The Bangladeshi Intellectual's Love Affair with Arundhati Roy

Published on Monday, March 11, 2019

By Syed M. F.

Famed Indian author Arundhati Roy had recently made her way to Dhaka and for someone who does not ardently follow her every footstep, this event would not have bothered me if not for the furor over the cancellation of one of her speaking events. I will, however, not spend the limited space and time I have to critique her writing – that, I think is best left to literary critics or at least people who have read her books. What I will do is try and shed a little light on the history of her social activism, of what I think should be called out, not the least by people who claim to be her friends, as misguided and by neutral observers, as utterly contemptible. Unfortunately, despite the relevance, her questionable background was overlooked by Bangladeshi intellectuals amidst all the fanfare around her rather banal and unoriginal social commentary.

Arundhati Roy's career as an official spokesperson of the oppressed took off with her support for Maoists (or Naxalites) in India's Red Corridor, a group who like to fashion themselves as left-wing revolutionaries fighting for the poor and the neglected, but in reality are little more than terrorists who resort to extorting and slaying the very people they claim to defend. Yet, she apparently does not show any qualms about openly showering them with praise, even writing a book on them in which she sheepishly describes their battle as one for the "soul of India". She has repeatedly abused the limelight that the media is all too happy to afford her to publicly back them, going as far to characterizing them as protectors of the constitution and Gandhian in nature (in her defence, she later clarified this to "Gandhian in the consumption pattern and … lifestyle", which nevertheless does little to ameliorate her original stance). Never missing an opportunity to purport her support for their "armed struggles", she, in the most basic hypocritical way never forgets to add, in the same breath, the all too necessary caveat – that she does not, and will never, support violence. How convenient! Apparently, her career as a creative writer has afforded her the skills to find a way to defend actions even the strongest of pacifists would struggle to defend.

Yet despite all her love for Maoists, she has refused to mediate a ceasefire between them and the government even when this offer came from the Maoists themselves. Perhaps she had finally come to terms with the fact that she has nothing more to offer but lip service. Unfortunate for the Maoists though – they were never known for having a good choice in friends.

Like any savior of the oppressed, Arundhati Roy has extended her support to secessionists in Kashmir, South India and even Sri Lanka. And if her romanticism of cross-border secessionists wasn't nauseating enough, one can always take refuge in an article she wrote for The Guardian, published only days after the Mumbai attacks which she linked to the Gujarat violence in 2002 and the Kashmir conflict (all the while conveniently forgetting Pakistan's role in the massacre), and her fascination with terrorists like Hafeez Saeed and Afzal Guru (on whom she was gracious enough to even write a book). Yet, she could not muster enough sympathy to write about the victims of the very terrorists that she appears to be so fond of – not the 165 innocents who died in the Mumbai attacks, and certainly not the 76 policemen killed by Naxalites in Chhattisgarh.

Those like her who claim to preach should always be held to higher moral and ethical standards and subject to greater public scrutiny than the rest of us wallowing behind. Arundhati Roy's questionable background in defending the rights of the oppressed have led her to take positions that are not only morally repressible but downright atrocious. These, however, did not prevent her from gracing the headlines of major newspapers in Bangladesh or sharing a quiet afternoon tea with one of the editors of a major newspaper. Would the same Bangladeshi intellectuals fawning over her now afford her these privileges if she uttered a word in praise of the secessionists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts? Or if she used the media platforms to spew nonsense about the terrorists who carried out the Holey Artisan attack? I certainly hope not. Time for us to introspect.

About the author: Syed M. F. is a graduate student and instructor in Mathematics at the Georgia State University and has previously worked at the Centre for Policy Dialogue and BRAC University.

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