Arundhati Roy's Awakening

Arundhati Roy is one of the most popular "leftist intellectuals" in India; known for her take on several issues including globalization, imperialism, and media.  Given this image, many Tamil activists hoped that she would join their cause in protesting against the GOSL and India. They probably didn't wish for a dramatic demonstration that she staged in the Narmada Dam site, but a 200 word op-ed  or a flashy statement at the end of her lucrative book readings. To get some attention from the English press in India, and possibly English television. But her indifference and silence about the Sri Lankan Tamil issue may have raised doubts about her intellectual depth and integrity even among her fans.

Some Tamil intellectuals -- who were left leaning themselves -- were not surprised, though. Some even likened her to 'Hindu' Ram. Thamizhavan, wrote a very insightful article about a month ago. He identifies the likes of Roy as elite, "half baked, cosmopolitan intellectuals" who pick up issues that "matter" in order to be recognized as progressive thinkers. He says, "talking extensively about Palestine while not blurting a word about Eelam is an important characteristic of this band." Thamizhavan expressed his views in regards to Chomsky's interview to Sri Lanka Guardian (SLG). He argues that politically regressive media houses like The Hindu, SLG, and top "cadres" of the communist parties in India try to "monoplize Chomsky and his ideas" to lend credibility to their politics.

My impression of Roy has always been that of a lazy thinker who picks up pointers from Noam Chomsky and other serious intellectuals. She frames templates based on Chomsky's writings and moulds her views on several issues with them; quite successfully, I must add.

The SL conflict, if she ever thought about it, must have put her in a tight spot, though. In the SLG  interview, Chomsky confesses that he is not well-informed on the ethnic conflict. (Why? We don't know.) So Roy probably didn't know what to say with nobody to plagiarize ideas from. She must have wondered if there is any scope to personalize this issue; something that would also appeal to the smug crowd that quotes her writings and gathers for her speeches. Or she felt that her histrionics can never match the self-immolations Tamil Nadu has seen -- and India hasn't -- the last few months.

With everything pretty much done and dusted with, Roy has stepped into the arena with her article in The Guardian. This article may not do any good to Sri Lankan Tamils, but at least now she cannot be accused of saying nothing about the genocide. The most infuriating aspect about it is that she insults our intelligence right in the first line and maintains that intent throughout:
The horror that is unfolding in Sri Lanka becomes possible because of the silence that surrounds it. There is almost no reporting in the mainstream Indian media - or indeed in the international press - about what is happening there. Why this should be so is a matter of serious concern.
You wonder whether she's talking to herself? Not so. For she absolves herself from the sinful crowd with this indisputable explanation:
Several of us - including myself - who should have spoken out much earlier have not done so, simply because of a lack of information about the war.
She has so much conviction in her defence that she presents the case like a reporter on field would; "breaking the news to the world." The article is also written with a matter-of-fact tone. Quite unlike her flowery expositions about 9/11 or Kashmir. "The few eyewitness reports that have come out are descriptions of a nightmare from hell," (emphasis mine) seems to be the best she could cook. Maybe she didn't realize there's no hurry to turn the article in. After all, she had the patience and intellectual commitment to gathering information for 30 years before she "broke her silence." Hope nobody breaks her jaw for the puerile recital of old facts.


Anonymous said...

Chk out this reaction from the Sl government.

Anonymous said...

I think she totally forgot that The Guardian has reported on Srilankan atrocities of creating 'Clean Villages'. To my knowledge British media has covered this war quite well. However I have to agree with her that the world has been relatively silent.

This article also appeared in Times of India.

Too little Too late.

murthy said...

I felt the same way about her..I haven't had a lot of disagreements with what she writes because it has a strong chomsky influence. but her speeches are just about pleasing the hippies.

as for the eelam issue, it's not even that she kept quiet for so long, it is her reason for being so. as people have pointed above, The guardian, Times of India, frontline and almost every english news paper in India has written so many stories about eelam. she herself writes in them all the time. what a shameless liar?

the article is also very poorly written. India's assistance in helping the lankan military was confirmed by lankan officers in public. but she still writes "there unconfirmed reports". did you notice that it has been almost a week since she wrote the article and there's no coverage of it in news channels? looks like when it comes to eelam even Arundhati Roy is irrelevant.

murthy said...

btw, did chomsky respond to the signed letter you sent me?

Anonymous said...

This is the typical hypocrisy of the Western or Westernized media. Just to point out an example: remember the Tamil protest in TO about a few weeks ago? No? I didn't think so...

By most standards, the protest in Toronto was rather well organized and very peaceful. Not only that you find high-school kids participating in the protest apologizing for any inconvenience it might cause the general public. And all this got was one day's attention and very little response from the media or the government.

Anyone here about the earth-quake in Italy? 100 people are supposed to have lost their lives. A tragic event, no doubt. But this is receiving more coverage than the Tamil protest. And its likely to stay on the news for the next week.

I don't mean to demean the people who died in Italy, but compared to the earth-quake tragedy, the genocide in SL is a fu#$%ng catastrophe. Yet no one in the media gives the serious coverage it deserves.

And I am not 100% sure but I think there are more SL Tamils in Canada than there are Italians who emigrated from Italy within the last 50 years.

Suresh said...


Given the press's disinterest right from the beginning (except in showing 'file' footage of grenade launches and some machine gun fires), I am not surprised. I don't know if Indian press has written "so many stories," but they reported the war -- mostly from a strategic point of view or pro-SL like The Hindu. But yeah, to say that she didn't know what was going

Yeah, Chomsky did respond:"Thanks for your letter. You are correct that I did not discuss the topics you mention, nor did I discuss the atrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers. The reasons are those I stated. I do not discuss topics unless I know enough about them to voice a confident opinion."

