A few years ago, I was having a telephonic conversation with one of my best friends from high school and the topic turned to Arundhati Roy. She asked me why I never said a kind word about her on my blog and told me to write a post explaining what exactly I found so objectionable about her, something she felt I never clearly articulated even though it was obvious I was not a fan.
So dear friend if you still follow the blog, this is it. The answer to that question asked. Many years ago.
The single line answer to why I do not like her is that Arundhati Roy is that she is a fundamentalist. And I have an aversion to fundamentalists. Of all forms.
Now normally when we think of “fundamentalist” the image that comes to our mind is that of a religious nut, foaming and frothing, preaching hatred, divisiveness and often violence directed at the “other”. A frail middle-aged woman, a Booker prize-winner of undoubted erudition who extensively uses rhetoric that could be classified as “pacifist” doesn’t quite fit that mental mold. However just the fact that she physically does not conform to the stereotype and her use of words and language, more cerebral than that of the garden-variety “hell and brimstone” demagogue should not divert from the fact that there is little that distinguishes her, in principle, from the fundamentalists whom we can easily recognize.
For one, fundamentalists like Ms. Roy are guided by a very rigid, unyielding ideology that becomes the prism through which they interpret all events. Anything that the prism does not illuminate is assumed not to exist.
The ideology of a fundamentalist is typically simple. Of course the fundamentalist, especially if he/she is also an intellectual, would like you to think that there are many subtle nuances and complications in his/her world view and it has been arrived after much deliberation, but that alas is all part of the game of delusion. The simplicity arises from a black-and-white identification of villains —-for the religious fundamentalist the villain is anyone who does not accept his God(s) as their savior(s). For Roy, the principal evil agents are the “oppressors”—— USA, UK, Israel ,India, and corporations (not specifically in that order) with her animus being directed specifically towards upper-class so-called “Brahminical” Hindus and the party that she thinks represents them—the BJP.
She does recognize other agents of malevolence like Islamic fundamentalists but their actions are implicitly justified as “reactions” to the depredations wrought by the oppressors. So the massacre at Mumbai is regrettable but is an inevitable result of “partition” (a legacy of the West–one of the “bad men” in her pantheon of villains), the oppression of minorities in Kashmir, Gujarat 2002 and supposed institutionalized prejudice against minorities in India. (things for which another of her “bad men” India can be blamed for)
In making this argument, she betrays another defining characteristic of the fundamentalist—–violence that damages the “evil men”/the “other” always has a justification, typically of the sort “The evil men through their evilness brought it upon themselves”.
A fundamentalist has tunnel vision in that he/she can only see the sins of those he/she hates. There is no concept of applying the same standards fairly to everyone. So while India is castigated ad nauseum as having suppressed and discriminated against its minorities , almost no attention is given to the far more egregious and unapologetic genocide of Hindus in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh and in Kashmir (though if left to her, that would also be a neighboring country). If a few Hindus mirrored the crime of the Kasabs and sailed to Bangladesh to take “revenge” for the government-sanctioned rapes and murders of Hindus by killing innocents in Dhaka would Ms. Roy be so accepting of their motivations as she has been for the Pakistanis? Would she then just make a passing condemnation of Hindu fundamentalists and keep the lion’s share of her wrath for the government of Bangladesh for their treatment of Hindus?
The truth is simple. Terrorism against anyone cannot be justified. Never. Not in any sneaky round about way. Now if only the fundamentalists understood this simple truth.
A fundamentalist finds sinister conspiracies everywhere. According to some, the Mumbai incidents were Zionist-Hindu plots to discredit Muslims. So was 9/11 except there the stupid Hindus were not part of the plan. According to another class of loony fundamentalists, there is a grand conspiracy to alter the demographics of India by Muslims with every member of the community working in perfect synchrony to attain this objective. And according to people like Ms. Roy, most acts of terrorism in India have sinister shadows of government design where the culprits arrested are not the perpetrators, where every act of urban violence is suspected to be a wound intentionally inflicted on the self to further the oppression of minorities. Questions always remain in her mind about every person picked up by the police if they belong to the rank of those she identifies as the “oppressed”. The reason for her eternal skepticism is not difficult to understand. The evil men/the other always lie. The “oppressed” never do.
Fundamentalists are typically hysterical. Not for them sober debate and reasoning. They like the sensationalism, the sweeping generalizations. A fundamentalist will never accept that their hysteria is an inevitable consequence of the fact that what they say often does not stand the test of reason. Which is why they have to take recourse to shrillness of tone and the thumping of chests to transfer the hysteria to the audience.
Ms. Roy, in the true fundamentalist tradition, is hysterical. And she is proud of it.
I am hysterical. I’m screaming from the bloody rooftops! But I want to wake the neighbours, that’s my whole point. I want everybody to open their eyes.
I think the mad Mullahs and the Togadias would say the exact same thing if asked.
