Sunday, 24 July 2011

POVERTY: India: Tribal people in India live in extreme poverty: author

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Author and activist Arundhati Roy speaking there to the ABC's correspondent in India Richard Lindell.
Richard Lindell reported this story on Sunday, July 17, 2011 08:10:00

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Arundhati Roy found fame and international acclaim very early in her career, winning the Booker prize in 1997 for her first novel, The God of Small Things.
The Delhi-based writer has not produced a novel since, but has instead turned her attention to political activism.
Roy's latest work is a collection of essays that focus on the Maoists' armed struggle, which the Indian prime minister describes as India's greatest internal security challenge.
The Maoists now wield considerable influence over one third of the country, having found support among India's indigenous peoples.
Most tribal people live in extreme poverty and many are now in a fight with the state and miners over rights to their land.
Arundhati Roy spent three weeks with Maoist rebels before writing her essay titled, The Broken Republic.
She's speaking here with our India correspondent Richard Lindell.

ARUNDHATI ROY: My images of that places were images of a great deal of beauty, a great deal of suffering and a great deal of ferocity of you know, fighting back, the poorest people fighting back in ways that are unforgettable.

RICHARD LINDELL: Your critics call you an apologist for the Maoists, that you brush over the violence they inflict on the locals, that you ignore the way that they collect taxes, that you don't really look closely at the way some people are forced to join the armed struggle. What do you say to that?

ARUNDHATI ROY: My journey was to the Maoist areas in Chhattisgarh, in Bhasta (phonetic) actually. But the Maoists are spread across Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal and they do have a different nature in other places, you know. And there are moments when pretty unforgivable things have been done.
But you see the problem is that the critics as well as those who are considered pro-Maoist, you end up with this sort of atrocity based analysis, where yes, everybody is considered, committing atrocities, you know, but what is the underlying battle about?
I see this kind of thing as a absolutely unfeasible, unsustainable way of snatching from the poor and giving to the rich, which is why you have a country today where you have among the highest growth rates in the world, but you know, 800 million people living on 45 cents a day and you have the highest number of malnutrition people and children, and you have more poor than the poorest countries of Africa put together.
And yet you have the greatest number of billionaires. You know, so there's something very twisted about what's going on.

RICHARD LINDELL: So if development and a market economy isn't the way forward, what is a solution? How does the government bring those 800-900 million people that you've spoken about, living in abject poverty, out of poverty and lift their living conditions?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah so we have to actually have to really look at what you mean by development. You have to find a situation where people are more in control of their own lives, you know, of their own environment, of their own water, of their own land.

RICHARD LINDELL: In your book you speak of the sparse beauty of the villages and the homes in the tribal areas, of the wonder of sleeping underneath the stars with just a thin plastic blue sheet underneath you. In your quieter moments do you ponder whether you have a slightly romantic view of life in the tribal areas?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Many people have accused me of having a romantic view, whereas I personally I feel sorry for those who have lost romance in their lives, you know? I mean I would say that people who promote the free market and growth are far more romantic, and far more ideologically driven and blinded by their vision than somebody who goes in and comments about the beauty of a forest or the stars in the sky you know?

RICHARD LINDELL: I asked you that question because when I was with the Santhal tribe in West Bengal, they didn't want development to pass them by, they wanted the state police to stop torturing and killing them, but they wanted the government to provide the welfare that they were entitled to. They wanted a doctor for their hospital, they wanted roads, electricity and clean water. And most of all they wanted opportunities for their children in the form of schools, education and good jobs.

ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah but they don't want their forests to be cut down right. They don't want to live in concrete skyscrapers, they still enjoy the forests and the stars and surely, I mean surely the Indian government for 50 years has not provided hospitals, clinics, schools, water, nothing. They just have hunger and policeman around. That's what they have. And that's what is called development.

RICHARD LINDELL: One final question. You appear to be more popular overseas than you are at home. Why do you think it is that an international audience is more receptive to your ideas than they are here in India?

ARUNDHATI ROY: Well this isn't true, you know, it's just that the India that probably has always had this middle class, the media, and that kind of thing, and there's a lot of criticism. But I go to, you know, small towns in Bhubaneswar or Raipur, there are you know, 3,000, 5,000, I mean huge meetings happen and so it is just that the middle class in India's appropriated voice, the opinion making.
I mean my writing is translated into every Indian language, it's distributed in pamphlets, in little private video things, it's everywhere. You know, so it's a lovely pastime for the middle class to think of itself as the whole nation but it isn't.

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