He's fairly accessible to people so it's not a surprise that he was dragged to talk about something he's not overly knowledgeable about. That's the thing though; he talks about so many global issues for an "American intellectual." He's bound to miss a few things. Especially if the intellectuals of the region don't put it out. This is also where English aversion in TN has acted detrimentally (among other things).

Anyway, the letter and his reply are here:

Anonymous said...

do you have other stuff written by Tamizhavan regarding this issue?

Anonymous said...

What else can you expect from Arundhati? I never thought of her as a liberal thinker, she is more like a parrot. But, I find it hard to blame her. Most of her ilk (north indian liberal 'thinkers') can't seem to step outside of their 'culture' and think like a true lefty. [Note that I said MOST].

However, all these supposed north indian thinkers raise a hue and cry when it affects north indians or to some extent foreigners. From my personal experience, I suppose this is because north indian culture has a habit of looking down on South Indian culture. As a result, even when there is a true violation of human rights in the South which the central government approves of in an implicit way, you will barely hear any objections from the north.

I mentioned north indian 'culture' because you can find the same thing happening even among immigrants in the West. You will find that a majority of north indians in US/Canada support leftist issues such as freedom of religion but ask them whether they will support their federal government if it were to condemn the genocide in Sri Lanka, they will invariably say no. Hell, I am willing to wager that most of them will support Sri Lankan government more than the regular American/Canadian citizen.

What a sad state of affairs!

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that Arundathi was a Keralite. That was an interesting analysis. It's a good thing my mind is still open to the 'other argument'. I read her article, then remembered Leena Manimekalai mention how Arundhati refused to participate in a peaceful protest highlighting the Eelam issue in Delhi.

I realize the political divide in North/South or even East/West, both parts that hardly get mentioned. But when you look at it, a colonial country will feel its impact for generations to come. That is what is happening in Srilanka. Likewise, the fight between English, self-proclaimed national language Hindi, and of the so called regional languages will always exist. Tamils are usually marginalized in this linguistic war, because the leaders post-Independence who took a strong stand against having to study two languages on top of mother tongue, were Tamil Nadu leaders.


Satya said...

Arundhati is a Keralite by the way, though her father (who apparently abandoned her mother quite early) was a Bengali. To analyse her public statements or postures or whatever from the North/South angle is therefore quite mistaken. It is true most intellectuals in the north of India are not concerned about what happens in the South but then not many Tamilians are lining up to protest 50 years of the Indian state's atrocities in the north-east or Kashmir- so the indifference is mutual. If the world is also silent about the ongoing genocide in Sri Lanka there are whole lot of factors involved- primarily the fact that the big powers like US/UK etc. have themselves committed genocide openly in Iraq or Afghanistan just recently under the guise of a War on Terror. To appeal to them to come and help the Sri Lankan Tamils, as several Tamil politicians and groups in Tamil Nadu are doing, is akin to asking help from the wolves to rescue you from the hyenas.

As for Arundhati's statement- the background to how it happened is like this. She was supposed to address a public meeting in Chennai on 30th March at Loyola College but could not come at the last minute due to the demise of one of her close friends. The statement was in lieu of her not being able to make a speech on the subject. I know because I was among the organisers of the Loyola meeting, which incidentally went off quite well without her too.
Though her statement was a regurgitation of old facts (incidentally not a disqualification when a genocide has been going on for 35 years as in SL) due to her brand name the issue did get highlighted in media across the globe. She has been attacked publicly by the Sri Lankan government and its stooges as a 'LTTE supporter', 'Terrorist' etc., and all kinds of other unmentionable epithets. I would say that instead of taking out past grievances against her ignorance or silence or whatever those supporting the Tamil cause should support the fact that she has at least come out clearly against the racist Sri Lankan government at a time when most Indian and for that matter global 'intellectuals' are completely silent on the issue. Attacking her at this point of time in different forums is not just in bad taste but indicative of the kind of hair splitting, infighting and sectarianism that have landed the champions of Tamil Eelam internationally in the kind of mess they are in right now. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past endlessly.

Anonymous said...

Sad that Datya who is genuinely concerned with the Tamils' issue has to defend Arundhati a fake.

Anonymous said...

1. Satya says south Indians and Tamils do not take up Kashmir or north-east issues. True, he should know that they are aware that these are problems of federalism in the south Asian polity, unlike north Indian politicos who are caught in their own worlds.

2. Satya says US, UK are committing open genocide in Afghanistan and Iraq. True, they are getting away with all that. At the same time, the language of the state in the West acknowledges that there is something called genocide. It has also got into the UN langauge. India, China, Indonesia and Myanmar do not even acknowledge that language. Why? Can Satya explain?

3. Satya has no explanation to offer why Arundati and her ilk is speaking up only now. Or why so many other journalists and writers in north India are still quiet so long. Or why the English cosmopolitan media is vociferously portraying the Tamil demands as a problem associated only with the Tigers. He is trying to contrasting the two and is offering a pathetic defence for Ms. Roy.

3. Satya has nothing to reply to the key observation that Roy does not construct problematques but only picks up global trends successfully. This is an issue where the global intellectuals like Chomsky have confessed their non-knowledge. And Arundati has come a cropper. Effectively, she has proved that she is a copy or a fake.

Suresh said...


Please leave a name (just pick a random nickname) with your comment so that there's consistency in reference. It's also easier to quote.

Mayuran said...

Unrelated, but this video should be seen by every Tamil who knows nothing morethan "there is a problem in Ilankai"

evision said...

Ramkumar said...

A comment too late. Though her interviews with maoists need to be appreciated, there is no denying the fact that she aims to be India's chomsky. But unlike chomsky, there is often no expalanation with any inherent logic behind her radical statements. She just copies Chomsky's conclusions and does a copy-paste job to indian scenarios.

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