The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ?
Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.
If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.
In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress.” Some even say, “Let’s face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country, Europe, the US, Australia—they all have a ‘past’.” Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?
Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist)—CPI (Maoist)—one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian State. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, one-and-a-half million people attended their rally in Warangal.) But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.
Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s so-called Independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.
Elections ’09: Ask not where the two billion dollars came from
If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have—their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to “develop” their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.
Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian State, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.
The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your reply to.... They’re out there. They’re fighting. They believe they have the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they deserve justice.
VT, 26/11: Odd that the Centre was ready to talk to Pakistan even after this, but is playing hard when it comes to the poor
In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn’t it, that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China. But when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard. It’s not enough that Special Police—with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions—are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It’s not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It’s not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the “people’s militia” that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving three hundred thousand people homeless, or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in “self-defence”, the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens.
Fire at whom? How in god’s name will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the Superintendent of Police showed me pictures of 19 “Maoists” who “his boys” had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, “See Ma’am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside.”
Licence to kill: Greyhounds, Scorpions, Cobras.... Now the IAF can fire in self-defence, a right the poor are denied.
What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area.
Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Islamist Terrorism’ with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Red Terrorism’. In the midst of this racket, at Ground Zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened. The ‘Sri Lanka Solution’ could very well be on the cards. It’s not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers.
Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate” that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect.
People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the State’ could never be taken to mean justice.
There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?
An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”
When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)
For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?
It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.
Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant. There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.
So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars. (More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12 zeroes.
Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.
There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?
Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.
What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’, ‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)
What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?
What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme Court’s own committee.
Salwa Judum: Inaugurated just days after an MoU with Tatas
What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?
What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)
What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?
The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique. They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.
Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.
Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.
Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.
The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)
It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it takes 6,00,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)
Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.
In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?
This is the best piece I’ve seen from Arundhati Roy, not usually my favourite columnist (Mr Chidambaram’s War, Nov 9). It is not important to advertise how many millionaires and billionaires India has, but much more important to banish poverty, hunger and illness for the greatest number of Indians. Even the wretched media needs to get off focusing only on the rich. It’s amazing that a purely commercial venture like the Apollo Hospital has been honoured with a postage stamp. Why not the Sankara Nethralaya? P. Balasubramanian, Chennai
An impassioned and excellent piece. Umair Muhajir, New York
Let’s accept Arundhati’s plea and keep the bauxite and iron ore in the mountain. Will it end Maoist violence? The fact is, they are using the deprivation of the tribals as an intellectual cover for a more dangerous and altogether different agenda. And won’t hesitate to use these tribals as human shields in case the state declares war on them. Pradeep Bhatia, New Delhi
May I suggest a planned elimination of all those groups of people who are perceived as blots on the “vision” of India as a superpower democracy? Talking about poverty, hunger, human rights etc—surely all this undoes the good work done by middle-class Indians working abroad to propagate the image of India as a posh country with great malls, big cars, superhighways. Harikumar, Coventry, UK
