of imprisonment. After defending herself in an impassioned affidavit against false charges of threatening the lawyers for the Narmada Valley Development Project, she was slapped with a contempt of court charge, which could send her to jail for up to six months. She will be sentenced on Wednesday.

I caught up with Arundhati Roy just days before the violence escalated between India’s Hindu and Muslim populations.

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