November 09, 2009

Defending Arundhati Roy

Indians need to be more self-critical.

Indians who belong to the middle and upper classes are all too happy at the way things are.

They are happy with the situation where there are really only a very few people who are wealthy in this country and the rest are in wretched poverty. This, of course, serves the wealthy as they can employ the poor to take care of their numerous needs ... there's someone to drive the car, someone to babysit, someone to wash the clothes, someone else to do the dishes, someone to wash the car, someone to do the gardening, someone else to do the cooking, and may be someone to bring the vegetables from the market as well ...

Rich Indians live a royal life in many ways. And they go outside of India for holidays and come back and talk about how nice and wonderful things are abroad and how wrteched things are in India.

Then there are others like Arundhati Roy who like to point out the wretchedness of life that is the reality for many Indians. People like her want to point out all the warts rather than hiding them under the carpet.

But this makes the chattering classes uncomfortable as it will force them to confront some hard realities and may be they will need to make "adjustments" to their comfortable lives as well.

The fact is that there's a life-and-death struggle happening when India is trying to develop.

When new industries are sought to be set up or new mines or new dams built, that means displacement for huge swathes of people.

India is not a vast country like Russia — although India might be vast compared to many tiny European nations.

So, there are no vast unpopulated areas in India like, say, Siberia in Russia.

Therefore, when India is trying to develop, it also has to take into account the displacement that many people are going to suffer as a result of that development process.

People like Ms. Roy certainly have a right to raise the voice of protest on behalf of the displaced people ... although such a voice might be awkward sounding to the middle class of this country that is too busy trying to ape the West in an all-too-shallow way.

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