Defend those who do not have the means to defend themselves. These tribals are not asking the state for anything. They are only asking it not to snatch their homes, their forests and livelihood. You don’t have to call a dog mad to kill it. Gopinath Reddy, Hyderabad
Ms Roy has a point regarding the violations of the land rights of tribals. But she has a knack of throwing the baby out with the bathwater: in this instance, her defence of Maoist violence. A. Kumar, Mumbai
You only have to come to the West Champaran district of Bihar to see how the government grabs land in the name of development. Thousands of acres of land were occupied for the construction of the Gandak canal in 1970. Now this canal lies completely useless and is only a showcase of government failure. Adil Hussain, West Champaran
Capital formation and capitalism are essential at this stage of Indian economy. However capitalism, either of the devious bania/moneylending type native to India, or of the Anglo-Zionist imperial/slavery kind thrust on us from outside, is not the only choice. During their own development, France, Germany and later Japan adhered to a much more socially conscious form of capitalism. It is high time that our still colonised/lobotomised “intelligentsia” started looking at alternative models of development (and I don’t mean a blind adoration of Mao or neo-imperialist China—Nehru’s copycat imposition of the Soviet model for four decades was bad enough) and evolved one that makes more sense for India. Gaurav Gupta, Japan
How right was Masahiko Fujiwara, the Japanese mathematician who said, “The market economy is a system that clearly divides the society into a minority of winners and a majority of losers!” K.R. Narasimhan, Chennai
Isn’t it strange that of the 200-odd districts where Operation Green Hunt will be launched, there is not a single Dalit or adivasi DM/SP? Charwak Satya, Delhi
Arundhati Roy is nothing but a billionaire who is in the business of selling poverty. Akhilendra, Noida
Outlook has now become a mouthpiece of the far left. I guess it’s time to move on.... Ben, Thiruvananthapuram
You can always expect brickbats when Arundhati takes up the cause of the hapless peoples of this country. It is somehow unpalatable to the middle-class readership of your magazine. But sooner or later, they have to realise that their castles are built on the crushed hopes of a million others. C.V. Francis, New Delhi
Why can’t development benefit the locals? Why can’t they be compensated at market prices? Why do they have to have their land grabbed? Why do the banias (business) have to tie up with the brahmins (our administrators) and use the kshatriyas (our police and security forces) to steal their land? Why do they have to make us exploiters by proxy? Middle Path, London
I’m not a huge fan of Arundhati. In fact, I loathe her. But there is a grain of truth in what she writes. I was born and brought up in a forested area of Jharkhand. Corporates like Tatas, Jindals and Mittals are turning the once one-laned road to a camel hump road with their 20-wheelers. Praveen Tiwari, Bangalore
As someone who attended the same school as you did, Ms Roy, and a self-confessed left-liberal political ideologue, I must appreciate your understanding of the plight of poor tribals. However, your defence of the Maoists is condemnable and despicable, bordering on the “anti-national”, in fact. Hari, Chennai
With all due respect to Arundhati, it is too much for Outlook to devote nine full pages to her. I still have to read her whole article, which will require some patience and effort. Achal Narayanan, Chennai
Never before in the history of the world have so many people become so rich in so short a time. In the process, the country’s mineral wealth has been drained away and its assets compromised with nary a thought for the morrow. C.J.M. Mathew, Bangalore
I have read through Arundhati’s extremely lucid and painstakingly crafted article, which does enough to arouse passions. However, like all her pieces before, she does not offer any solution. She says that adivasis live in abject poverty and chronic hunger verging on famine. But that was before the sezs came. The so-called predatory mining or manufacturing companies might actually provide opportunities for employment, either directly or indirectly. Even if they do not, the adivasis won’t be any worse off than they already are. She also says that the government has not provided access to education, healthcare or legal redress even after 60 years of independence. Let me remind Ms Roy that most of the resources, if not all, that the government generates come from the same companies that she so liberally heaps scorn on. All excise, customs and octroi duties as well as corporate and income tax collections go towards meeting social obligations like loan waivers for farmers. If these companies are not allowed to expand, where will we get resources to feed a burgeoning population? China chose a capitalist path and its economic success trickled down to the poor despite the corruption and displacement such development brings. Mohan Narayanan, on e-mail
To those who see no problem with mining, please check the devastating impact mining has had on the Aravali hills. Nikhil, Austin, US
People like Arundhati miss the point that the rest of Indians existed alongside tribes in forests for a few thousand years. You can’t draw parallels with the American tribes, whose way of life was severely disrupted by the arrival of Europeans to America. Indian civilisation has had city-dwellers, rural folk and forest tribes coexist for a long time. My mother-tongue, Telugu, has a good mix of Gondi in it. Many Hindu deities, worshipped in cities and villages alike, have their origins in the forests. What is sacred to the tribes will be sacred to the rest of Indians too. It’s sad that people like Arundhati see India from a Western view. Vikram Chandra, Visakhapatnam
Arundhati, as usual, raises a million questions and answers none. Would it not be better, for instance, if the state built a network of good roads, a grid of roads north-south and east-west for every 25 km in all tribal areas? Set up psus for exploiting mineral wealth in tribal areas, employing only local tribals? Let them run with subsidies; we will bear it as the compensatory cost of development of these areas. All government personnel working in schools, primary health centres, agriculture, animal husbandry, sericulture, horticulture, police etc should be recruited only from local, unemployed tribals, if necessary giving relaxation in educational qualifications. This, more than any Operation Green Hunt, could be an acceptable solution to both sides. D.S. Chitta, on e-mail
