Why does Arundhati Roy see a Muslim in a Maoist?

Muslims are not Maoists. There is a difference that Arundhati Roy needs to understand before making any sort of comparison. To begin with, Muslims as a community, a social group, as citizens are not at war with or in any part of the country.

This is her statement about Maoists, and even if I am using only that which has been quoted in the press, there is still room for no obfuscation or being wrongly interpreted:

“If I was a person who is being dispossessed, whose wife has been raped, who is being pushed off his land and who is being faced with this police force, I would say that I am justified in taking up arms. If that is the only way I have to defend myself,” she said when asked if armed struggle was justified. “We should stop thinking about who is justified... You have an army of very poor people being faced down by an army of rich that are corporate-backed. I am sorry but it is like that. So you can’t extract morality from the heinous act of violence that each commits against the other.”

The above quote is important because it comes after the association she has drawn. Her opinion about holding talks with them is valid, but it does not hold true when she says:

“My fear is that because of this economic interest (in mineral-rich states), the government and establishment needs a war. It needs to militarise. For that it needs an enemy. And so in a way what Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress.”

Where is the connection? The Indian Muslims for the BJP were a political nemesis that had to be decimated only because of their religion. They did not militarise because of their faith or otherwise. Muslims did not declare a civil war, they did not take up weapons, they do not constitute a whole, in fact. Mumbai and Gujarat happened not because of economic interest. The ones who were raped and dispossessed did not arm themselves; it was done by those who were anyway opposed to certain aspects of governance or had already formed organisations that may be called militant in nature. None of the retaliatory measures have been as combative and was in one case said to be sponsored by the Dawood underworld gang, which earlier had political patronage. The Indian Mujahideen or any of the smaller groups have not been able to sustain themselves.

From her remarks, it appears as though the entire community is on a crusade, and by such implication she makes the insidious insinuation that it would be justified. The Muslims will decide whether they are justified in doing something or not as per the laws of the land. That is what they have always striven for, including the maulvis who have said time and again that they will go for judicial probes and judicial decisions, including the one on the Babri Masjid.

I am not venturing into the Maoist Movement right now, but at least in this context she seems to completely ignore the role of Muslims in the political arena. They have never sought an armed struggle. It should be remembered that Muslims were not up against the corporate lobby in the BJP, but a strong middle class. This middle class resentment arose because the anti-Muslim theories fed by the BJP had managed to both emotionalise and intellectualise the issue. The middle class was at the centre of the internalised war in this case and continues to be so.

The weapons used are prejudice.

And prejudice, unfortunately, is not just bias from one kind of people. Liberals use it in large measure, too. When Roy was at a seminar with Pakistani peace activists among a predominantly Muslim crowd, she described Taslima Nasreen in these words: “She is not a great writer. Don’t waste your energy on her.” A week before that, at the same venue, along with Girish Karnad and many other intellectuals, she had battled for her.

So, how do these two versions work in tandem? Why are there different standards for the same person, the same issue?

With this background, it is indeed disconcerting to watch a complete disregard for the nuances of cultural reasons of protest. One would understand, though not fully accept, a comparison with insurgency in Kashmir. But most certainly not with Muslims. However, it is unlikely that the liberal brigade will raise any objections, for several reasons:

• You question the Roys and their ilk and in the populist and popular imagination you cease to be a liberal.

• You will not be considered a qualified proponent of dissent, for you will appear to be against the Maoist struggle.

• You will not be seen as supportive of Muslims, the last great bastion left for the liberals, much like vote banks for politicians.

What many will not understand is that to be a true liberal you do not need to follow a specific liberal ideology. That would be the antithesis of liberalism. If you do not question the people who speak your language even if you disagree then you are creating some new gods and heroes. You may not have the same reasons to support insurgency groups and armed struggle as this group. And while Muslims have got support from many people, no liberal or activist can change how people think about them. That will happen through symbiosis. We are dealing with history here, not mineral rich corporate games.

The Indian Muslim is fighting a daily battle for acceptance as a rightful citizen and not rejecting the state.

It perhaps won’t suit the professional liberal agenda but Muslims are not going along with this sham comparison.


  1. Hi Farzana,

    Did not Arunadhiti Roy get an award for worst sex writing? Thats how i found out about her.

    One has to admire such people for their ability to keep on staying in lime light inspite of shallowness of their views.They know what creates interesting sound bites .Winning some awards also helps.

    In my mind she is our Paris Hilton.Some how being anti establishment and a rebellion sympathiser is still in vogue in some circles.

    Thanks for not letting these people define a whole group in their own convenient caricature.
    kul bhushan

  2. My reading of that statement was that like Muslims are the punching bag for the BJP, Maoists will do the same service for the Congress.

    As India's middle class is growing, Congress is trying to be the favorite party of this class by positioning themselves as a party that is tough on crime, rebel activities, terrorism, etc.

    So the comparison, to me makes sense. But it does not mean Muslims are like Maoists.

  3. Miss Roy is a loud mouth and creates trouble, not a serious thinker or activist. Her words on maoism are childish and she loves Muslims. You should be the last one to complain.

  4. I think you misunderstood. AFAIU, she meant that just like Muslims were made out to be bogeymen by the BJP, so are Maoists being made out to be bogeymen by the Congress. She wasn't commenting on Muslims, she was commenting on BJP's attitude towards them.

