Arundhati Roy: Pulp Fiction Or A Concrete Analysis?
13 April, 2010
The Indian state has unleashed a war on tribals (indigenous people) in Dandakaranya, India. Dandakaranya is a vast forest area spread over several provinces of India such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkand, Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal.
The tribals had been living in this area for millennia. Some 200 years ago the Indian state legislated that all the forests in India belong to the state. This rendered the indigenous people of India illegal occupants, trespassers in their own land where they lived ever since they reached India from Africa. Now the government can take over their land at its sweet will and throw them out.
Dandakaranya has different ores in abundance worth billions of dollars. Of late, the government of India has entered into memoranda of understanding for the mining of the ores with some hundred multinational, Transnational and Indian monopoly companies. Such extractive business ventures face stiff opposition from the tribals led by Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The media have been distorting the happenings in Dandakaranya and projecting them as senseless criminal activities. It is in such a background that Arundhati Roy visited the area and presented a factual account of the real developments there. This partially breached the boycott of the CPI (Maoist) activities imposed by media barons, and penetrated the main stream media. This, however, was bit too much for some of our intellectuals to take. They called her writing pulp fiction and even claimed that she sleepwalked through the red corridor. One can only recommend that the critics take a walk through the corridor and see things for themselves. They can rest assured that the comrades will take care of them. And the police will do them no harm either.
Then there are some idealogues who theorize that Dandakaranya is at the stage of feudalism and the place must undergo capitalist transformation before it reaches the stage of Socialist revolution. So at this stage the government must facilitate the activities of companies like Vedanta, of which P. Chidambaram was a director until he entered the cabinet. This theory is erroneous on two counts. Firstly the extraction of minerals does not lead to industrialization of Dandakaranya while it leads to eviction of tens of thousands of tribals from their homeland. This will also lead to the devastation of their land. The minerals will be exported to already industrialized countries. The second assumption is that the industrialization will generate proletariat who will act as bearers and agents of revolution. This is a dogma frozen in time. In the nineteenth century itself the goal of the workers’ movement had become an improvement in their conditions within the framework of capitalism rather than the revolutionary overthrow of the system. Marx and Engels were not blind to the gap between the early image of the proletariat and the reality they saw around them as the years and decades passed. As one of the instances, Engels wrote in a letter to Marx on 08th April 1863: “All revolutionary energy had faded practically entirely from the English proletariat, the English proletarian is declaring his complete agreement with the rule of the bourgeois”. This happened because a very high and frequently rising rate of exploitation in peripheries has enabled the ruling classes of the west to distribute the resulting surplus product between local elites, the ruling classes in the centre, and to a certain extent, the working classes of the centre. Simultaneously, the spread of capitalism to periphery has created a mass of human beings whose living conditions represent the focal point of all inhuman conditions in modern society. The new proletarians in the original Marxist sense are rapidly increasing masses of dehumanized humanity among whom are the tribals of Dandakaranya.
After all, Marxism is the concrete analysis of a concrete situation. Arundhati has concretely narrated what she observed in Dandakaranya, not in sleepwalk but in full and sharp awareness.
PA Sebastian is President, Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.