BY MOHAMAD ZUBAIR-U-DIN
The name of Arundhati Roy stands out in the intellectual landscape of India.
Born in Shillong to Rajib Roy and Mary Roy, Arundhati had a disturbed childhood with her parents parting their ways when she hadn’t completed even two years of her age. She came along with her mother to Kerala wherein she started her schooling.
Enroute her creative pursuits, she reached Delhi where she obtained a position with the National Institute of Urban Affairs. Later, she met Pradep Krishen and collaborated with him on a television series on Indian independence movement. She wrote screenplay for the award winning movie, ‘Annie ‘. She came in with heavy criticism for ‘Bandit Queen’, a film made by Shekhar Kapur on the life of Phulan Devi questioning the right to “re-stage the rape of a living woman without her permission”.
However , Arundhati catapulted to international fame with the publication of her maiden novel, ‘The God of small things’, which won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 1997.
Arundhati has been a very rigorous activist and has been at the forefront of political, intellectual and social activism for several years. She has blasted the Indian elite for perpetuating the centuries-old social and economic disabilities. She tours extensively and her speeches attract a huge audience from far and wide.
Once she attended a seminar at Srinagar in which she among other things made a mention of a soldier who had died fighting for his mother country, India. The soldier belonged to a Dalit caste (low caste) and while his body was brought in for the last rites the so-called upper castes expressed strong reservation about his cremation at a place which was meant for the so-called upper castes. The tragedy unfolded and the Dalit soldier was cremated near a garbage dump at the periphery of the village.
Arundhati has pursued the cause of population who live a miserable and wretched life. Even though criticised for not effecting a balance between India’s swelling economic prosperity and the wretched poverty, Arundhati has a smart reply, “Suppose there are 10 people in this room. Seven are starving, and one is winning medals, and two are doing OK. And I say, ‘Look at these seven people who are starving,’ and you say, ‘Oh don’t be so negative, no, things are not so bad – look at the other three.’ Really?”.
In the same vein, Arundhati has been a supporter of the Naxalite movement and criticises the Indian state of abdicating its responsibility towards her people and waging ”war on the poorest people in the country”.
Arundhati has been very active in the Narmada Bachao Andolan along with Medha Patkar saying that the said dam if executed to completion would displace half a million people with little or no compensation and the expected benefits in terms of irrigation and drinking water facilities, too, wouldn’t accrue to the people. So much has been her commitment to the cause that she has donated her royal money from the booker prize to the Narmada Bachao Andolan project in addition to donating her money from other sources on other causes she has been pursuing with extraordinary vigour and zest.
Arundhati has a deep interest in political affairs. She has been a vocal critic of America’s foreign policy which aims at expanding its capitalist enterprise by waging wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly , Israel , too, has come under her hammer.
Back home, Arundhati favours the independence of Kashmir from the Indian Union. She has visited Kashmir where her views are taken with favour . Her adventure in Kashmir politics has even invited a charge of sedition against her and even put her in a grave risk of physical danger from the conservative elements (Right wing Hindu activists) against whom she shows no respect at all and condemns their actions.
Arundhati Roy is, however, unrelenting in her views on Kashmir or for the same matter on Maoists and North-East India. She questioned the credibility of Indian judicial system in the case of Afzal Guru and raised eye brows on the 2001 Indian parliament attack. In the same vein she related the 2008 Mumbai terror attack with the wrong doings in Gujarat and Kashmir.
To sum up , Arundhati is the brilliant daughter of India who has been unrelenting in pursuing the cause of truth and ameliorating the distress of hapless people across the world.