9/28 Democracy Now
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to a woman the New York Times calls India's most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence, Arundhati Roy, world-renowned Indian author and global justice activist. Her first novel, The God of Small Things, won the Booker Prize in 1997. She has a new book; it's called Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. An adapted introduction to the book is posted at tomdispatch. com, called "What Have We Done to Democracy?" Arundhati Roy joins us now from New Delhi, India, on the country's biggest national holiday of the year.
ANJALI KAMAT: Meanwhile, inside India, the focus has shifted to a different adversary. The stage is set for a major domestic military offensive against an armed group that the Indian prime minister has repeatedly called the country's, quote, "gravest internal security threat."
Operation Green Hunt will reportedly send between 75,000 and 100,000 troops to areas seen as Maoist strongholds in central and eastern India. In June, India labeled the Naxalite group, the Communist Party of India—Maoist—a terrorist organization, and earlier this month India's home minister came to the United States to share counterterror strategies.
The Indian government blames the deaths of nearly 600 people this year on Maoist violence and claims that Maoist rebels are active in twenty out of the twenty-eight states in the country. The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh outlined the threat to a conference of state police chiefs earlier this month.
PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH: In many ways, the left-wing extremism poses perhaps the gravest internal security threat our country faces. We have discussed this in the last five years. And I would like to state, frankly, that we have not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing this menace.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, let me just pick up on what Anjali was talking about just now, about the assault that's planned on the so-called Maoists in central India. You know, when September 11th happened, I think some of us had already said that a time would come when poverty would be sort of collapsed and converge into terrorism. And this is exactly what's happened. The poorest people in this country today are being called terrorists.
And what you have is a huge swath of forest in eastern and central India, spreading from West Bengal through the states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. And in these forests live indigenous people. And also in these forests are the biggest deposits of bauxite and iron ore and so on, which huge multinational companies now want to get their hands on. So there's an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] on every mountain, on every forest and river in this area.
And about in 2005, let's say, in central India, the day after the MoU was signed with the biggest sort of corporation in India, Tatas, the government also announced the formation of the Salwa Judum, which is a sort of people's militia, which is armed and is meant to fight the Maoists in the forest. But the thing is, all this, the Salwa Judum as well as the Maoists, they're all indigenous people. And in, let's say, Chhattisgarh, something like the Salwa Judum has been a very cruel militia, you know, burning villages, raping women, burning food crops. I was there recently. Something like 640 villages have been burned. Out of the 350,000, first about 50,000 people moved into roadside police camps, from where this militia was raised by the government. And the rest are simply missing. You know, some are living in cities, you know, eking out a living. Others are just hiding in the forest, coming out, trying to sow their crops, and yet getting, you know, those crops burnt down, their villages burnt down. So there is a sort of civil war raging.
And now, I remember traveling in Orissa a few years ago, when there were not any Maoists, but there were huge sort of mining companies coming in to mine the bauxite. And yet, they kept—all the newspapers kept saying the Maoists are here, the Maoists are here, because it was a way of allowing the government to do a kind of military-style repression. Of course, now they're openly saying that they want to call out the paramilitary.
And if you look at—for example, if you look at the trajectory of somebody like Chidambaram, who's India's home minister, he—you know, he's a lawyer from Harvard. He was the lawyer for Enron, which pulled off the biggest scam in the history of—corporate scam in the history of India. We're still suffering from that deal. After that, he was on the board of governors of what is today the biggest mining corporation in the world, called Vedanta, which is mining in Orissa. The day he became finance minister, he resigned from Vedanta. When he was the finance minister, in an interview he said that he would like 85 percent of India to live in cities, which means moving something like 500 million people. That's the kind of vision that he has.
And now he's the home minister, calling out the paramilitary, calling out the police, and really forcibly trying to move people out of their lands and homes. And anyone who resisted, whether they're a Maoist or not a Maoist, are being labeled Maoist. People are being picked up, tortured. There are some laws that have been passed which should not exist in any democracy, laws which make somebody like me saying what I'm saying now to you a criminal offense, for which I could just be jailed. Even sort of thinking an anti-government thought has become illegal. And we're talking about, you know, as you said, 75,000 to 100,000 security personnel going to war against people who, since independence, which was more than sixty years ago, have no schools, no hospitals, no running water, nothing. And now, now they're being—now they're being killed or imprisoned or just criminalized. You know, it's like if you're not in the Salwa Judum camp, then you're a Maoist, and we can kill you. And they are openly celebrating the Sri Lanka solution to terrorism, to terrorism.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, talk about Kashmir. I think it's something, certainly here in the United States, a conflict people understand very little.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, Kashmir—Kashmir was an independent sort of kingdom in 1947 at the time of independence and partition. And when—I mean, just to cut a very complicated story short, when partition happened, both India and Pakistan fought over it and hived off parts of it, and both now have military presence in this divided Kashmir. But to give you some idea of the military presence, it's—you know, let's say the US has 165,000 troops in Iraq. India has 700,000 troops in Kashmir.
