03 June 2011

Political Ambiguities ~ Arundhati Roy on Compassion & Non-Violence

I started to write this post last winter and then somehow let it fall by the wayside. Waste not, want not? . . .

I have posted here about (and linked to interviews with) Arundhati Roy numerous times. The folks at Guernica have yet another interview with Roy in a recent issue. The interview includes a comment I find especially interesting relative to the discourse about preaching "non-violence" and "compassion" in politics. Here is what Roy says:

"Guernica: You have written that “people believe that faced with extermination they have the right to fight back. By any means necessary.” The knee-jerk response to this has been: Look, she’s preaching violence.

Arundhati Roy: My question is, if you are an Adivasi living in a village in a dense forest in Chhattisgarh, and that village is surrounded by eight hundred Central Reserve Police Force who have started to burn down the houses and rape the women, what are people supposed to do? Are they supposed to go on a hunger strike? They can’t. They are already hungry, they are already starving. Are they supposed to boycott goods? They can’t because they don’t have the money to buy goods. And if they go on a fast or a dharna, who is looking, who is watching? So, my position is just that it would be immoral of me to preach violence to anybody unless I’m prepared to pick up arms myself. But I think it is equally immoral for me to preach nonviolence when I’m not bearing the brunt of the attack.

: According to Macaulay, the rationale for the introduction of English in India, as we all know, was to produce a body of clerks. We have departed from that purpose, of course, but still, in our use of the language we remain remarkably conservative. I wonder sometimes whether your style itself, exuberant and excessive, isn’t for these readers a transgression.

Arundhati Roy
: I wouldn’t say that it’s all Macaulay’s fault. There is something clerky and calculating about our privileged classes. They see themselves as the State or as advisors to the State, rarely as subjects. If you read columnists and editorials, most have a very clerky, “apply-through-proper-channels” approach. As though they are a shadow cabinet. Even when they are critical of the State they are what a friend once described as “reckless at slow speed.” So I don’t think my transgressions as far as they are concerned has only to do with my style. It’s about everything—style, substance, politics, speed. I think it worries them that I’m not a victim and that I don’t pretend to be one. They love victims and victimology. My writing is not a plea for aid or for compassion towards the poor. We’re not asking for more NGOs or charities or foundations in which the rich can massage their egos and salve their consciences with their surplus money. The critique is structural."
It is, in other words, easy to see the point at which moralism and politics part company - the latter requires that we recognize asymmetries of power and resources and their consequences, the former more or less requires that we remain oblivious to them.

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