Auf Terrorismus gibt es keine einfachen Antworten von Arundhati Roy

Radio Lora, 9. Nov. 2009 und Alternative Radio

Ihr Buch „Der Gott der kleinen Dinge“ machte Arundhati Roy weltberühmt. Sie gewann den Booker Prize und den Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom. Für die „New York Times“ ist sie die leidenschaftlichste indische Kritikerin der Globalisierung und des amerikanischen Weltmachtstrebens und Howard Zinn lobte ihren Einsatz für soziale Gerechtigkeit. „The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile“ und  „An Ordinary Guide to Empire“ sind ihre neuesten Bücher.

Sie hören Ausschnitte eines Interviews, das David Barsamian mit Arundhati Roy am 1. Januar 2009 in Neu Delhi geführt hat.

DB

Die Regional-Wahlen in Kaschmir wurden von der  indischen Presse als Sieg für Freiheit und Demokratie und als herbe Niederlage für die Separatisten gefeiert. Was sagen Sie dazu?

AR

Als im August 2008 die Menschen in Kaschmir zu Hunderttausenden auf die Straße gingen und Autonomie forderten, reagierte die indische Regierung mit einer der strengsten Ausgangssperren und schickte mehr als eine halbe Million Soldaten in diese Region – so als wäre die gesamte US. Armee und das gesamte US Marine Korps in Minnesota einmarschiert. Als es dann bei den Wahlen nicht zu dem von den Separatisten befürworteten Boykott kam, fragten sich viele, wo die Begeisterung für die Unabhängigkeit geblieben war. Doch schnell sickerte durch, dass die indische Besatzungsarmee besonders in den Dörfern das Wahlgeschehen genauestens kontrollierte und schon vor den Wahlen Vertreter der Separatisten-Bewegung, Arbeiter, Aktivisten und viele junge Leute verhaftet worden waren. Verschiedene Kandidaten organisierten sogar Verhaftungen, um sich anschließend als angebliche Befreier Stimmen zu sichern. In einigen Orten wurden gefürchtete Killer als Kandidaten aufgestellt, nur um die Menschen zu zwingen, zur Wahl zu gehen und gegen sie zu stimmen. So sehen keine freien und fairen Wahlen aus. Die Menschen gingen zur Wahl, weil sie sich davon ein kleines bisschen Mehr an Sicherheit versprachen – umso enttäuschter waren sie, als sie feststellen mussten, dass man sie nur benützt und tief gedemütigt hatte. 

DB

Warum gilt Kaschmir als Vorwand für die Verfolgung indischer Muslime durch chauvinistische Hindus?

AR

Als Reaktion auf die manipulierten Wahlen von 1987 schickte die Unabhängigkeitsbewegung ihre Mitglieder zur Kampfausbildung nach Pakistan. Danach fühlte sich die Hindu Minderheit in Kaschmir nicht mehr sicher und es setzte eine Massenflucht ein, die für viele bis heute in elenden Flüchtlingslagern endete. Es war dies die Zeit, als in Afghanistan die Taliban an die Macht kamen und in Indien die nationalistische Hindu-Partei BJP, die Zeit der Massaker gegen Muslime in Gujarat, der Zerstörung der Moschee von Babri und der Bombenanschläge von Bombay. 

Für viele Inder ist Kaschmir ein Teil Indiens, sind Kaschmiris einfach nur Terroristen und ist das 1947 von der UN versprochene Referendum über die Zugehörigkeit des ehemals autonomen Fürstentums Kaschmirs zu Indien oder Pakistan eine fromme Legende.

Die muslimische Minderheit in Indien – und das sind nicht weniger als 150 Millionen Menschen – muss sich – um zu überleben – irgendwie mit dem beinahe faschistischen Regierungssystem arrangieren. Die berühmten muslimischen Bollywoodstars, wie Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan und Shah Rukh Khan, sind Vorzeige-Muslime, sind unsere Frying Pan Park Truthähne, die der US-Präsident zu Thanksgiving vor dem Massenschlachten rettet. 

– 2 –

DB

Kommen wir zu den Anschlägen vom 26. November in Mumbai.

AR

Das war das erste Mal, dass der Terror nicht nur Arme traf, sondern mitten im goldenen Herzen Indiens auf die Elite des Landes zielte. An keiner Stelle der ununterbrochenen, tagelangen Berichterstattung wurde gemeldet, dass einer der Attentäter Kaschmir, Gujarat und die Babri Moschee erwähnt hatte. Man ließ uns in dem Glauben, dass es sich um die Tat von Verrückten handelte. Doch die Menschen auf der Straße regierten besonnen und stimmten nicht in das hysterische Kriegsgeschrei der Medien mit ein. 

DB

Wie in den USA nach dem 11. September wurden auch nach den Anschlägen von Mumbai in Indien neue Sicherheitsgesetze eingeführt und ein neuer Geheimdienst etabliert. Welche Konsequenzen hatte dies für Bürger- und Menschenrechte? 

AR

Antiterrorgesetze gibt es in Indien schon lange und sie haben kaum jemanden davon abgehalten, ein Selbstmordattentat zu begehen. Mit den neuen Gesetzen sollen nun protestierende Arme, Maoisten und Kämpfer für mehr Demokratie kriminalisiert werden. 

Die Anschläge von Mumbai wurden ebenso wie alle vorhergehenden von Indern begangen, von Muslimen und Hindus. Auch wenn man lange versuchte – mit Hilfe korrupter Polizisten und wohl gesonnener Medien – die Schuld allein den Muslimen in die Schuhe zu schieben. 

DB

Sehen Sie sehen einen Zusammenhang zwischen den Anschlägen von Mumbai und der amerikanischen Südostasien-Politik?

AR

In Pakistan nahm der Jihad der USA gegen die Sowjetunion seinen Anfang.. Dort rekrutierte man die Mudschaheddin, Tschetschenen, Saudis und viele andere für diesen Krieg und drückte ihnen nach einer intensiven Gehirnwäsche Stringer Raketen und Maschinengewehre in die Hand. Und einmal losgelassen, konnte man diese Kämpfer nicht einfach wieder in folgsame Schoßhunde zurückverwandeln. Wenn westliche Politiker wie John McCain, Condoleezza Rice und Gordon Brown heute behaupten, Pakistan sei die Wiege des Terrorismus – dann ist das so, als würde ein Wissenschaftler sein Reagenzglas für das Misslingen seines Experiments verantwortlich machen. 

