If you thought Arundhati Roy had given up writing fiction after “The God of Small Things”, you just need to read her “Walking with the Comrades” to know she hasn’t. It’s a fascinating article that blurs the line between journalism and propaganda. Completely obliterates the line, in fact. The article doesn’t tell me much about the concerns of the tribals it is supposed to be about, but it does provide a fascinating insight into Ms Roy’s sympathies and her thought processes.
As I read about the 74 soldiers who were killed by Maoists yesterday, I wonder where all this will lead to. Why do people persist in the belief that violence will lead to dispute resolution? Or that armed struggles result in peace or economic development or prosperity?
There are certainly genuine issues on both sides. All the economic progress hasn’t percolated to the poorest people like the tribals. They are ill-equipped to cope with the huge changes involved in modern society, and they are naturally reluctant to give up their traditional way of life.
But will gun-toting, ambush video recording killers really solve their problems?
When Ms Roy talks about sweetly-smiling Comrade Kamala, she doesn’t mention that Kamala probably smiles even as she guns down people. I wonder how much Kamala understands about the issues involved – it’s not easy to have an objective view when you live in the jungle and your only news comes from guerillas.
The key, of course, is economic development. That bauxite mine that Ms Roy is so fearful about may actually bring economic development to the area. Sure, it will also bring deforestation and pollution. But by blindly opposing progress, the tribals are giving up all leverage. They run the risk of having the mine come up and having no say or control over it.
Having found that hunger strikes lead nowhere, Ms Roy has probably now decided to sympathize with armed struggle as a means of protest. But both approaches are ultimately fruitless. It’s a much better idea to resolve issues through negotiation. That bauxite mine may come anyway, but by negotiating, the tribals can mitigate the environmental damage, ensure better working conditions for the mine workers and so on.
Sure, the tribals don’t have equal power right now at the negotiating table. But a gun will not help them much. What they really need to harness is the power of the national (and international) media to articulate their position and their concerns. Right now, all we see them as is heartless killers who have no compunction about massacring 74 CRPF soldiers. Based on just that news, I can muster zero sympathy for them. How does killing soldiers help their cause? Can they also resist tanks and missiles? All they will end up doing is turning the forests into a war zone and destroying their villages. Is that what they want?
If the Maoists are really looking out for the welfare of the tribals, they need to throw away their guns right now. The power of the soundbyte is much greater than the power of the submachine gun.
What tribals really need are andas, not jhandas. Not grenades, but microphones. But they should do the talking themselves, and talk about real issues. They should especially not let fiction writers do the talking for them.