By KIMAYA DE SILVA —
Arundathi Roy presents us with three linked essays in “Walking with the Comrades” which reveal a well-hidden world of warfare in the jungles of tribal India. Roy gains firsthand access to Maoist guerilla militants and the war that is being waged against them by the Indian government. This exposé, written in eloquent prose, lures the reader into the lives of India’s silenced tribal people, whose fight to protect their natural resources has spun their lives into a narrative of pillaging, murder, rape and homelessness.
Roy, a nationally and internationally acclaimed author of numerous works including the award-winning novel God of Small Things, has more recently begun writing stinging political pieces condemning a number of issues including capitalism and corporate greed in India.
Roy was invited in 2010 into the jungles of central India to embark on a journey with Maoist guerilla militants that spanned a few weeks, during which time she learnt about their life and their fight protecting the land that they call home.
The Maoists, also known as the Naxalites in India, have been waging an insurgency against the Indian government for the last few decades, in conjunction with the fight of tribal people to protect their rich natural resources from corporate India. The two fights have converged into one convoluted path.
The jungles of central India are home to millions of indigenous people whose and sits on huge deposits of natural resources such as iron, ore and bauxite that are in high demand. These people who have been neglected and marginalized for years are more recently a focal point of the Indian state, as large corporations move in with stars in their eyes hoping to gain access to those resources.
Having been neglected so viciously, thousands of tribals have joined the guerilla fighters, whose bloody war against the state has become that much more confrontational because of the resources on which the tribals are sitting. Operation Green Hunt – once a fight against extremism but now the government’s battle to destroy the Maoists – is now a full-on war against the poor, according to Roy.
The highlight of the book is her central essay Walking with the Comrades in which she describes her experience of living with the young insurgents, many of whom are women, in the jungle. She writes how she is impressed by their sheer strength resisting the state’s ceaseless attack.
The insurgents – whose violent tactics are in no way Ghandian – are the sole reason that the land they are protecting has not yet been transformed into countless mines and dams. Roy strongly criticizes the Indian government for their senseless persecution of the jungle-residents all in the name of corporate greed but under the guise of defeating the Maoists, propelled as the enemies of the state who have created a “climate that is conducive to terrorism.”
“Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or non-combatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this Rich People’s War,” she writes. “And if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this country.”
Her didactic writing addresses the larger question of whether capitalism will tolerate any societies living outside its bounds. It is a piece not only applicable to India’s situation but to current affairs around the world.
This issue brings to mind the Rohingya of Myanmar whose silence under violent persecution has caused the displacement of thousands but has hardly scratched the surface of worldwide concern.
(Written by Kimaya de Silva, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Dec. 10. 2015)