Arundhati Roy's New Book takes aim at India's self-image
In nonfiction turn, acclaimed novelist takes India to task for nuclear arsenal, civil rights, tribal policy
By Rama Lakshmi, Washington Post Foreign Service; Monday, November 30, 2009
NEW DELHI -- In a new book, the award-winning Indian novelist Arundhati Roy takes aim at India's self-image -- and reputation -- as the world's largest and most vibrant democracy. Indian democracy, she asserts, is not only not working, it is "used up" and "hollowed out and emptied of meaning."
Such candor is guaranteed to upset the politicians, businessmen and ambitious professionals here who see India well on its way to becoming an economic and political powerhouse, commanding global respect. But the petite 48-year-old writer with the thin, childlike voice makes it her business these days to say things that upset people.
"My political writing is about absorbing all the anger at what is going on and giving it an expression," she said in a recent interview about the book, a collection of essays titled "Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers."
It is about "shattering the show window," she said.
In 1997, Roy won Britain's most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, for her semiautobiographical, politically freighted novel "The God of Small Things." Since then, however, Roy -- who trained as an architect, has written screenplays and acted in art-house movies -- has expressed her passion for political causes largely through nonfiction.
In more than seven books and numerous articles, she has portrayed a darker side of the country, denouncing its big dams, nuclear weapons, Hindu nationalist politics, counterterrorism measures that undermine civil rights and, most recently, the plight of its tribal people.
She accuses the New Delhi government of sacrificing people's welfare for the benefit of big corporations, driving people out of their homes to make way for factories and humiliating advocates of nonviolent protest.
"Are we going to drop the pretence that we are a democracy and openly accept that people's rights are not valid anymore?" she said in the interview. "There is a mutual incompatibility between democratic principles and forcibly displacing millions of people for corporate sharks and mining cartels."
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Arundhati Roy’s New Book Looks at What We Have Done to Democracy - Toward Freedom
Her book is titled: Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers