WHILE the Indian Government considers deploying the army and air force to quell the rebellion in the countryside, strange things are happening in the cities.
On the 2nd of June the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) held a public meeting in Mumbai. The main speakers were Gautam Navlakha, editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly and myself. The press was there in strength. The meeting lasted for more than three hours. It was widely covered by the print media and TV. On June 3rd, several newspapers, TV channels and online news portals like Rediff.com, covered the event quite accurately. The Times of India (Mumbai edition), had an article headlined “We need an idea that is neither Left nor Right”, and the Hindu's article was headlined “Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?” The recording of the meeting is up on Youtube.
The day after the meeting the Press Trust of India (PTI) put out a brazenly concocted account of what I had said. The PTI report was first posted by the Indian Express online on June 3rd 2010 at 13.35 pm. The headline said “Arundhati backs Maoists, dares authorities to arrest her.” Here are some excerpts
“Author Arundhati Roy has justified the armed resistance by Maoists and dared the authorities to arrest her for supporting their cause.”
“The Naxal movement could be nothing but an armed struggle. I am not supporting violence. But I am also completely against contemptuous atrocities-based political analysis.” (?)
“It ought to be an armed movement. Gandhian way of opposition needs an audience, which is absent here. People have debated long before choosing this form of struggle,” said Roy, who had saluted the “people of Dantewada” after 76 CRPF and police personnel were mowed down by Maoists in the deadliest attack targeting security forces. “'I am on this side of line. I do not care...pick me up put me in jail,' she asserted.”
Let me begin with the end of the report. The suggestion that I saluted “the people of Dantewada” after the Maoists killed 76 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is a piece of criminal defamation. I have made it quite clear in an interview on CNN-IBN that I viewed the death of the CRPF men as tragic, and that I thought they were pawns in a war of the rich against the poor. What I said at the meeting in Mumbai was that I was contemptuous of the hollow condemnation industry the media has created and that as the war went on and the violence spiralled, it was becoming impossible to extract any kind of morality from the atrocities committed by both sides, so an atrocity-based analysis was a meaningless exercise. I said that I was not there to defend the killing of ordinary people by anybody, neither the Maoists nor the government, and that it was important to ask what the CRPF was doing with 27 AK-47s, 38 INSAS, 7 SLRs, 6 light machine guns, one stengun and a two-inch mortar in tribal villages. If they were there to wage war, then being railroaded into condemning the killing of the CRPF men by the Maoists meant being railroaded into coming down on the side of the government in a war that many of us disagreed with.
The rest of the PTI report was a malicious, moronic mish-mash of what transpired at the meeting. My views on the Maoists are clear. I have written at length about them. At the meeting I said that the people's resistance against the corporate land grab consisted of a bandwidth of movements with different ideologies, of which the Maoists were the most militant end. I said the government was labelling every resistance movement, every activist, 'Maoist' in order to justify dealing with them in repressive, military fashion. I said the government had expanded the meaning of the word 'Maoist' to include everybody who disagreed with it, anybody who dared to talk about justice. I drew attention to the people of Kalinganagar and Jagatsinghpur who were waging peaceful protests but were living under siege, surrounded by hundreds of armed police, were being lathi-charged and fired at. I said that local people thought long and hard before deciding what strategy of resistance to adopt. I spoke of how people who lived deep inside forest villages could not resort to Gandhian forms of protest because peaceful satyagraha was a form of political theatre that in order to be effective, needed a sympathetic audience, which they did not have. I asked how people who were already starving could go on hunger strikes. I certainly never said anything like “it ought to be an armed movement.” (I'm not sure what on earth that means.)
I went on to say that all the various resistance movements today, regardless of their differences, understood that they were fighting a common enemy, so they were all on one side of the line, and that I stood with them. But from this side of the line, instead of only asking the government questions, we should ask ourselves some questions. Here are my exact words
“I think it is much more interesting to interrogate the resistance to which we belong, I am on this side of the line. I am very clear about that. I dont care, pick me up, put me in jail. I am on this side of the line. But on this side of the line, we must turn around and ask our comrades questions.”
