Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Where's the Love, Arundhati?

In the wake of the Maoists' killing of 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in India, so many thoughts come to mind. What makes the difference between the shrill desperate voices of rebels and the powerful redemptive works of people like Paul Farmer and organizations like the International Justice Mission?

Writer Arundhati Roy said last year that the Maoists were justified in their violence because the government has been unjust to them. Ms. Roy, no stranger to controversy, has been consistent in placing the blame squarely on the government (and by implication the relatively better off society that supports it) for several ills- capitalism, free trade, military purchases and upgrades (notably on nuclear weapons), large private or government projects that displace thousands of people from their own lands without adequately compensating them, the Kashmir issue and the social and economic inequality in India.

A few weeks ago she published an article in the Guardian about her interview with the Maoists, the first time a journalist received an invitation to talk to them.

A fair reading of Ms. Roy's articles convinces us of the pain she feels in coming to acquaintance with the tragic history of these peoples and the injustice they have been victims of. A writer by profession and "activist" on the behalf of oppressed people by calling, she gets this information and does what she does best- write articles about it. These articles are clearly sympathetic to the oppressed people, and the people they kill are frequently the "emerging superpower" (full of hubris), policemen who are trained to kill in cold blood, fight like a guerilla, use high tech weapons and training from Israel and other countries against the poor.

I wonder, has Ms. Roy ever thought about talking to some of these police men and women, their spouses, their parents, their kids? Some of these are ex-Maoists who help the police in tracking down violent criminals, trying to redeem some of their terrible past. Who are these people who are engaged in a war with the Maoists? Are they simply paid vassals of big government, corporations, landowners, et al- in short, glorified thugs who are only to eager to draw blood? If they were not around, would those of us who are not Maoists exist at all? For it seems to me that the Maoist vision of India- as so many such revolutionaries of the past have envisioned in places like Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea and other places- that their vision of India is not so much cooperation but a reversal of dominance and power.

Ms. Roy often says that Maoist violence is triggered by events so horrifying that one cannot help but take arms against- case of rape, humiliation, murder, forced eviction and so on. I have worked with people in the slums and others who minister to them in large citites like New Delhi and Chennai. These people are largely peacable, going about their work but thankful for the opportunity to learn from the social workers I was with. We worked with the kids, giving them basic education, sometimes material benefits, support with getting jobs or setting up businesses, medical care and very often emotional and moral support. One of my most abiding memories is that of a little girl who had lost her mother to heart disease, refusing to come out of her tiny hut. When another kid let her know that we were there, she came out hugged one of our woman team members and cried for several minutes. Their trust and pain have changed me as a person. I see that the only answer to their pain is our love and commitment.

Back to my earlier question: what makes an organization like IJM or World serve go quietly about freeing bonded labourers in Tamil Nadu or sexual slaves in the Phillipines? Is it the rush of power that comes from leading them out of the unjust system? Or could it be the promise of a new world order in which every one could be equal?

Dr. Paul Farmer described his remarkable efforts in Haiti as the "Long Defeat"- a series of soul-wrenching battles which often seem destined to be lost. But hope, in his case rooted in his Christian conviction, gives us rumours of other glories and keeps us fighting.

One has to ask as the old Bud Light commercial used to ask- Where is the love, Arundhati? I thought once that you had the love. When you were heriocally and peacefully opposing the dam construction at Narmada. Besides your protest, I wonder what those long years achieved in getting the erstwhile residents of those lands to settle in communities that would have benefiited them. What have you gained for them that our society lost in the process of the dam construction? Yes, I know that the Narmada Bachao Andolan has materially helped them. Have you truly rallied the Indian people to be giving, to be generous and organize to help these people? No, you have simply raised a call to fight the good fight. Isn't it far easier to carry a placard and shout your platitudes from the rooftops than to actually sacrificially give of yourself to help people?

The Maoists can fight until the cows come home and achieve nothing in the process. The Phrase 'cooperation not competition' has been around in social networks for some time now- meaning that small communities organized together, doing things that build societies and economies will win the day. Those who simply want to fight the good fight will end up the way they have been ending up for centuries, whether they win or lose- create other inequalities which yet others will rise up to fight.

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