  5. Kul Bhushan:

    I agree with only a part of your comment. There is genuine dissent and it is an important part of the political and democratic process. My problem is when some people use any and every dissent lobby without being a part of it or having a deeper understanding...I have always maintained that by speaking up for Muslims many of them really muck it up. Even I, a born Muslim, do not claim to speak for the community.

    PS: I liked her novel a lot, and it is not only about sex!

    Kashif and Anon 2:

    I did not misunderstand her comment. She took off unnecessarily at a tangent, and I am using the same tangential paradigm.

    She was not talking about Muslims, but used them to make a comparison. The Maoists are not the punching bags and the important point I was trying to make is there is a difference between a movement and a community.

    She in fact did not refer to the middle class but the rich corporate sector, which again I have pointed out shows the glaring difference even if we go along with the punching bag theory. Why did she not pull up the middle class this time?

    She did indeed comment on the BJP's attitude towards Muslims and not the Muslims, but read the whole comment. We need to see what precedes it, too:

    “My fear is that because of this economic interest (in mineral-rich states), the government and establishment needs a war. It needs to militarise. For that it needs an enemy. And so in a way what Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress."

    Her "for that" has to be taken cognisance of. I have already held forth on this, explaining the Muslim position. We must understand that these are loose remarks. She could have mentioned Gujjars instead of Muslims, or anyone else...

    But as I said, there might even be applause from the Muslim gallery. Had a maulana type made such a comment, there would be a huge ruckus and of course the ubiquitous jihad would come in.

    Anon 1:

    What has her love for Muslims got to do with her views on Maoists? And why should I be the last one complaining? Let's just put it simply: If you are putting me into a religious slot, then I ain't looking for love. Thanks, anyway.

  6. Yeah what she wrote was that for 'the establishment' to 'militarise', it needs to create an enemy like BJP needed to create a enemy.

    I don't agree with her remark about 'the establishment' or 'militarisation', but nowhere is she commenting on Muslims here. She is trying to make equivalence between the BJP motivations to 'scapegoat' Muslims and govt/etc motivations to 'scapegoat' Maoists.

    Gujjars are not an appropriate comparison because no one is trying to 'scapegoat' them.

  7. How can you say no one is trying to scapegoat Gujjars? Anyhow, I used the word in a deliberately facile manner to drive home the point that there was no need to refer to Muslims at all. The BJP in Orissa has targetted Christians, and elsewhere Dalits.

    As I said a tangential remark will result in a tangential reaction.

    - - -
    I keep saying this. Why don't people who wish to remain anonymous at least use a pseudonym? I am not that bright that I will figure out who you are, and I really don't wish to probe.

  8. Farzana,
    I agree with you on the "sham comparison" of Muslims with Maoists.
    Arundhati Roy has, however, made much bigger blunders in her IBN interview.
    Throughout the interview most of the time it has been a rhetorical tactic. Backlog of development, depravation of democratic rights, lack of representation in mainstream politics etc. Agreed, all these problems have been there but is that it to the Maoist movement ? Democratic rights - well won't Maoists be working as Civil liberties organizations ? Representation in electoral politics - won't they be working for cleaning up the electoral system ? Making election commission of India more vigilante - anybody ? any Maoist ? And development backlog - won't they team up with likes of Anna Hazare to fight on this ? Maoists know pretty well they are here to change the system - so does the Government. It is the so called intellectuals who are making a facile arguments by hibernating in their make believe world. To be sure - Arundhati Roy has raised the correct point about Maoists mostly working in mineral rich belt so covetted by big Industrialists. Nobody in the centre would've had cared as much had it been some corner district in Assam or Nagaland. But then - again - Congress doesn't need Maoists for its survival . Definitely unlike the BJP's need for "traitors" and "rashtradohis".
    From this point on - if the contemporarily prominent Maoist organization (as histroy has it - a combination of PWG and MCC) - does grow in military control - the Indian state will be challenged to take more draconian measures leading to a all out war. This may - most likely - not happen. Arundhati Roy needs to be clear about this dynamics. As a intellectual - she should tread rather carefully and well researchedly when making arguments.
    Whatever be hear position - be it pro-government or pro-maoist or some other "independant position" it needs to be well thought out. She should realize she is not "Amir Khan" showing a shallowly considered support to Narmada Bachao Andolan. Arundhati Roy should realize she is "Arundhati Roy".


  9. Mahesh:

    The problem with such rhetorical tactics by people who are considered intellectuals can be hugely detrimental. The Maoist Movement is indeed different and larger than the concerns you quoted her expressing. It is much like any politician making promises or talking about improvements. Heck, even our PM and Rahul Gandhi have said this movement is about poverty.

    So, what marks her out? And, more importantly, why was she interviewed on the subject at all? Is she an active participant? Or an ideologue of the Maoists ethos? Most dissident movements are not trying to make any difference within the government; they want out in real or other terms. They would never be able to work with the likes of Anna Hazare.

    You are right the government would not have cared at all if this had happened in some remote corner. But would the intellectuals? These movements have been active for long and their ‘mainstreaming’ is itself an exercise in getting populist support. That is the whole idea behind the futility of the ‘sham comparison’ I talked about.

    She should realize she is not "Amir Khan" showing a shallowly considered support to Narmada Bachao Andolan. Arundhati Roy should realize she is "Arundhati Roy".

    While I agree and have written about Aamir Khan’s publicity stint for ‘Rang De Basanti’, I’d like to say that Ms Roy is not Medha Patkar.

    On a related note, you might like to see this sometime (The Asian Age link won’t work, but I had saved it here):


    PS: Sorry about the delayed posting of your comment; it was not in the Inbox.


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