Der Terror verschwindet nicht, auch wenn die USA Afghanistan zurück in die Steinzeit bombardieren oder Bomben über Pakistan abwerfen. 

Für die Lösung dieses Problems bedarf es großer Vernunft, doch die ist in dieser unserer Welt leider nicht im Übermaß vorhanden.

– 3 –

DB

Eine Beilage des SPAN Magazins der US-Botschaft in New Delhi zeigte in November die amerikanische und indische Flagge mit dem Untertitel: „Vereint in Trauer gegen den Terror“ Galt diese gemeinsame Trauer auch den Armen, den Bauern, die sich das Leben nahmen, den misshandelten Frauen und Kindern und all den anderen Opfern von Ungerechtigkeiten? 

AR

Das war doch nur eine Beruhigungspille für die indische Regierung, die nicht verstehen will, dass die USA Israel unterstützen, wenn es für zwei tote Israelis in Gaza blutige Rache nimmt, die aber nicht zulassen, dass Indien seine Tausende von Terroropfern mit der Bombardierung Pakistans beantwortet. Die indischen Eliten schlucken diese Pille nur allzu gerne und sonnen sich im Glanz der amerikanisch-israelisch-indischen Freundschaft. Die Zeiten, als man stolz war, zum Kreis der Blockfreien zu gehören, sind lange vorbei. 

DB

2009 jährt sich zum 25. Mal das Giftgas-Unglück von Bhopal. Damals starben Tausende und Tausende leiden noch heute an den Folgen, doch für die Firma Union Carbide, die sich heute im Besitz des Agent Orange Herstellers Down Chemical befindet, hatte dies keine rechtlichen Konsequenzen. Ebenfalls vor 25 Jahren wurden als Reaktion auf die Ermordung von Indira Gandhi in Neu Delhi Tausende von Sikhs getötet.

AR

Das hat man – wie alles in Indien – einfach unter den Teppich gekehrt. Man forderte nicht die Auslieferung des Chefs von Union Carbide und man schwieg zu den Morden an der kleinen Minderheit der Sikhs. 

DB

Was halten Sie von Barack Obama, dem Mann, der den guten Ruf der Vereinigten Staaten wieder herstellen will?

AR

Ich freue mich darüber, dass die Amerikaner für den Wandel gestimmt haben. Ich sehe allerdings auch, dass der Präsident zu den neuerlichen Bomben auf Gaza schwieg und dass sich in seiner Mannschaft viele alte Gesichter wieder finden. Vermutlich wird Obama der Präsident des Endes des amerikanischen Imperiums sein, aber das wird nicht das Ende Amerikas bedeuten. Abzuwarten bleibt, wie er die wirtschaftlichen Probleme lösen wird. Für mich ist es kaum verständlich, warum man den Banken Geld gibt und nicht den Menschen, die ihre Kredite nicht zurückzahlen können.

In Indien sind vor allem die Reichen von der Krise betroffen. Um jedoch Schlimmeres zu verhindern, muss die Regierung dafür sorgen, dass mehr Nahrungsmittel erzeugt werden und dass Agrarland, Ökosysteme, Wälder, Flüsse und Gebirge in Takt bleiben.

China hofft, durch eine verstärkte Binnennachfrage vom Export unabhängig zu werden. Ich aber bin davon überzeugt, dass wir im Gegenteil weltweit alles daran setzen müssen, um weniger zu konsumieren, weniger zu verschwenden und nachhaltiger zu wirtschaften. Inzwischen kann man sogar im neuesten James Bond Film sehen, was passiert, wenn wir uns damit zu lange Zeit lassen.

Other AR Arundhati Roy programs –

A Writer’s Place in Politics 

The God of Small Things 

Globalization and Terrorism 

Imperial Democracy 

Confronting Empire 

The New Delhi Interviews 

The LA Interviews 

Public Power in the Age of Empire 

Seize the Time! 

The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile

Brave New India: Uprisings

David Barsamian
Alternative Radio
P.O. Box 551
Boulder, CO 80306-0551
(800) 444-1977
info@alternativeradio.org
www.alternativeradio.org

Terrorism: No Easy Answers by Arundhati Roy

Interviewed by David Barsamian

New Delhi, India  1 January 2009

Arundhati Roy is the celebrated author of “The God of Small Things” and winner of the prestigious Booker Prize. “The New York Times” calls her, “India’s most impassioned critic of globalization and American influence.” Howard Zinn praises her “powerful commitment to social justice.” She is the winner of the Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom. Her latest books are “The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile,” a collection of interviews with David Barsamian, and “An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire.”

You’ve been spending at lot of time in Kashmir and you were just there again. There has been a series of elections over the last couple of months, and these elections have been heralded, at least by the mainstream press here in India, as a great referendum for freedom and democracy and a rebuke for the separatists. What is your understanding of what exactly happened in terms of the elections?

Really, the difficulty about it, the thing I worry most about, is losing the language with which to describe what’s happening there. Because it’s almost as though you need a deep knowledge of what’s going on there to be able to understand what happened. In August, even then I was there, and all over the world it has been reported, there was an incredible spontaneous uprising, and there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. This time I was there in the silence, and still I could hear that noise in my head, “Azadi, azadi, azadi.” The fruit sellers were weighing their fruit chanting “Azadi, azadi.” The people on the buses, the children on the streets. It was as if the sky was chanting that.

Azadi means freedom.

Azadi means freedom. Azadi means a lot of things: freedom in a very nuanced way, because that in itself is a very contested term in Kashmir. And then that nonviolent uprising-and that uprising was actually presented to the leaders, the, quote, unquote, leaders of the separatist movement by the people. It wasn’t that the leaders led the movement, but the people really came and dusted off the mothballs and pulled the leaders out onto the street and presented them with a kind of revolution.

