Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Amira Hass, Arundhati Roy & M. J. Akbar

Yesterday M. J. Akbar was in Rome for the release of his new book in Italian "Fratelli di Sangue", or the Blood Brothers. This is how he started his speech:

India is the world’s latest quotation mark. Nepal has become a question mark, Sri Lanka an oversized exclamation mark; and Bangladesh is imprisoned between brackets, the space for leeway decreasing by the day. Pakistan is teetering towards a full stop. China has turned into yesterday’s paragraph: still impressive, but with the contradictions becoming evident through cracks separating sentences.

What a wonderful feeling to be an Indian at that moment in history when the world begins to applaud as India comes within reach of that long-promised tryst with destiny, and shifts imperceptibly towards the centre of the stage.

And last night, I was reading the article by Amira Hass on Arundhati Roy in the Italian magazine, Internazionale. And, I was thinking about the differences in their view points, between the India described by M. J. Akbar and that described by Arundhati Roy. They do not seem to be same countries.

Amira is an Isreali journalist, one who lives in Palestine and talks about the Palestinian human rights. I can imagine that she must be seeing and reporting on things and situations that can't be described as happy and optimistic. Yet, even she seems a little afraid of the sense of darkness and doom in Arundhati Roy's words. Or, may be, it is me, reading between the lines and imagining things that are not there. But it is true, reading Ms. Roy is not easy, especially when we are used to the shining and glowing descriptions of India as exemplified by the words of M. J. Akbar above. Reading Arundhati or listening to her speak, I often feel that she is a very negative person, looking only on negative side of things yet, I also understand that the unpleasant things she says do have grains of truth in them that we often refuse to acknowledge because they are so unpleasant.

Both Arundhati and Amira were in Ferrara (Italy) for a conference in early October. I had already written about Arundhati's speech in that occasion. She had mentioned about the evening spent with Amira and how much she had enjoyed it. Amira's article is about the discussions from that evening. Here are a few examples from Amira's speech (my translation from Italian):

"The cruelty, in some way, is hidden by discourses on Gandhi, about the country where everyone medidates and does yoga. Oh yes, everything is going well, we play cricket, we elect Miss world and Miss Booker prize, we even have dissent, what a beautiful happy family. Instead no. The country is passing through dark and cruel times and you know what I tell you? That if we close our eyes, they will become darker and even more cruel. India does not have scruples of killings." she comments. And makes her list, even if partial: "A million persons, the dalits, the untouchables, still work in direct contact with excretions and what is tragic is that they are willing to fight for their right to work with human excretions, because they don't know what other work they can do. Everyday dalits are lynched but no accusess the persons responsible for this. In all of India killings of Muslims continue. In the last years 137 thousand farmers have committed suicide. Only in Kashmir, 60 to 80 thousand persons ahve been killed ... In the middle of the country, Arundhati Roy continued, there is a proper civil war going on: "Now they have discovered those damned mines of Bauxite in the states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh, that is used
for making Aluminium and the multinationals are doing everything to exploit it. You have to see what they are doing, bringing down whole forests, removing hills, deviating rivers, devastating the earth and forcibly evicting the inhabitants..."
Is Arundhati exagerating or is Akbar talking about illusions? Probably the truth lies some where in between or a little on both sides. While we have many Akbars, persons who see India as progressing and developing, there are not many Arundhatis talking about what is happening to those who can't be heard. Even when there are persons like Arundhati, I guess that it is not so pleasant to listen to them. Like for me. I would rather listen to Akbar any day.

Even Arundhati does not have any illusions about the persons for whom she raises her voice. "If at the end of so many battles, we shall win, the persons whom we are defending, you will see, those same persons will the ones to hang us first on a tree. I am talking about Maoists and islamists of Kashmir: at times we take sides of persons, who do not have place for us in their imaginations."

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