Arundhati Roy buries her ancestral faith
25/09/2010 00:06:58 Dr Vijaya Rajiva
In a long ,rambling, schoolgirlish article Arundhati Roy repeats much of the material she has hitherto visited upon the Indian public. There is a breathless repetition of the evils of Indian democracy as seen in the activities of the Manmohan Singh government, the sorry state of the cities, the poverty of the masses, the rascally corporations that exploit the tribals and ofcourse, her favourite hobby horse of recent times the Maoists in the Tribal belt. The analyses are hasty and flawed but no matter . . . . .(See ‘Trickle Down Revolution ‘ Outlookindia,Sept.20,2010).
Many have attributed her recent writings to the fact that her star has waned, certainly in India, but internationally also, where people are preoccupied with terrorism, the daily pressures of economic realities and so on. She now has a limited audience composed mainly of the Zed crowd and on occasions a trip to some Islamic country or other, such as Turkey where her half baked views on the Indian subcontinent would be welcome. In short, the general view is that she is simply a publicity seeking hound. Witness for instance her coy refusal to be on a committee which would mediate between the Maoists and the government on the grounds that she does not have the expertise ! Any serious attempt at resolution would pre empt her meanderings, and she also knows fully well the reception she would receive from her Maoist ‘friends’ should she fail in the enterprise. She has also therefore been described as a dilettante.
The present writer believes that there is more to all this than meets the eye. Consider the choice phrase she uses to describe Bharat as a ‘Hindu Corporate State’ with emphasis on the word Hindu. In the same breath she uses the phrase ‘our great country’(interview with Karan Thapar in Devil’s Advocate) Which historical reality is she talking about and why is she conscious that this is a country with a difference, so that she calls it a great country.
Which Hindu India is she talking about ? The one that has been in existence in the last 5,000 years or the one that is currently a corporate state that is composed of Hindus ? Certainly Manmohan Singh whom she fulminates against for his liberalization policies and his deference to the IMF, is not a Hindu. Certainly in a Hindu majority country one can assume that there are large numbers of Hindus in corporations, in government, in the bureaucracy and so on. If this is all she is saying one cannot really quibble, although one can note in passing that she does not complain about the Christian Corporate states of the West. Here, she only uses the more general word ‘Western’.
The answer to this puzzle comes when one realizes that she is not that familiar phenomenon that one meets : the deracinated Hindu. She is completely out of that stream. Arundhati was born into a Kerala Christian family and retains all the inborn prejudices of that community towards the Hindu religion.
The word ‘Hindu’ signifies anything that is to be abused, following the honourable tradition of the colonial missionaries. This can be clearly seen in her biased reference to the situation in Kandamhahal where a Hindu religious leader who had spent more than 60 years with the tribals in the area was murdered in 2008 by the Maoists. Swami Lakshmananda was killed along with an associate Hindu nun in an Ashram which has always been considered sacred ground in Bharat. Why did the Maoists kill him? He was merely advocating his faith which he had every right to do. But this was cutting into the turf of the Christian missionaries who were the proselytizers in that region and who did not want any competition from a Hindu monk. And what precisely was the link between the Maoists and the Church?
In the resulting violence some Christian families were killed and their churches vandalized by the Hindu tribals. But many Hindus had also been killed during those hectic days. There was also the central question of the struggle for land and resources by the Christian converted tribals who laid illegal claims to the land belonging to the unconverted tribals. These converts were were also attempting to benefit from the Scheduled Tribes benefits awarded to tribals after independence. The claims were illegal because the Government of India clearly stated that once a tribal converted they would lose the benefits.
In this context, Arundhati’s distorted version was brief and referred to Swami Lakshmananda being a member of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), a ‘fascist Hindu Organization ‘. Note that she does not comment on the ‘fascist’ Christian missionaries that were seeking to convert the tribals to the Christian faith. She castigates the VHP for bringing the tribals back to the Hindu fold.
Now, this is where Arundhati loses it completely. The tribals are Hindus. It was the colonial rulers who described them as ‘ animists’, meaning that they worshipped the spirits of the trees and natural phenomena. Had Arundhati been well informed about Hinduism she would have known that worship of natural phenomena is a part of Hinduism.
Indeed, the earliest expression of Hinduism the Rig Veda with its 1008 plus hymns invokes the terrestrial, atmospheric and cosmic phenomena as spiritual powers. The numerous gods and goddesses are personifications of the natural phenomena of the universe, much like those of the present day tribals.
The invocation in Hinduism is to the earth (Prithvi), the environment (Vanaspati), the spirits of the universe (Viswa Deva) and to the entire universe (Sarvam).
Such are the religious sentiments of the Hindus and they are in alignment with those of the tribals. Hence, Swami Lakshmananda was simply aligning himself with the native Hindu practices of the tribals and he clearly felt that this world view was superior to that of the Christian Missionaries and their religious dogma. He was killed for believing in Bharat’s ancestral faith.
Why does Arundhati miss all this and go into a vindictive reference to a ‘Hindu’ corporate state ? The present writer believes that this is because she is in denial of her ancestral faith, Hinduism. All Christians in India are converts from the original ancestral faith. Some quietly practise their new found faith. Many continue to live at peace in this tolerant land which has seen many different faiths arrive on its soil and has welcomed them. Many continue to serve the Indian state with loyalty.
Perhaps Arundhati could take a leaf from these members of the Christian community
and this would enable her to get a grip on herself and thus truly contribute to the solution
of the myriad problems that confront ‘our great country’ as she calls it but which she never hesitates to abuse as and when the opportunity presents itself, as a Hindu country!
(The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university).