The Indian government’s response to that was the harshest curfew that has ever been imposed in Kashmir. Days and days and days together, razor wire, steel walls that were put in, people were prevented from moving between the districts, between villages. A lot of Kashmiris were killed in the firings. I don’t know if I need to keep on saying this because everyone knows it now, but still, for the record-more than half a million soldiers in the valley of Kashmir, which somebody in America wrote saying it was the equivalent of the entire U.S. Army and the entire Marine Corps deployed in Minnesota, sort of like that; 165,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Between 500,000 and 700,000 Indian security personnel in the valley of Kashmir. So the way the army is deployed there, I think it would take them less than half an hour to just be everywhere in Kashmir, because they are spread out and they are patrolling all the time. So to put down this uprising wasn’t hard for them in a military sense. So that was August.

Then there was a big debate about whether or not to call elections, because everybody feared that there would be a complete boycott of the elections, which have been more or less boycotted in past. The separatists called for a boycott. And to everybody’s shock and surprise, there was a huge turnout in the elections. I think nobody could understand exactly what had happened. Where had that sentiment gone? Where was that outburst of a desire for freedom that was being expressed from the street? How did it suddenly disappear? And it was quite interesting that I started getting calls from people.

The other thing is that it was very interesting in the way in which the election was called. A couple of districts in Jammu are Hindu-dominated, the BJP has not ever been in power there, but still there was a sort of political divide between these districts in Jammu and the Kashmir valley. Then there is Ladakh, there is Doda and Kishtwari.

The BJP being the Bharatiya Janata Party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist party.

And there are some parts of the Kashmir valley which are under the boot of the army. If you travel in Kashmir, you see that there the army controls the inhalation and the exhalation. It controls everything. So it was pretty brilliant, if you look at it from the Indian government’s point of view, the way the elections were called. These places where traditionally the Army’s fiat rules went to the polls first and so on. Without wanting to get into too much detail to an audience that’s not familiar with this, the point is that there was a big turnout. Except in the cities. In almost all the cities and towns the turnout was low, but in the villages the turnout was very high.

So I went back to Kashmir just now just to understand for myself what it was all about. Of course, the first thing that happened was that the last stage of the polling in Srinagar was due to happen, and so the police put me under house arrest, which revealed more than it hid, because if you can imagine, they’re so frightened of anybody who has a point of view different from that of the Indian state seeing anything. Before the polls happened, they did a massive round of arrests. They arrested not just the leaders of the Hurriyat, which is the separatist groups, but all the workers, all the activists, all the young people who were seen to have led these protests. Hundreds of people were put into jail. 

A lot of even liberal Indians say that the polls were free and fair. First of all, the first question you have to ask yourself is, when you have that kind of a densely deployed army, can you have free and fair elections? Is it at all possible? Election observers and liberal Indians went there and they didn’t see people being pushed to the polling booths on the end of a bayonet, so they said there was no coercion. But the thing is, now the people of Kashmir have internalized, what it means to live in an occupation and how to deal with it. And they do have a long-term view, because they do have to survive. So one of the things that happened was that the main party, the National Conference, that is now coming into power campaigned very openly saying that these elections have nothing to do with azadi; they’re just about bread and butter issues. That was one thing that happened.

Sarak, pani and-what was the slogan?

Sarak, pani, bijli. It means roads, water, and electricity. So I think that quite explains the fact that in urban areas, where people are more secure, they didn’t feel the need to come out and vote, whereas in rural areas people-it’s not actually sarak, pani, and bijli so much as a thin layer of protection from this occupation. For example, when the SOG, which is the dreaded Special Operations Group, goes and picks up somebody, you have to have somebody to appeal to. And that somebody is the politician. So, for example, to give you an example, some people were telling me of how there is one particular member of the legislative assembly who keeps getting voted back to power. His modus operandi is, just before the elections he organizes for the army to pick up five or six people, young men, from that area. Then the people go and petition him. Then he goes and gets them released and earns their eternal gratitude. These are all sort of invisible things that happen.

There are many other reasons. For example, just now the stories are emerging that in this election, more than in any other election, there were hundreds, hundreds of candidates who were fielded. Each of them, in a slightly feudal area, has a certain number of relatives and friends who come and vote for them. Because the main thing in these elections was the government was very keen to have a turnout, regardless of what happened, to show that this is a democracy. In fact, the day I left Kashmir all these defeated independent candidates were having a press conference in this restaurant called Ahdoo’s talking about how they had all been paid by the Intelligence Bureau sums of money to stand for election, and then some of them weren’t given that money, so now they are disgruntled.

Then there are other issues. For example, there is this group of renegades known as Ikhwanis, former militants who turned into very dreaded killers working for the government. Some Ikhwanis and sometimes Ikhwanis’ sons were standing for election. And people went out to vote against them so that they would not be represented by them. 

So there are a number of factors. But it’s true that even without these factors, people did come out and vote. For me, the way I see it is that people realize that they’re lying on a bed of nails, and these elections are like a little, thin layer of sponge over the bed of nails, a way of getting by, a way of continuing to live. They are not in any way going to permanently solve the problem of Kashmir. What the Indian government has done over and over again over the decades is to do this kind of crisis management, sweep things under the carpet, and then hope that it will go away. Then it resurfaces in a different way, in a different form. So I was there when the sort of free and fair press of the mighty government of India arrived there to gloat over these elections, people who knew nothing about Kashmir, who were coming there to give the commentary, saying the most absurd things about how this was the end of the freedom movement.

To me, the saddest thing was that I felt all the Kashmiris, I spoke to, without exception said, “We’ve done this to ourselves.” And I felt that this sort of psychological war on them, this lowering of their self-esteem, this forcing them to participate in tactics of survival which eventually make them despise themselves was really the deepest form of colonialism. Someone said, “We feel like Shi’as at Muharram (a religious holiday marking the martyrdom of Imam Hussein). We whip ourselves and then we draw our own blood and then the Indian propaganda machine comes and puts salt in our wounds.” That’s how a lot of people said they felt.