Kashmir used to have a Hindu king and a largely Muslim population, which was very, very backward and so on at the time, because at the time, you know, Muslims were discriminated against by that princely—in that princely state.
But now, for—I mean, in 1990, after a whole series of events, which culminated in a sort of fake election, a rigged election in 1987, there was an armed uprising in Kashmir. And really, since then, it's been convulsed by militancy and military occupation, encounters, disappearances and so on. Last year, there was a—you know, last year, they began to say everything is normal, you know, tourists are going back to the valley. But, of course, that was just wishful thinking, because there was a huge nonviolent uprising in which hundreds of thousands of people, you know, flocked the streets, day and night, demanding independence. It was put down with military force.
And now, once again, you have a situation where you can hardly walk from, you know, twenty meters without someone with an AK-47 in your face. Sometimes in places like Srinagar, which is the capital, it's well hidden. But it's a place where every action, every breath that people, you know, breathe in and breathe out, is kind of controlled by military force. And this is how—you know, people are just being asphyxiated; they cannot breathe.
And, of course, there's a huge publicity machine. You know, I mean, I'd say that the only difference between what's happening in Palestine and Kashmir is that, so far, India has not used air power on the people of Kashmir, as they are threatening to do, by the way, in Chhattisgarh, you know, to its own poorest. It has not—you know, the people, technically, they are able to move around, unlike the people of Gaza and the West Bank. Kashmiris are able to move around in the rest of India, though it isn't really safe, because their young get picked up and disappeared and tortured and so on. So, you know, it's not something that they easily will do. And there has not been this kind of system of settlements, you know, where you're trying to sort of take over by pushing in people from the mainland. So, other than those three, I think we're talking about an outright occupation.
ANJALI KAMAT: Arundhati, can you talk a little bit about encounter deaths? You mentioned this a little earlier in the program. What are police encounters, fake encounters? This is something that's quite common in India. But can you explain to our audience what you mean by "encounter deaths"?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, what happens now is that, you know, one of the ways in which people—the police and the security establishment deals with, you know, dissent, resistance and terrorism, or what they call terrorism, is to just deliver summary justice: kill people and say, oh, they were killed in an encounter, in cross-firing, or so on, and so on. So, in places like Kashmir and in the northeast, in Manipur and Nagaland, it's an old tradition. In places like Andhra Pradesh, they had, you know, many, many hundreds of encounter deaths.
And, in fact, recently, there was a photo essay of an encounter death in Manipur, where the, you know, security grid just—security forces just surrounded this young boy. And it was a photo essay, you know. He was unarmed. He was a former militant, I think, who had laid down his arms, and he was in the market. And you just saw a policeman pulling out his gun, shooting him, and then they said, oh, he was killed in crossfire, you know.
So, it's a very—you have people—we have cops here who are given medals for being encounter specialists. You know, so the more people they've killed, the more medals they'll get. And in places like Kashmir, they actually get promotions. So, in fact, it's something to be proud of, an encounter killing, for, you know, both the army as well as the police and the counterinsurgency forces.
But here in India, there's the smell of fascism in the air. Earlier, it was a kind of an anti-Muslim, religious fascism. Now we have a secular government, and it's a kind of right-wing ruthlessness, where people openly say, you know, every country that has progressed and is developed, whether you look at Europe or America or China or Russia, they have a quote-unquote "past," you know, they have a cruel past, and it's time that India stepped up to the plate and realized that there are some people that are holding back this kind of progress and that we need to be ruthless and move in, as Israel did recently in Gaza, as Sri Lanka has recently done with its hundreds of thousands of Tamils in concentration camps. So why not India? You know? Why not just do away with the poor so that we can be a proper superpower, instead of a super-poor superpower?
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy, we just have less than a minute. What gives you hope?
ARUNDHATI ROY: What gives me hope is the fact that this way of thinking is being resisted in a myriad ways in India, you know, from the poorest person in a loincloth in the forest saying, "We're going to fight," right up to me, who's at the other end, you know. And all of us are joined together by the determination that, even if we lose, we're going to fight, you know? And we're not going to just let this happen without doing everything we can to stop it. And that gives me a tremendous amount of hope.