Web | Mar 04, 2006
AMY GOODMAN, DEMOCRACY NOW! interviews Arundhati Roy
Amy Goodman: We go now to New Delhi to speak with the acclaimed Indian author and activist, Arundhati Roy. She is author of a number of books, including The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile, and her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things. Her latest article is published in The Guardian in Britain, The Nation in the United States on the website, called "Bush in India: Just Not Welcome." We welcome you, Arundhati Roy, to Democracy Now!
Arundhati Roy: Thank you, Amy.
Amy Goodman: It's great to have you with us. Your response to President Bush's visit?
Arundhati Roy: Well, I must say that it's been one of the weirdest times I’ve lived through, because on the streets, you have these hundreds of thousands of people protesting, and you have -- we have a government that’s been so obsequious that it makes your skin crawl, and we have stories in the corporate press in India which are unbelievable about how Bush arrived with 16 dogs that are staying in a five-star hotel and are not to be referred to as dogs, because they're actually officers of the U.S. Army.
We have stories about, you know -- the front-page story today in the major newspaper is about Laura Bush shooting with Boombah the bear and Aanchoo and Chamki, and the front-page story is why Bush missed his dessert at the banquet, and this whole nuclear deal, obviously, which sounds to me a bit like, you know, some -- I mean, I hate to be so rude, but it sounds like sort of like pimps negotiating how somebody should act with their client. You know, you can sort of [inaudible] the girl, but you can't kiss her, because it’s -- and it's all theater, you know? The whole thing about what – whether the fast breeder reactor will be included or not, and so on, because everybody knew that there was no other way but this. And really, it’s a cover for all sorts of other deals that are being signed.
And yesterday on the streets, while I was there, there were, you know, 53 widows, from my state of Kerala, of farmers who have committed suicide because of the closing net of debt around them. Tens of thousands of farmers have committed suicide. And yet, you know, he arrived here with these corporates like ADS and Cogentrix and Unocal. All of them have such dubious records. It's really unbelievable, and yet if you see the way the CEOs and the corporates are falling over him -- and I have to mention this, that they couldn't find a public space in India for Bush to speak, so he ended up -- the meeting was organized in the Delhi zoo, in the walls of the Purana Qila, which houses the Delhi zoo, where he was going to speak to some rich people and some corporate people. But because the Parliament refused to have him there, the Red Fort was surrounded by, you know, a Muslim population. It was too dangerous. Vigyan Bhawan was rejected as being not good enough for him, so -- and you have today, American soldiers on our streets preventing my friends from going into their own homes because Laura Bush is going to drive past to have pictures taken with some orphans. It's just unbelievable, you know. The whole city is shut down. I can hear helicopters flying around over my head.
Amy Goodman: Arundhati Roy, you were in the streets in Delhi?
Arundhati Roy: Yes, of course, I was.
Amy Goodman: What were you doing?
Arundhati Roy: I was there. In Delhi, there were demonstrations on two days continuously. You know, there was one -- one was basically called by the Jamaat-e-Islami.
It was like huge demonstration. And yesterday’s was called by all the independent peoples’ movements, the Left Party and other main political parties. Everyone was just furious, you know.
And yet, if you looked at the Indian news, you know, the major corporate Indian news, it is as if they never happened, because everybody's just so busy, even the heads of television stations who were invited to the lunch with Bush, whether in the garbled journalists or corporate capital, they weren't sure. So they come out of this lunch, and they're being interviewed by their own employees, as if they’re sort of corporate heads. And everyone, on every channel, they are telling you how Bush touched their hand or put his hand around their shoulder -- arm around their shoulder, and it’s as if the demonstrations didn’t happen. It’s unbelievable. In the English press [inaudible].
Amy Goodman: If you could explain again, he did not address Parliament because people there would have protested?
Arundhati Roy: First, they wanted -- the government wanted him to address a joint session of Parliament, which Clinton did when he came. The M.P.s threatened to heckle him and embarrass him, so that was not possible. Then they said, "Okay, can he speak at Vigyan Bhawan?" which is this sort of official stuffy auditorium in Delhi, but that was considered too much of a comedown for a man of his charm and radical intellect, so then they said, "Okay, can he speak at the Red Fort?" which is from where the Prime Minister gives his Independence Day speech, but that was too dangerous because it's in the old city, and it’s, you know, full of Muslim terrorists.
But then, finally they said, "Okay, he's going to be in Purana Qila," which is the Old Fort, which has the Delhi zoo inside. It’s a very beautiful old fort, but it was really interesting, because the Ministry of External Affairs denies any responsibility for this meeting. Then, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce said, "We didn’t call the meeting." Then they found that the meeting had actually been called by the American ambassador, but then the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said, "No, no, we've called the meeting." So the ambassador’s cards are invalid, and they will – you know, guests whom we invited only allowed in. So, you know, on the face of it, there’s all these people phoning, and yet they don't know what to do because they're so scared of him appearing anywhere except in these hugely exclusive hotels. He’s booked the whole of the Maurya Sheraton, the most expensive hotel in India, and the Meridian, where his dogs are living. And it's just crazy.