It’s very difficult to understand the full extent of this, except that what people really want is being thwarted again and again and again. Everybody is speaking on behalf of people. As a citizen of India, I feel uncomfortable with that. I feel that we can’t gloat about doing this to somebody. Of course you can manage it. Of course India will always be able to manage it, because it’s a small valley. But, then again, I don’t think that it will always be possible to manage it, because eventually I do think that the price of holding down the Kashmir valley, which was being paid mostly by Indian soldiers, who are mostly poor people from India who don’t count, was suddenly being paid by the Indian elite in five-star hotels in Bombay. That puts a totally different spin on things.

You write that the Indian military occupation of Kashmir “makes monsters of us all.” What do you mean by that? 

It makes us complicit in the holding down by military force of a people, it makes us complicit in the propaganda, it makes us complicit in the lies. And eventually it makes us people who are unable to look things in the eye.

You say that it allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimize Muslims in other parts of the country. 

One of the things that happened in the early 1990s in Kashmir was that when the elections were rigged in 1987, which led to the movement in Kashmir which existed beforehand, suddenly it had become a militant movement, and there were young men rising up with arms, young men crossing the border to Pakistan to train and come back. One of the fallouts of that was the exodus of the small community of Kashmiri Pandits, or Kashmiri Hindus, from the valley. Because the king who signed the accession document was a Hindu ruler over Muslim subjects, and therefore this small minority of Hindu Kashmiris was a powerful minority. But because they feared for their safety, rightly so, and because the governor, Jagmohan, quite unforgivably said that the government couldn’t protect them, they sort of facilitated the exit of these Hindu Pandits from the valley. The poor among them ended up living in refugee camps in Jammu. They still live in refugee campus in Jammu.

You must remember that it was exactly at the time that a lot of things were happening geographically in this area. It was the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, the BJP with L. K. Advani leading this rath yatra towards the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the rise of Hindu chauvinism. So these Kashmiri Pandits were wielded like a club by Hindu chauvinists in India and used to whip up this anti-Muslim sentiment. Of course, that orgy of hatred, that whole manifesto of hatred of the BJP, eventually led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the coming to power of the BJP, the genocide against Muslims in Gujarat, the bombings in Bombay in retaliation for Babri Masjid, and the genocide in Bombay against Muslims by the Shiv Sena

(a Maharashtra-based Marathi nationalist group), and the whole rise of this kind of ugly, divisive politics.

So if you were to question the average Indian, the only thing they know is that there are terrorists in Kashmir. They wouldn’t be able to tell you that 60,000 or 70,000 people have died in this war. They wouldn’t be able to tell you about the dubious morality of India holding on to this place. They say Kashmir is an atut ang, which means an inseparable limb of India.

And there are also close to 10,000 people are missing.

That have disappeared. The point is that it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that Kashmir was never a part of India. It was an independent kingdom. So even today, when they gloat about elections, if you say, “Why don’t you have a referendum?” as was promised by the U.N., they say, “Oh, that’s an old cliché. How can you ask that? Things have moved on from then.”

Tell me, the people that you spoke to there, what do they think of Pakistan?

When I was there in August-I’ve written about it in this piece that you referred to-along with “Hum Kya Chatey? Azadi,” which means, “What do we want? We want freedom,” there was an equal amount of “Jeeve, Jeeve, Pakistan!” meaning “Long live Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan, Pakistan.”

Yet I think that if you question people, there were many reasons for that. One was that what they think of Pakistan is, to put it in some crude way, if there was some referendum where people were given the option of India, Pakistan, or azadi, I imagine that an overwhelming majority would say azadi. If they were given only an option between India and Pakistan, I think-I’m no one to say this, but I’m just saying my gut feeling is that Pakistan would win hands down. But what India says is Pakistan is fueling terrorism in Kashmir. I think people see Pakistan as somewhat self-serving yet very important support for the freedom movement in Kashmir. People understand that it’s self-serving, but people still see it as support for what they see as a freedom movement.

And there is awareness also that the state there is not only exploding but imploding.

I think that there is awareness of that. Yet, the real question is that what people have experienced is the brutality of the Indian state, so at this point that is foregrounded for people in Kashmir. It’s a bit theoretical to say, but maybe it will be worse for them. They say, “Then that’s our problem. Why are you worried about our problems?” The Kashmiris, even when they are not being political, if you go around Kashmir, they ask you, “Have you come from India?” They don’t consider themselves Indians.

It’s been a very difficult time for Muslims in India. So to imagine that Muslims would be longing to be a part of India when they don’t have to be is a hallucination. Indian Muslims have a completely different problem from Kashmiris. Indian Muslims have a different issue here, because they have to live here and they have to find peace in this almost fascist atmosphere. But Kashmiris see themselves as people who have a choice. They don’t have to put their heads down and kiss ass. You have to find a different way of saying that.

You conclude that article that “India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much if not more than Kashmir needs azadi from India”.

I think there was something almost prescient there. I wrote this-I don’t remember when it was published-in August or September. And I did sense that there wasn’t any possibility of the Indian state-and it’s wrong for me to just say the Indian state, because Indian society in places like Gujarat and Maharashtra or even in Bombay-to continue to marginalize such a vast majority-only in India can 150 million people be a minority, 150 million Muslims in India-and to continue to bulldoze this population in Kashmir. Eventually all that can come out of it is destruction. All that come out of it is people wanting to take you down with them. If you push them to a stage where there is no possibility of any access to justice, even if 99% of them decide to put their heads down and suffer, 1% is enough to destroy life as you knew it.

It’s interesting, though, that at the same time when the vast majority of the Muslim minority is impoverished and suffering from discrimination, you have big Bollywood film stars such as Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan who are Muslim. 

They are like the turkeys that the American president pardons during Thanksgiving and sends them to Frying Pan Park in Virginia while the others are slaughtered for Thanksgiving. There’s that sense that, like I always say, if you look at the person who is the president of India, the figurehead, you will be able to tell which are the communities that are having a really hard time. It’s a Muslim or it’s a woman or it’s a Dalit. So it’s the new age.

