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Listening to Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy
Reviewed by Clare Doyle
Reading Arundhati Roy's collection of lectures and articles about India could make you want to weep, or to emit the 'feral howl' she herself is tempted to resort to. Her main aim is to reveal the sordid truth about the death, destruction and devastating injustice that underlies the so-called 'democracy' and 'progress' of which India's 'leaders' and friends abroad (especially Washington) tend to boast.
The book takes its title from the swarming of grasshoppers - an ominous sign - that preceded the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish state in 1915. She urges the Indian people to see that bigger horrors are ahead even than the Gujarati 'riots' of 2002, unless big changes can be carried through.
She exposes the devotion of India's two main parties - Congress and the BJP - to neo-liberalism in the period following the attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the slavish adoption of a 'war on terror' in India (and Kashmir).
She exposes the hypocrisy and downright villainy of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in control for decades of West Bengal, when it uses state forces and its own armed gangs to drive poor farmers from their land in the interests of multinational corporations.
She shows how Hindu nationalist pogroms and mindless terrorism wreak havoc with people's lives and how official responses bear little resemblance to justice.
Arundhati's picture of her beloved India is of a place where human life hangs on a very thin thread; even its rivers, mountains and forests are under attack. Not one major river now reaches the sea because of bungled, ostentatious and expensive irrigation projects.
Whole mountain tops are being sliced off in the pursuit of profit through bauxite and other mineral exploitation - by some of the world's most notorious corporate monsters, all with the willing assistance of the state.
The invasion of areas inhabited for millennia by people who know how to sustain life and nature is akin to the rape of South America by the European colonialists of the 18th century.
Arundhati Roy has pointed to the abject failure of Non Governmental Organisations to overcome the dire plight of the most downtrodden and oppressed.
She exposes the inadequacies of Gandhism, as well as accusing Non-Governmental Organisations of undermining people's will to organise and fight back. She sees how armed struggle becomes the only course of action left to people without the power to defend themselves and to run their own communities. One quarter of India's vast land is actually beyond the control of central and local governments.
Struggle against oppression
Brought up in the 'Communist'-run state of Kerala, Arundhati Roy shares the sentiments that still lie under the surface of Indian society - for struggle against oppression and for a real equality of opportunity in life for all.
The country's new middle class as well as the rich come in for a verbal hammering and a warning of the explosive conflicts they are creating through their drive to maximise profit.
Roy has carried out her own courageous campaigning work, especially on the issue of environmental destruction, but also on issues such as the slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
She has been not only viciously attacked in the country's media (which she also describes in ugly detail) but has spent time in prison for her brave campaigning. She points to the "systematic dismantling" since the early 1990s, "of laws that protect workers' rights and the fundamental rights of ordinary people" all under the relentless pressure from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank.
A powerful author and speaker, Roy plays an important role in exposing the crimes of capitalism - the flagrant everyday injustices being wrought in India on a sickeningly massive scale.
But she stops short of saying what can be done to right these wrongs and fill the huge political vacuum in Indian society.
The situation she describes is crying out for a new mass organised force of workers and poor people with representatives and leaders fully accountable to them and living as they do. The way to replace the gangsters, murderers and hypocrites at the top of Indian society is to conduct a struggle against the system of capitalism itself, root and branch. The most genuine form of democracy in India would be a socialist society. Arundhati Roy is an ally in the struggle for such a society.
- Listening to Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy, Hamish Hamilton £14.99 (hb). Paperback due out in 2010.