Amy Goodman: Arundhati Roy, what about the visit to the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi?
Arundhati Roy: Well, you know, the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi is now becoming a favorite visiting spot for all kinds of war criminals. You had Ariel Sharon go there. Then you had the Burmese dictator go there. Now, we have Bush, and when Bush went, you know, apart from the fact that even in advance, people were really upset about the fact that he was going there, even though – you know, I mean, some of us, I mean, speaking for myself, I’m not a sort of unquestioning fan of Mahatma Gandhi, but still, many people are, and he is the symbol of nonviolence in India, you know. And to have this man coming there, and then they sent in the dogs, first the dogs went in to sniff out, you know, whether somebody may have buried a bomb in the memorial, and then he went.
So, you know, on the whole, I think almost when Bush leaves and the government and the press, particularly the television and the mainstream newspapers, kind of just get a moment to look back and see what they've done and how they've behaved, I think it's going to be shameful, you know, because people are really, really angry.
Amy Goodman: Arundhati, how many people do you estimate were in the streets?
Arundhati Roy: Well, you know, actually, it was difficult for me to estimate, because I was in there, you know? I didn't have a perspective, like I couldn't, you know, climb a tree or something to see. So, I mean, the demonstration that I was in, I think there were about 60,000 or 80,000 people, and the previous day, it was even more than that, because, you know, I mean, it's a nice thing about India that there are so many -- there's such a variety of people, and sometimes they have differences with each other, like the Muslim organizations that actually called the demonstration. It's not that they were sectarian organizations, but, you know, they were obviously outraged by the whole cartoon controversy, and it was combined. And some people had slightly nuanced views about it, you know? So, there were different days, different people, but still, at all times there were hundreds of thousands of people out there on the streets.
Amy Goodman: And what specifically --
Arundhati Roy: In Bombay, as well as Delhi, as well as everywhere else.
Amy Goodman: And what specifically are people protesting about President Bush?
Arundhati Roy: Well, in many – basically I think it falls in two categories. One is just the Iraq war and, you know, the terrorism that he's unleashed on the world. But in India, you know, the fact is that the economic policies of the Indian government, which this whole neo-con world which Bush embodies, actually has more of a resonance, because, you know, really, I have to say this, that the real impact of all this is in the villages in India, and there people are too poor to even, you know, really miss a day of work and travel to a big city to protest. So, it's just not possible, you know? But the impact of these policies is what the Congress pretended to be against when it was campaigning in the elections. And then, as soon as they won the elections, they just resorted to, you know, the usual corporate policies and privatization [inaudible].
So, you know, that’s [inaudible] that it’s a double-pronged thing, and that's why I think it's very important for us to understand that this nuclear deal that's being talked about is not just that. You know, it's really the umbrella for a million different other kinds of deals that are going on, which will make it impossible. You know, the Indian government is negotiating India into a corner where, you know, you're not going to be able to -- you're trying to pretend that you're making some equal deal, but actually, you’re officially signing a deal with an alligator. You know, it's not an equal partnership by any means.
Amy Goodman: Arundhati, one of the ways the media is characterizing this protest is saying hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets. What is your response to that, seeing it as a sort of Muslim protest, that then people can understand what the demonstrations are about?
Arundhati Roy: Well, it is true that hundreds of thousands of Muslims took to the streets, but that was only one part, you know? There were hundreds of thousands of other people, too, and that's why I’m saying, there was such a diversity of protest, because those were on separate dates. They were on separate days, like the protest I was at wasn't that, you know? And besides, I don't understand why we should continue to be separating them.
You know, Muslims are also people on the street, you know, and they're a huge percentage of India's population.
So --but, of course, the important thing in this is that, you know, one reason why India and the U.S. began to kind of cozy up was that this whole war on terror was sort of dovetailing into the communalization of India, which was done, of course, earlier by the Congress and thought to have peaked during the regime of the BJP, but in states like Gujarat, for example, it's like Nazi society there. You know, the Muslims are being ghettoized, they are economically boycotted. You know, there are a few big cases of those who were killed in the 2003 sort of pogrom, but otherwise, it’s a nasty, frightening situation. Hundreds of -- you know, some 150,000 driven from their homes, and that's all happening in India today, you know? So the Bush administration is also dovetailing into that bedrock of trying to create a communal divide.
Amy Goodman: We're talking to Arundhati Roy, who, too, is in the streets protesting President Bush's visit. President Bush also went to Hyderabad, a hub of information technology. The New York Times reported Bush told an entrepreneur there, quote, "People do lose jobs as a result of globalization, and it's painful for those who lose jobs," he said. Can you talk about the significance of this trip?
