Listening to Arundhati Roy

Let me begin by offering due apologies to Arundhati Roy for the title. She is definitely not a bad omen, as the grasshoppers are in her lecture titled “Listening to Grasshopper: Genocide, Denial and Celebration”. But reading her cover story in Outlook, I realized just how imperative it is to listen to her. She has dealt with the subject of genocide with the seriousness it demands, injected with a sense of great alarm. One can almost imagine her thinking and saying, “This is not right. This must change.” She is right; it must. Especially when one sees how the Nation States have diligently been perpetrating gross injustice upon its victims. The European assault on its colonies, annihilation of the Red Indians, extermination of the Jews, Mao’s and Stalin’s propagation of mass killings in China and Soviet respectively, are only a few (in) famous examples. On our own turf, how can the Gujarat riots and the Sikh massacre ever be wiped out from Indian memory? I must add another example for mass genocide, no matter how debatable it maybe. Our beloved Aryan ancestors undertook near complete annihilation and subjugation of the original inhabitants to establish their own ground. Lebensraum as it is called.

Arundhati Roy holds no admiration for any individual or State that has tried to annihilate the ‘weaker’ beings. America may be the richest and the most powerful country, Modi may be a ‘”good” chief minister, Stalin may be a good leader; but none of this can redeem them for the grave acts of utter injustice. Roy denounces all, not through didactic moralizing but by simply laying bare the facts. No matter what ‘achievements’ these men/states may have accomplished, the fact that they either perpetrated or allowed genocide to happen should be reason enough to condemn them. Do any kind of economic or military or such accomplishments redeem their being responsible for the loss of so many lives? Morality and Rationality separate Man from Beast and now, they seem to hold the least importance in our blinded world. It was extremely scary to read the various descriptions of cruel, inhumane treatment meted out to various victims. Roy also shows how men gloated about the filthy crimes they committed. The image of a wolf in a sheepskin comes to my head. Are we the ‘bestial’ of beasts wearing the garb of civilization?

Roy does belong to the minority group of the ‘Aware’. In her cover story, neither is she looking at the world through rosy colored glasses nor is she being unnecessarily pessimistic. Rather, she recognizes the various power mechanisms at work and looks at the world as it is. She shows the nexus between genocide politics and Free Market. Genocide will be recognized – or denied – to suit the economies, not the moral apparatus. In her own words, “It is an aggressive process of high-end bargaining, that belongs more to the World Trade Organization than to United Nations.” “Cruelly, the lowering or raising of the price of a barrel of oil (or a tonne of uranium), permission granted for military base, or the opening up of a country’s economy could be the decisive factor when governments adjudicate on whether a genocide did or didn’t occur. Or indeed whether genocide will or will not occur.”

Earlier, genocide was a means of staying in power and its denial meant retaining one’s or the Nation State’s supposed honor. In the 21 Century, it is just a means of getting richer, of achieving Growth (of private coffers, that is). Hundreds of villagers have been forcibly evacuated in Chattisgarh so that the Tata and Essar groups can utilize the iron ore mines for ‘greater good’. Tatas will earn their glory, and their profits, at the cost of the Nandigram villagers’ livelihood. The minorities will be utterly dehumanized and sent to disgusting refugee camps so that a person can be installed to power. I ask you, is it worth it? Can lives of millions be made a living hell so that we may have an India Shinning, with 10% GDP?

Let the genocides, which scar world history every few decades, be explained in terms of Lebensraum – ‘dominant human species’ natural impulse to expand its territory in its search for not just space, but sustenance’. Let genocide be called a mere aberration. Let it be attributed to flawed individuals. Let mindless excuses be given to deny or justify mass killing of humanity, both literally and metaphorically. But let it also be remembered that we are hurling ourselves to our own doom. Our ignorance intended or otherwise, will undo us only. Perhaps its time we take a break from our selfish yearnings for glory and a double-digit income and look around. Open our eyes, mind and souls to that stifled cry trying to reach out to us. A higher GDP may mean endless amount of luxuries. But may we, the people, the giant businessmen, the politicians remember – in the end, you cannot eat money.

Shravya Jain