Fundamentalists, once in the throes of hysteria, have no compunction in adhering to the truth. If an untruth needs to be said in order to make the point more dramatic, no matter. Addressing large crowds with voice trembling, it is easier to get away with half-truths. And lies. Not so when you write. In an article after 26/11, Ms. Roy writes:
So the man who presided over the Gujarat genocide was reelected twice, and is deeply respected by India’s biggest corporate houses, Reliance and Tata. Suhel Seth, a TV impresario and corporate spokesperson, recently said, “Modi is God.” The policemen who supervised and sometimes even assisted the rampaging Hindu mobs in Gujarat have been rewarded and promoted. [link]
Suhel Seth is a corporate spokesman. Which puts him firmly in the group of evil men. Which also automatically means he can be lied about. This is what Suhel Seth said in reality.
When I sat in the car, I asked my driver what he thought of Modi and his simple reply was Modi is God. [link]
After I finished talking to the YPO (Young President’s Organisation) members, I asked some of them very casually, what they thought of Modi. Strangely, this was one area there was no class differential on. They too said he was God. [link]
Very different from saying that Suhel Seth himself said that “Modi is God”–right? Accepted that Seth’s article was immensely pro-Modi but when one misrepresents an opinion (“Modi is good for the country”) with an expression of blind idolatry (“Modi is God”), what one seeks to do is to disingenuously tarnish the opposition (in this case a member of the wicked corporate class with whom the Hindu Brahminists are in bed with) by painting him with the “crazy” brush in front of an audience who will not know what Seth actually said.
And the final characteristic of the fundamentalist is that he/she will have two standards—one for the self and one for everyone else.
While the Sangh Parivar does not seem to have come to a final decision over whether or not it is anti-national and suicidal to question the police, Arnab Goswami, anchorperson of Times Now television, has stepped up to the plate. He has taken to naming, demonizing, and openly heckling people who have dared to question the integrity of the police and armed forces.
My name and the name of the well-known lawyer Prashant Bhushan have come up several times. At one point, while interviewing a former police officer, Arnab Goswami turned to the camera: “Arundhati Roy and Prashant Bhushan,” he said. “I hope you are watching this. We think you are disgusting.”
For a TV anchor to do this in an atmosphere as charged and as frenzied as the one that prevails today amounts to incitement, as well as threat, and would probably in different circumstances have cost a journalist his or her job. [link]
So let’s get this straight Ms. Roy. According to you, calling you “disgusting” is sufficient reason for a journalist to lose his job. What’s Goswami’s crime here? Finding you disgusting? Expressing his opinion?
Well Ms. Roy, you regularly call the Indian government several uncomplimentary things, to put it politely. You say that Kashmir should be given independence. So if we go by your line of reasoning about Mr. Goswami, what if some Indians start saying that your advocacy of the cessation of an integral part of India should be considered a “threat”, an incitement for the more violent “freedom-fighters”, reason enough to cost you your freedom ?
If people actually did that, then you would be on TV shouting how India is characterized by a tendency to “criminalize liberal space”. Which in any case you do, even though noone in India would deny you your right to speak for Kashmiri independence. After all we are not the country of the “oppressed”—Pakistan or China for example.
But even a champion of free speech and dissent like you draws a line when free speech becomes too much. When it is directed at you.
As to openly heckling people who disagree with your point of view, let me quote from one of Ms. Roy’s own interviews if only to show things are done the “Arundhati” way.
He (Ramachandra Guha)’s become like a stalker who shows up at my doorstep every other Sunday. Some days he comes alone. Some days he brings his friends and family, they all chant and stamp… It’s an angry little cottage industry that seems to have sprung up around me. Like a bunch of keening god-squadders, they link hands to keep their courage up and egg each other on. [link]
Again, Ms. Roy is free to be vitriolic about Ramachandra Guha and his “smug friends”. But they, and anyone who is not impressed with Ms. Roy, should also be free to express their opinions and Ms. Roy should be man enough to take it without crying “Look look they are threatening me” as if calling someone “disgusting” is a threat.
Many of you would be wondering why are we devoting so much time to Arundhuti Roy, whose influence in India is marginal at best and non-existent at worst. The problem is that what she says does have an influence on the “foreign” audience because Ms. Roy, through clever marketing, has positioned herself as “India’s voice of dissent” helped no doubt by her undoubted ability to string together sentences into an entertaining paragraph, a quality that the Mullahs and the Saffron crazies sorely lack. [She currently is on the front page of Huffington Post]. While it may be argued that so extreme are her positions that much of her propaganda has marginal effect as she mostly “preaches to the choir”, some of her bluster does get into the international mainstream, gets quoted and then becomes part of “general knowledge” about India.
The battle for “international opinion” is a critical one in today’s world and Ms. Roy works long and hard to make sure that India is always on the wrong side of it. Hence the need to devote some time to deconstruct her methods if for nothing else but to provide a clean answer to the question “What do you find objectionable about Arundhati Roy” next time a good friend comes asking.