But I think there is more to it than that when it comes to the film stars. There is a strange undercurrent which nobody knows how to handle. After the Mumbai attacks, the most bigoted television channels-I’ve been watching some of them-actually have programs about which of the big film stars is going to play Kasab, who is the gunman who survived and who is in jail now. Whether it’s Bollywood or whether it’s your video games or whether it’s your war games, everybody is trained to hero worship, this kind of thing, and then you’re supposed to come out and publicly condemn it. But, in fact, wasn’t it Die Hard, what was going on in those hotels and so on? So there is a very strange fascination for violence and then a kind of morality that kicks in which is quite at odds with what young people are being sold as heroic.

Let’s talk about the Mumbai and the events of 26 November. It struck me-I was in Islamabad, Pakistan, by the way, watching this on television-that it was like a three-day serial. You would go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, turn on the television, and it was continuing. The out-of-breath commentary and reporting were quite stunning. You’ve talked about the media coverage of the Mumbai attack, but initially you were very reluctant to even write about it. I know you’re working on a novel and you want to focus on that but people just came up to you and said, “Are you going to write something?”

It was a difficult decision for me to write about this, because I recognize that there was a lot of ugliness in the air and that people who were prepared to tolerate the people like myself were already straining at the bit because of my views on Kashmir, which are just not acceptable in India. And then to write about Mumbai. And yet it became much harder not to write about it than to write about it, because the elite had cornered the TV channels, and there was this spiraling ugliness and this baying for war. And also the way in which suddenly it appeared as if this was the first time that such a thing had happened in India, because it was the first time that the golden heart of India, the absolute elite, had been targeted, which raised a lot of very interesting things to write about. Predictably, people who had been annoyed with what I’ve said have twisted it around to say, “Oh, she justifies it” or “She thinks it’s okay for rich people to be killed,” which is absolutely not what I’m saying. But what does it mean in this country where it really doesn’t matter what happens to poor people, it doesn’t matter that well more than 100,000 farmers have killed themselves, it doesn’t matter as long as only poor, impoverished soldiers are paying the price to hold down Kashmir? But when your best and most beautiful citizens are paying the price, then what?

And also, living in this country, watching the news, reading the news, it was like this dead silence about the elephants in the room. One of the gunmen, one of the terrorists, actually spoke about Kashmir and about Gujarat and about Babri Masjid. But it was as if he hadn’t. It was as if those were not the issues at all. This was just some mad pathology. So that effort to push everything away and say this was a text without a context was something that became very, very dangerous.

Yes, it’s true that I tried not to write about it, but I was literally pushed into it. People on the street would come to me and say, “What are you thinking? What are you saying?” They were waiting to know. I think that’s because I’m not just writing as me. I don’t want to claim some unique voice. Actually, outside the mainstream media, if you read what was being written on the Internet and what was being said on the streets, there was an incredible maturity in the response. I wasn’t in the U.S. when 9/11 happened, so I don’t really have the word on the street what people were thinking. But here was certainly the media were in its own stratosphere along with a section of the elite. But the people that I spoke to and heard and encountered had an incredible maturity.

I have to say this reluctantly, that even the Indian government was far more mature than the media were. And I am unable to say right now whether they were playing good cop, bad cop, whether the media were being asked-were not being-some of it was so irresponsible that it was worrying, that there were channels that were literally declaring war. And given how much they are controlled, in a way, by governments and corporates, the fact that they were allowed to carry on being that irresponsible makes me think that perhaps it was a sort of duel-like while the government sounded sober and responsible, the media was whipping up hysteria. I don’t know whether they were on their own or whether they were sort of being given a nudge and a wink. 

There was also, attendant with what was going on in Mumbai, almost a clamor to link it to 9/11. This was India’s 9/11. And there has been now significant legislation passed as a result of Mumbai. A new agency has been created called the National Intelligence Agency. So what has been the political upshot of this in terms of civil liberties and human rights?

This is a very important question, which I have no doubt that you understand in a very nuanced way, being an American, but there is a difference, which is that in India there is a completely different set of reasons for why the government and the elites are pushing for these so-called terrorist laws. It doesn’t have to do with the fear of terrorism only, because I think people are very well aware of the fact that we have had these laws in the past. We’ve had the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act and we’ve had the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In all these cases, the conviction rate has been 2%. It doesn’t take a great deal of intelligence to know that when a person has decided to die fighting, they are hardly likely to be concerned with bailable and nonbailable offenses. And it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction to, oh, we must do something.

Really what is happening in India right now has to do with the other battle, the battle that’s not on television. The battle that’s being fought in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand-the battle of the poor against displacement, the battle of the Maoists, the battle against mining and all that-which is actually a far bigger battle. And there is where these laws come into use. There is where a person like Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and human rights activist, who is in Chhattisgarh and been in prison now for almost two years as a dangerous terrorist, with no evidence whatsoever, but no bail either. Those laws are really for people governments don’t like and do not have anything to do with terrorism, nor do they really have centrally to do with the fear or desire to prevent terrorism. But they have to do with giving government power to criminalize democratic space. Basically, that’s what it’s about, to criminalize the democratic space, to prevent people speaking, people working, people organizing into a kind of mass movement, which is what is going on outside the floodlights in the rest of India.

The magazine India Today has named “The Terrorist.” as its “2008 Newsmaker.” The accompanying article has photos of accused terrorists, all of whom are in Pakistan. How does one address the issue of terrorism? Okay, you give the context and background. Yet you have people who seem to have total disdain not only for the lives of others but for their own lives. How can you reach them? It’s as if they’re in another zone entirely.

That is the problem. Those particular individuals have obviously departed to another station and communication links have been cut. So if you try and look at whatever policies you make as some way of stopping terrorism forever, you’re bound to fail. The only thing you can do is to look at the conditions in which more and more anger, more and more despair, more and more resentment are being created, and how do you change the chemistry there. It’s interesting to see this. This is an India Today picture of all the various Muslims whom they see as terrorists. All of them are under trial. But also under trial are a whole lot of Hindus who have been accused of bombing and killing people as well. Their pictures are not here. Including a senior serving officer of the Indian army.

