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NONVIOLENCE AS THEATRE? June 6, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Peace, South Asia.
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Stephen Moss interviews Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy for The Guardian. There is very little reported on the tribal resistance to the Indian Government.

He writes:

Roy, who is 50 this year, is best known for her 1997 Booker prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, but for the past decade has been an increasingly vocal critic of the Indian state, attacking its policy towards Kashmir, the environmental destruction wrought by rapid development, the country’s nuclear weapons programme and corruption. As a prominent opponent of everything connected with globalisation, she is seeking to construct a “new modernity” based on sustainability and a defence of traditional ways of life.

Her new book, Broken Republic, brings together three essays about the Maoist guerrilla movement in the forests of central India that is resisting the government’s attempts to develop and mine land on which tribal people live. The central essay, Walking with the Comrades, is a brilliant piece of reportage, recounting three weeks she spent with the guerrillas in the forest. She must, I suggest, have been in great personal danger. “Everybody’s in great danger there, so you can’t go round feeling you are specially in danger,” she says in her pleasant, high-pitched voice. In any case, she says, the violence of bullets and torture are no greater than the violence of hunger and malnutrition, of vulnerable people feeling they’re under siege.

Her time with the guerrillas made a profound impression. She describes spending nights sleeping on the forest floor in a “thousand-star hotel”, applauds “the ferocity and grandeur of these poor people fighting back”, and says “being in the forest made me feel like there was enough space in my body for all my organs”. She detests glitzy, corporate, growth-obsessed modern Indian, and there in the forest she found a brief peace.

There is intense anger in the book, I say, implying that if she toned it down she might find a readier audience. “The anger is calibrated,” she insists. “It’s less than I actually feel.” But even so, her critics call her shrill. “That word ‘shrill’ is reserved for any expression of feeling. It’s all right for the establishment to be as shrill as it likes about annihilating people.”

. . .  Guerrillas use violence, generally directed against the police and army, but sometimes causing injury and death to civilians caught in the crossfire. Does she condemn that violence? “I don’t condemn it any more,” she says. “If you’re an adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”

Her critics label her a Maoist sympathiser. Is she? “I am a Maoist sympathiser,” she says. “I’m not a Maoist ideologue, because the communist movements in history have been just as destructive as capitalism. But right now, when the assault is on, I feel they are very much part of the resistance that I support.”

Roy talks about the resistance as an “insurrection”; she makes India sound as if it’s ripe for a Chinese or Russian-style revolution. So how come we in the west don’t hear about these mini-wars? “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers,” she says, “that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination. So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.” I find the suggestion that such an injunction exists – or that self-respecting journalists would accept it – ridiculous. Foreign reporting of India might well be lazy or myopic, but I don’t believe it’s corrupt.

The view of Arundhati Roy contrasts, for example, with Ramachandra Guha. Part of the demonizaton of Osama bin Laden was his overt acceptance and justification of the death of innocent bystanders. Others engage in violence without regard to the know implication for civilians, as in the drone missile attacks. She describes nonviolence as theatre, but so is violence. The purpose of violence is to show a demonstration effect, to intimidate.

The Buddha observes:

They are not following dharma who resort to violence to
achieve their purpose. But those who lead others through nonviolent means, knowing right and wrong, may be called guardians of the dharma.

Eknath Easwaran explains:

The Hindu and Buddhist scriptures often use the word dharma,
which comes from a root meaning “to support.” It is a very difficult word to translate into English. In fact, there is really no English equivalent, but dharma is that
which supports us, keeps us together. Dharma is the central law of our being, which is to extinguish our separateness and attain Self-realization. This is the universal law
inscribed on every cell of our being, and the proof of it is that the more we live for others, the healthier our body becomes, the calmer our mind becomes, the clearer our
intellect becomes, the deeper our love and wisdom become.

By this reading nonviolence and dharma is a theory of social cohesion. Could nonviolence work for the Adivasi and for Global Society?

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