Is Operation Green Hunt a part of the continuing war between the Aryans and the aboriginal Indians? Dilip Mandal, Delhi
India should think twice, nay over and over again, before using the Sri Lankan prototype to deal with Maoists. Shan, Jaffna, Sri Lanka
I too would like to have my cake and eat it too. I too want to own land free of cost and taxes (my great-great-great grandfather once squatted on that location, so it’s mine), have someone develop it for me free of cost and keep all the tax-free profits generated from it. Please tell me how to sign up.... Abhishek Agrawal, Mumbai
What Arundhati simplistically calls a conflict between the mining rights of the state and the tribals is “a protracted guerrilla war on the state”, in the Maoists’ own words. Nor is the nation at war with tribals but with those who go about abducting and beheading innocents in cold blood in fake combat fatigues in the name of fighting a ‘people’s war’. Priyabrata Chowdhury, Calcutta
Give the Taliban a chance, and they would as persuasively defend the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas as Ms Roy exonerates the Maoists. The only difference is, being a writer (and a good one at that), Ms Roy has added generous doses of flavour-enhancers like mythology and environment. So we are to consume that the government is acting on behalf of the mncs and, without the benevolent protection of the Maoists, all the remaining forest cover and tribal land would be given for open-cast mining and the resulting moraine could be seen from the moon! What simplicity! And we have been blaming poor Reader’s Digest all these years for oversimplification! Dipankar Mukherjee, Calcutta
Sometime back, one Abhinav Kumar in your magazine declared that the men in khaki “always rise to the national duty and are the sole guarantors of our national freedoms”. Perhaps he is unaware of the human rights violations security forces have committed in Kashmir and the Northeast, or the murderous state-backed militias like the Salwa Judum or the Harmad Vahini. Why, unable to catch any Maoist during Operation Lalgarh, men from the armed forces urinated into the village wells which were the only source of drinking water for the people! Umar Khalid, New Delhi
For a police officer like me, it was heartening to see the Outlook opinion poll (Oct 26) which said that only 7.9 per cent think that police atrocities are the main cause of the growth of Maoism. Likewise, only 11.4 per cent advocate the use of police and security forces to deal with the Maoists, 50.5 per cent think it would be better to deal with the Maoists directly. Rajeev Ranjan, Samastipur
In Arundhati’s book, only the bigger adversary is the culprit. She absolves the Maoists of any sort of crime. The latter have demonstrated no effort whatsoever to resolve issues through democratic means. If you take guns and randomly kill people, how can you expect the law not to retaliate? Nandakumar, Chennai
For the first time perhaps, I agree with Arundhati. A.K. Ghai, Mumbai
Is Arundhati Roy the only intellectual left in this country or is she the only one available at “your rates” (Mr Chidambaram’s War, Nov 7)? But take heart, her seven-page rant against corporates was interspersed with two full-page advertisements for banks, one for a German company and, hold your breath, even an ad for Vibrant Gujarat! Dr Aaron K. Jain, on e-mail
Why can’t Chidambaram not hound money-skimming netas with the same enthusiasm and speed? Let’s bring in the CRPF, SPG, ITBP and let’s not forget the IAF (“retaliate in defence”) and finish them off. Hygreev Karri, Gurgaon
These theories are just a figment of Roy’s imagination. How true are Plato’s words, in his ideal republic, poets/writers who write what is not directly known to them create confusion in people’s minds. Gopal B. Kochukattu, Kochi
The state’s acting like an agent of the pre-independence British regime, exploiting for financial gains not just the land but the people too. S. Jafri, Kheri
We in India like to shoot the messenger. The fate of the middle-class urbanite will not be very different from these poor tribals, just wait. Shailesh Lal, Gurgaon
I have every respect for Ms Roy for giving voice to the voiceless but I have to say her arrogance far exceeds that of Chidambaram’s. Deepak Seth, on e-mail
Every Indian can say with pride, ‘This Land is Mine.’ Except Arundhati Roy. It’s a tragedy that there are intellectuals who encourage and support wayward ideologies like those of the Maoists. They romanticise the struggle, forgetting that it does neither the nation nor its poor any good.
Arundhati Roy’s article This Land is Mine (Nov 9) refers to the draft report of the Committee on Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Task of Land Reform, which in its conclusion accuses Tata Steel of supporting the Salwa Judum without quoting facts and thereby maligning our image. We categorically deny the accusation, based on hearsay and selective interviews with people who might have had vested interests. The committee has not spoken to us on the subject. We emphatically declare we have never supported or financed the Salwa Judum or any such organisation; we were not connected with them in any way in the past or present. Sanjay Choudhry, Chief, Corporate Affairs & Communications, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur
Anyone who criticises the effects of the profit-driven economy is always subjected to howls of derision from those who believe that elitist-driven democracies promise hope and freedom. But all we really get is what Rudolf Rocker called the delusion that salvation always comes from above. It takes no courage at all to steal from the many to line one’s own pockets, but it does take courage and resolve to see the process happening and to speak up about it. This is what Arundhati Roy has done in her essays in Outlook. I hope she continues her endeavours. George Ikners, Australia
Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in 'Culture of Poverty'(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of cl-ass or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of 'poverty') in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in 'Production of Space'(Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up. - Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101.
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