He was implicated in the Malegaon blast.

Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts. I think it’s very important to say that the attack on Mumbai was the most recent in a series of attacks in Bombay, Delhi, Jaipur, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad. All the people that have been held by the police as suspects in these attacks are Indian nationals, Hindu and Muslim. Initially they were all Muslims, at which point-there were several very big loopholes in the investigations, which some of us pointed out. And L. K. Advani, who sees himself as the next candidate for prime minister, went around campaigning against those of us, mentioning us by name, saying that we were anti-nationals and it was suicidal to question the police and so on. And then the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad arrested this Hindu Sadvi God woman and a few Hindu priests, self-styled, and the senior serving officer in the Indian army. And then Advani himself began to campaign against the police.  

Saying they were unreliable.

Saying that they were unreliable and that Hindus could not be terrorists. And that senior policeman who did that investigation had death threats. Then, in a peculiar twist of fate, he was one of the first people to get shot in Mumbai. 

The fact is that we in India today have a very murky, murky history of these attacks, who is implicated, who has actually done it. We have this whole sort of squadron of what are known as encounter specialists, who are lauded for, actually, summary justice, for just going and shooting down people and claiming that they were terrorists, and time and time again having proved to be wrong. Several of them are involved in all kinds of shady property deals. Several of them are in jail, these encounter specialists. And yet movies are made about them and they are the big stars of the middle class. 

Fundamentally, today I’d say, as a person who has been following these things very closely, reading documents, studying court judgments, talking to people, whenever there is a terrorist strike, I have no idea which side has done it. I’m amazed that after all the work that was done on the fact that the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament was obviously-there was something very, very wrong there, because all the evidence was fabricated, most of it. The four people that the Indian government arrested, one of them being called a mastermind and so on, after four people arrested, the mastermind and two others were released and three of them were acquitted of the charges that had been made against them, and one of them was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court said, we have no evidence that he belongs to a terrorist group but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, we’re sentencing him to death.

In the work that many people, including myself, have done on these things, we have exposed how the police fabricate evidence, how the media fabricate evidence, who are the journalists in the media who are sort of fed by this special cell of the Delhi police, how the courts working in ways which make any kind of due process ridiculous and redundant. And yet the propaganda is so huge. When I’m talking about the parliament attack, I’m not talking about a conspiracy theory, because I don’t have one. I don’t have a theory. All I have is absolute, downright, straightforward facts that tell you that we were lied to. And we want to know why.

L. K. Advani, the BJP leader, has mentioned you in public talks, referring to a book that you had contributed to on the 13 December 2001 attack on the parliament. Turning to the media, Arnab Goswami also had something to say about you. He’s one of the leading voices on Times Now TV.

That was also something that I wonder about, whether they’ve been sort of given the green flag to take that Fox News sort of slot here. Because we have a TV anchor whose reporting, hardly pausing to take a breath, is so excited about this unfolding drama in Mumbai, and then suddenly turns to the camera and says, “Arundhati Roy and Prashant Bhushan,” who is a leading lawyer, who has also been one of those people who has in the past questioned the actions of the police in these encounter killings and so on, he says, “Arundhati Roy and Prashant Bhushan, we think you’re disgusting.”

Using the collective “we.”

“We,” yes, like he’s the Queen of England. Why did he think we were disgusting? “We” meaning he’s just one of many who hold the view, who was carrying Advani’s flag of under no circumstances can you question the brave police and the brave army-at a time when we are a country that has the highest number of custodial deaths in the world, a country that has not ratified the international covenants on torture, an army that has occupied Kashmir and killed tens of thousands of people. 

Structurally the point is, maybe you can disagree with the point of view of somebody, but to believe that citizens should just sit quiet while all this happens, that there is no need for a debate, that there is no need for questions also feeds into this terrifying atmosphere of nationalism and fascism. And I don’t use that word lightly, because I use it after what happened in Gujarat. I use it after the fact that more than 1,000 people were slaughtered in broad daylight in the streets of Gujarat, that the police watched, that the police participated, that those who participated were then promoted, that those who killed then appeared on TV and boasted about how they killed and how they were supported. And then those who killed and supervised the killing were voted to power twice. So it’s not the number of people that were killed but the fact that the entire democratic machinery colluded with the courts of India.

And the people. Let’s not leave out the people. The people who knew these things happened voted saying, this is what they deserve.

You make some connections between 26/11 and U.S. foreign policy in South Asia, and you refer to “the detritus of two Afghan wars.”

In a way, at least in the corporate media, there is a sort of coy silence about the role of the United States in what has happened in the subcontinent. The fact is that Pakistan was the crucible in which America conducted its experiment in its jihad against the Soviet Union. So Pakistan was the recruiting agency and the recruiting ground for mujahideen fighters from all over the Middle East, from Chechnya, from Saudi Arabia, from everywhere, to come and fight the Soviets.

It isn’t that people were simply recruited and given Stinger missiles and AK-47s and told to go and fight. People were indoctrinated. People were indoctrinated, brainwashed into going and fighting that desperate war in which more than a million people died. Once you’ve released those Frankenstein monsters into the world, you can’t whistle and hope they will come back like trained mastiffs and say, “Yes, sir, did you call?” So when John McCain and Condoleezza Rice and Gordon Brown and so on come in and say Pakistan is the heart of evil and the founder of terrorism, I feel it’s like scientists blaming their crucible for an experiment that’s gone wrong. 

There are no easy answers to this problem. Certainly there was no easy answer to 9/11. The fact that the U.S. rebombed Afghanistan into the Stone Age didn’t help them. And now to assume that you can bomb Pakistan to sort out the problem is absurd beyond belief. The point is that we are living in a very, very dangerous era, and more than anything, you need brains to sort it out. That seems to be a very scarce commodity.

Span is the name of the magazine of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, and in the November-December 2008 issue, there is a postcard showing the Indian and American flags side by side and “Joined in sorrow we stand together against terror,” which, if I can make an editorial comment, I find very interesting. Might they also be joined in sorrow against poverty and farmer suicides and patriarchy and misogyny and child marriages and trafficking and all the other injustices that occur?