I then said that while Gandhian methods of resistance were not proving to be effective, Gandhian movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan had a radical and revolutionary vision of “development” and while the Maoists methods of resistance were effective, I wondered whether they had thought through the kind of “development” they wanted. Apart from the fact that they were against the government selling out to private corporations, was their mining policy very different from state policy? Would they leave the bauxite in the mountain — which is what the people who make up their cadre want, or would they mine it when they came to power?
I read out Pablo Neruda's “Standard Oil Company” that tells us what an old battle this one is.
The PTI reporter who had made it a point to take permission from the organisers to record cannot claim his or her version to be a matter of 'interpretation'. It is blatant falsification. Surprisingly the one-day-old report was published by several newspapers in several languages and broadcast by TV channels on June 4th, many of whose own reporters had covered the event accurately the previous day and obviously knew the report to be false. The Economic Times said “Publicity seeking Arundhati Roy wants to be Aung San Su Kyi”. I'm curious — why would newspapers and TV channels want to publish the same news twice, once truthfully and then falsely?
That same evening (June 4th), at about seven O'clock, two men on a motorcycle drove up to my home in Delhi and began hurling stones at the window. One stone nearly hit a small child playing on the street. Angry people gathered and the men fled. Within minutes, a Tata Indica arrived with a man who claimed to be a reporter from Zee TV, asking if this was “Arundhati Roy's house” and whether there had been trouble. Clearly this was a set up, a staged display of 'popular anger' to be fed to our barracuda-like TV channels. Fortunately for me, that evening their script went wrong. But there was more to come. On June 5th the Dainik Bhaskar in Raipur carried a news item “Himmat ho to AC kamra chhod kar jungle aaye Arundhati” (If she has the guts Arundhati should leave her airconditioned room and come to the jungle) in which Vishwaranjan, the Director General of Police of Chhattisgarh, challenged me to face the police by joining the Maoists in the forest. Imagine that— the police DGP and me, Man to Man. Not to be outdone, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from Chhattisgarh, Ms Poonam Chaturvedi, announced to the press that I should be shot down at a public crossroad, and that other traitors like me should be given the death sentence. (Perhaps someone should tell her that this sort of direct incitement to violence is an offence under the Indian Penal Code.)
Mah endra Karma, chief of the murderous 'peoples' militia the Salwa Judum which is guilty of innumerable acts of rape and murder, asked for legal action to be taken against me. On Tuesday June 8th the Hindi daily Nayi Duniya reported that complaints have been filed against me in two separate police stations in Chhattisgarh, Bhata Pada and Teli Bandha, by private individuals objecting to my “open support for the Maoists”.
Is this what Military Intelligence calls psyops (psychological operations)? Or is it the urban avatar of Operation Green Hunt? In which a government news agency helps the home-ministry to build up a file on those it wants to put away, inventing evidence when it can't find any? Or is PTI trying to deliver the more well-known among us to the lynch mob so that the government does not have to risk its international reputation by arresting or eliminating us? Or is it just a way of forcing a crude polarisation, a ridiculous dumbing down of the debate—if you're not with “us” you are a Maoist? Not just a Maoist, but a stupid, arrogant, loudmouthed Maoist. Whatever it is, it's dangerous, and shameless, but it isn't new. Ask any Kashmiri, or any young Muslim being held as a “terrorist” without any evidence except baseless media reports. Ask Mohammed Afzal, sentenced to death to “satisfy the collective conscience of society”.
Now that Operation Green Hunt has begun to knock on the doors of people like myself, imagine what's happening to activists and political workers who are not well known. To the hundreds that are being jailed, tortured and eliminated. June 26th is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the emergency. Perhaps the Indian people should declare (because the government certainly won't) that this country is in a state of emergency. (On second thoughts, did it ever go away?) This time censorship is not the only problem. The manufacture of news is an even more serious one.