On Annihilation of Caste : The Annotated Critical Edition


Neha Sharma on the Indian General elections, Arundhati Roy, and the secular ideal, in the LA Review of Books:

Roy’s nonfiction abandons the careful cadence of her Man Booker–winning novel, The God of Small Things (1997), and employs a combative approach. Roy’s critique of Indian democracy — which underscores most of her nonfiction, from Listening to Grasshoppers to Broken Republic — makes me feel like a reluctant trainee in a guerrilla camp. Critics have derided Roy as a polemicist, an agitator, and a hypocrite, but I believe her greatest failings in her nonfiction are her inability to appreciate complexity and her tendency to dehumanize her opponent.

Her lack of insight is best exemplified by Walking with the Comrades and “TheTrickledown Revolution,” her sympathetic essays about the Naxal movement, which is currently India’s biggest internal security threat. The Naxal movement — inspired by the tenets of Mao — is an armed struggle by adivasis(tribals) to reclaim their mineral-rich land, which the government-owned National Mineral Development Corporation is mining for bauxite. It seemed like a worthy cause, and Roy became a voice for the oppressed, but not a reasonable one. Over the past decade the “cause” inspired disenchantment among many of its own members because of the escalating violence — killing civilians and scapegoating bottom-rung public employees, like teachers and constables. But Roy stood strong in her support for the Naxals, with complete disregard for the brutality and destruction the movement spawned. The main characters of Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel, The Lowland (September 2013), are both immediate and collateral victims of the Naxal conflict, and, unlike Roy, the author allows for the inhumanity and disillusionment that an extremist revolution might engender, its noble motivations enmeshed in undesirable consequences.

Now Roy’s recalcitrance is given new relevance by the verdict of the 2014 prime ministerial elections in the world’s largest democracy: on May 16, the majority chose Narendra Modi — a Hindu nationalist who was once accused of abetting a pogrom against Muslims while he was the chief minister of Gujarat — as the 15th prime minister of India.

“The Doctor and the Saint”and its reaffirmation of Ambedkar’s views on Hinduism, caste, and social reform come at a time when the new regime might herald a resurgence of Hindu nationalism, in a country that has struggled and failed time and again to uphold the secular ideal.

More here.