That’s a placebo. Because it’s like if you watch those advertisements for Pepsi and Coca-Cola where they are busy sort of inflaming nationalism, and then across the border they’re doing the same in the other country. So I wouldn’t be surprised if in Span Pakistan we have the American and the Pakistani flag. It’s a placebo, and it would make the Indian middle class extremely happy, because that’s the real anthem now, that America, India, and Israel are natural allies. It’s just a game.

As far as the U.S. is concerned, it’s just a game, because, actually, Indians are feeling terrible about the fact that India-by Indians I don’t mean Indians, I mean the Indian government and its spokespeople-are feeling terrible that so many thousands of people have died because of terrorism in India. And the Americans are not supporting India in the bombing of Pakistan. But two people died in Israel, and then Israel retaliated by killing hundreds in Gaza and moving in for a land invasion, and the Americans are supporting that. They keep saying, oh, they have double standards. So this is a placebo. This is just to ruffle our hair and say “Calm down.”

You also commented about the U.S., the superpower, never has friends, it only has agents. So here you have at least the Indian government and elites lining up with the Americans, but ultimately you suggest that it will just backfire into their faces.

It will, because does anybody care to study the history of former allies of the United States and what happens to them when they’re kicked over like an empty pail? The world is full of these examples, whether it’s Iraq or whether it’s Pakistan or whether it’s Chile. The list goes on and on and on. So I don’t think anybody should be goo-goo-eyed about how much America loves India.

It’s interesting now how Israel, as you suggested, has formed part of this equation-Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Washington. Anand Patwardhan, a well-known filmmaker, couldn’t get an article that he wrote placed in the Indian media, so it’s online. He recalls the time when Indian passports were stamped with invalid for two countries in the world: one was apartheid South Africa and the other was Israel. The situation today is completely different.

I think about the fact every morning we wake up and have this national pride rammed down our throats when actually there is no pride. There was a time when India stood for something, when it was part of the nonaligned movement, when there was a sort of moral dignity. So the more we are told that we should feel national pride, in fact, the more you actually ought to be ashamed, because you know that this country stands for nothing except the self-interest of its elites now.

And this despite the fact that, on the other hand, when you look at it from the other side, there are people involved in environmental movements, in displaced people’s protests and agitation who look at India with awe, because that side of India is alive and thriving and full of fire and full of dignity. So I do feel a great amount of pride in that, that it is a country where people are not taking things lying down and people are fighting with huge amounts of imagination. But in this official world, the world of diplomats and the world of power and armies and weapons and governments, we have humiliated ourselves while trying to force people to feel national pride.

2009 marks the 25th anniversaries of a couple of events. One is the Bhopal Union Carbide gas leak. I was just in Bhopal. Thousands of people have died. Many thousands continue to suffer-I visited a clinic and talked to some survivors. Children are being born with birth defects because the aquifer has been contaminated because of chemical leaks. Nothing has happened to Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical, a huge U.S. chemical corporation, also infamous for its Agent Orange in Vietnam. And the other event that occurred in 1984 was right here in New Delhi primarily, the massacre of thousands of Sikhs in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. To date no one has been brought to book in either of these cases.

The Indian government didn’t ask for the extradition of Warren Anderson, the head of Union Carbide, who continues to enjoy the protection of the U.S. government. And the government here that is in power now still shelters people who killed Sikhs and burned them alive on the streets of this city and has denied justice to those people all these years. This kind of poison never goes away. It is because the Congress Party did not see that justice came to the people who participated in those killings. That they kept quiet over the killing of Muslims in Gujarat. And the killing of Sikhs in that way didn’t spread into the kind of contagion that it has because Sikhs are just a small, localized community, whereas if you do that to Muslims and there are millions of Muslims in the world who participate in that sense of outrage.

But everything in India is like this: Everything is swept under the carpet. You never get to the bottom of anything. The Godhra train was burned. Who burned that train? The pilgrims died. Who did it? We still don’t know. Who attacked parliament? We still don’t know. Who were the killers in Gujarat, in Bombay? Why wasn’t the Srikrishna report implemented when the Muslims were killed in Gujarat? You never get to the bottom of it. And the same in Kashmir. You always think that you can just ride on to the next wave of something or the other happening, because something or the other is always happening here. While farmers are killing themselves, you’re also winning a test match or Pongal is being celebrated somewhere or the food grain input has grown. Something else is always happening.

It must drive you batty.

These things don’t go away, they do grow and they do become something, and they do poison the bloodstream, and they do inform the politics of what’s going on. And eventually you can’t push it away, because there comes a stage when people simply won’t take it anymore. Whatever spin you put on it, people know what’s going on eventually.

There are something like 600 districts of the country, and according to some reports, about a third of them are in some kind of revolt or in some stage of resistance. In the Northeast, there has been a long-standing rebellion. You mentioned Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and other parts of the country. 

That is the situation. And that’s why I’m saying that this militaristic response is more for us, the citizens in India, than it is for Pakistan or for Lashkar-e Taiba (the group accused of the Mumbai attack) or for terrorism. It’s more to control us. It’s a very interesting thing, the difference between-right now Indian media are blaming the Pakistan media for being jingoistic, but I have no doubt that the Pakistan media is reacting to what happened.

But I think that, interestingly, this democracy has created a situation in which the elites are fused with the state; they see like the state. So you see columnists and writers in newspapers and magazines-I was just telling someone today, it’s amazing the way they are constantly giving advice. They always seem like the state. They always want to be ministers or policymakers. They are never citizens who are angry or outraged or protesting. They’re never at the receiving end of power; they are at the disbursing end of power.

The shoe-throwing event by an Iraqi journalist. I was in Kerala, your home state, in a rural area of the state, Champakulam. I was with a family there. And they spontaneously cheered when this was shown on television of this Iraqi journalist, Muntadar Zaidi, throwing shoes at Bush.