Arundhati Roy: Well, you know, first of all, to go to a country, which is basically a rural economy, and talk about jobs, is [inaudible]. But second of all, you know, since the so-called economic reform regime began, the number of farmers that have committed suicide is in the tens of thousands in India and in Andhra Pradesh, one of the states worst hit by that. So Bush nor the Indian government is talking about the fact that Andhra Pradesh is overrun by a radical armed struggle, Maoist armed struggle, you know? Every year, 200-300 people are killed, you know, disappeared in what they call "encounters" in Andhra Pradesh. And the previous Chief Minister [N. Chandrababu Naidu] escaped with his life. He lost the elections because he used to refer to himself as a C.E.O. of Andhra Pradesh, not as a Chief Minister, you know? So, it's ridiculous for him to commentate [inaudible] in India.
While they talk about this new big economy and the Sensex has crossed 10,000, they forget to mention that 1.1% of Indians have stocks in the stock market, and all these farmer suicides, they’re not counting, of course. Women committing suicide are not counted as farmers, because the land isn’t in their name. There's a sort of garroting of the rural economy. Then, there's a whole business of trying to take over, you know, the seeds, corporatize agriculture, make everybody somehow beholden to the corporates, which is something that's going to result in mayhem.
Amy Goodman: President Bush heads from India to Pakistan tomorrow, and there is a report he might go to Karachi, where the suicide bomb attack occurred Thursday outside the U.S. consulate there that killed an American diplomat and at least three other people. Can you talk about the significance of the trip to Pakistan, as well, and then this unprecedented deal that the President is making with India around getting them, selling them nuclear fuel and reactor components that would end this decades-long moratorium?
Arundhati Roy: Well, nobody seems to have been suffering from the decades-long moratorium, so I don't know why we're acting if it's some terrible thing, some terrible prison that we are being released from.
My position, when India conducted the nuclear test was that, you know, that now that you’ve done this, you're going to have to play by their rules, so it's not actually that you're freeing yourself, but you're selling yourself into kind of nuclear bondage, and this is exactly what is happening, that you’re no longer able to make an independent decision because you’re just going -- it's just like an orchestra.
You know, if you see – I mean, I've just been watching how the whole thing was scripted, you know? You see that Volcker Committee report that came out about, you know, about who had broken the sanctions and dealt with Saddam Hussein. First of all, you know, that just set the tone for the fact that the sanctions were right and whoever built them was wrong. The External Affairs Minister in India had to resign because actually he was the one that put the spoke in the wheel of Indian troops being sent to Iraq. Then the Minister for Petroleum was chucked out because he was trying to do the petroleum deal. Then the King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was sent here, you know, to say, "No, you can take oil from us." Then the Indian Prime Minister has a kind of roundtable conference about Kashmiri people who all agree with them anyway. So, you know, it's not really anything. But the U.S. – as mentioned it in his Asia Society speech.
Then we have this whole drama about fast breeder reactors being included or not included. Well, all of us know that that was all going to happen in India. So the theater is over now, and the conquest is complete. You know, that you are going to now play by the rules, and there are so many points of contact that if you disagree about one thing, pressure will be brought on from the 99 others to make you fall into line. That's the situation. Pakistan, of course, is an old ally of America's, and, you know, I keep joking about it: They’re like two begums in the Bush – in the Sheikh Bush’s harem, you know, vying with each other for his attention, and that's the situation, as I see it.
Amy Goodman: Finally, Arundhati Roy, you are headed to Pakistan, not to follow President Bush, but for the World Social Forum that will be taking place later this month. Can you talk about what you'll be saying there and the significance of this forum on the heels of this visit?
Arundhati Roy: Well, actually, I’m not headed there, because -- I know that my name was announced, but that was done without anybody asking me. And, you know, I’m really thinking about all these things too much to be able to go and speak at the World Social Forum now, because I’m very worried about, you know, all of us who are involved in these things, spend too much of our energy sort of feeling good about the World Social Forum, which has now become very NGO-ized and, you know, a lot of – it’s just become too comfortable a stage. And I think it’s played a very important role up to now, but now I think we’ve got to move on from there, and I've already said this at a previous World Social Forum job, and I really don't want to, you know, carry on doing something when the time is over for it, you know? I think we have to come up with new strategies.
Amy Goodman: Well, Arundhati Roy, I want to thank you very much for being with us and speaking to us from New Delhi. Arundhati Roy is the acclaimed writer and activist, has written a number of books, including The Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire, The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile, War Talk, a book of essays, and what she is most well known for around the world, The God of Small Things.
Transcript and the interview of March 3, 2006, courtesy, Democracy Now! To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, click here or call 1 (888) 999-3877.