I think it was one of the more delightful things that happened in a long time. It was not just the fact that he threw them but the way the world took it up. Immediately there was a video game, millions of people threw those same shoes, there were millions of people in Baghdad with a shoe protest. And I thought here was such a wonderful farewell to this man, so much more wonderful than an assassination attempt or anything like that. So creative. Not just the throwing of it but, as I said, the use that was made of it by people and by the new media and so on. I was actually delighted by the fallout, the fact the shoemaker had orders for millions. It was like a modern version of the story of  “The Shoemaker and the Elves.” One of the biggest laughs I had recently was when I read some stodgy columnist in India writing disapprovingly of the fact that this had been done to Bush. He said it would have been so much better if he could have come up with a sarcastic, witty comment. And I thought, this man is not with the project at all.

One of the things-this was not widely reported-but Zaidi also made some comments as he was throwing the shoes, calling Bush a dog, which is very derogatory in Islamic culture. But he also said, “This is for the widows and orphans that you have made in Iraq.”

I would think that Bush ought to be flattered to be called a dog, because dog-I don’t think calling him a dog is at all derogatory to me, so we leave that out. Whatever it is, I think it was a more fitting farewell to that man than one could have come up with in a fiction film. It was wonderful and spontaneous. Maybe it wasn’t spontaneous. But the world’s reaction and the way the world took it up was beautiful. And as a person who enjoys this kind of watching and thinking about things politically, it opened up a kind of wonderful, irreverent, powerful political space, and that’s what I liked about it.

Let me ask you about the new American president, Barack Obama, and the promise of hope, of someone who will change America’s image in the world, which has been damaged under the Bush regime. What was your response and that of the people that you hang out with when Obama was elected?

It’s difficult to say, because I watched the night that he won. And I wasn’t so concerned about what he was as much as to see the happiness on people’s faces and to know that whatever will be given to them, the fact that they wanted a change, that they wanted something else meant a lot, because the last time they wanted the same guy back, which was devastating, I think, for the rest of the world.

The 2004 election of George Bush.

When he was reelected, yes.

We don’t say that, necessarily, in the States. Selected the first time, elected the second.

That election hardened a lot of people’s hearts, including mine, because I had been one of those people who said that there is a difference between the government and the people and all that. And then when it happened, you sort of felt… What will Obama do? I’m not one of those people who wants to be right inside the heart of America, understanding every move, because it’s not something I can do, but, to me, for example, the fact that he has been utterly quiet on this new bombing of Gaza, the fact that he has recruited so many of the old people, even if he says that he’s sure that he can push them in different directions, I haven’t seen anything on the ground that makes me feel that it’s going to be all that different. But still, to me, the fact that people wanted a change makes me feel better about the people.

I think Obama is going to be presiding over perhaps the debacle, the undoing of the American Empire. And that, I don’t think, needs to worry the American people, because the Romans are still around and the Brits are still around and the Americans will still be around and might be slightly more relaxed. It might be easier to be an American when there isn’t an American Empire. But I think that the unraveling of the economy is not going to be easy for people to predict what shape and form it will take and where the explosions will come and so on.

But surely the fact is that unless somebody sees this structurally, sees that there has been a structural problem which needs structural solutions, we are going to be in trouble, because I’m not an economist, but when I see that there is a crisis because people who have taken loans can’t repay those loans and your solution is to give more money to the lenders, not to the borrowers, it seems a bit strange. All this interconnected stuff, all those strings are going to come loose. And what form they take is hard to predict.

I think that in India, too, the fact is that so far the people who are being seriously affected are the rich, who can afford to be affected, in a sense. But I think the costs of this collapse are still being hidden by the media, because the media is invested in the markets, too, and needs to keep up this very scientific term that they use, “the sentiment of the markets.” So there is a lot of talking up that’s going on. But, in fact, people are losing their jobs. In India only a few months ago the finance minister, who is now the home minister, Chidambaram, said that his dream was to have 75% of the Indian population living in cities, which means 75% of the Indian population being dependent on this very fragile version of a kind of corporate global economy. That dream is over. The fact is, thank God, he didn’t manage to do that before this collapsed, because then we would have been in a lot of trouble. 

Right now I think that the real fact is that the government has to see that we grow more food, that agricultural lands and ecosystems and forests and mountain systems are not disturbed, because this is indiscriminate mining, this strip mining, this destruction of the ecology, this destruction of the rivers is eventually at the core of all this.

I was reading somebody who said that the way China can solve its problem is to make consumers out of its own population instead of manufacturing to sell outside. If it can make consumers out of its own population, it will have its own big market. But I think somewhere they have to see the connection between global warming and this indiscriminate consumption, because that’s where it’s going to collapse. We have to start finding ways of consuming less, of wasting less, of conserving more. You can’t just look at these as separate departments in separate universities. They have an impact on each other.

I’m glad you mentioned the environment, because in the U.S. as well there is much focus and attention on terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and rather marginal attention being paid to these very significant issues which actually threaten survival of the planet.

I have to tell you that last night I spent watching the new James Bond film. Very interesting. Only if you were a freak and interested in all the things that the film really wasn’t interested in would you see this. But still I think it’s of significance that in this film James Bond’s mission is to thwart a military coup against the government in Bolivia. They don’t say whose government it is, but we know whose government it is. A military coup that’s been plotted by a corrupt general and a French corporate who is going to fund the coup in return for the general signing over some big batch of land to him. So initially everyone thinks it’s because there is oil on that land. But, no, what it is is this man has built these dams and has sort of cornered 60% of the water resources of Bolivia and is then going to hold the country to ransom when the coup happens. So in its own twisted way the James Bond film was about the privatization of water and big dams and the overthrow of Evo Morales’s government. So it’s interesting that people are beginning to get it, people in        anotheruniversearealsobeginningtogetit.

And how is the writing going in terms of your novel?

It’s becoming very, very difficult to write because of all this, and I don’t know how to handle both things. But maybe that’s all right. Maybe we just muddle along.

Other AR Arundhati Roy programs –

A Writer’s Place in Politics 

The God of Small Things 

Globalization and Terrorism 

Imperial Democracy 

Confronting Empire 

The New Delhi Interviews 

The LA Interviews 

Public Power in the Age of Empire 

Seize the Time! 

The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile

Brave New India: Uprisings

David Barsamian
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