Arundhati Roy: A voice raised against globalised indecency

(GREEN LEFT WEEKLY, Issue #380, October 13, 1999, page 10.)

By Lynette Dumble

In the two centuries since European invasion, Australia has witnessed, and been party to, its share of globalised indecency, predominantly against the continent's indigenous owners, but also against migrants, the disabled and those crying out for assistance in neighbouring regions, notably for the past 25 years in East Timor.

We are not without those demanding decency. But despite concepts of the global village, we rarely look further than our own borders to see the world at large beset by conflict, violence, and disease.

Few Australians would be aware, for example, that in Malaysia, in 1996, the Mahathir regime charged Irene Fernandez with ^”maliciously publishing false news^‘ because she dared to make public the abuse, torture and dehumanising conditions of Malaysia's migrant detention camps.

Fernandez was thereafter subjected to what became the longest trial in Malaysian legal history. She is now accused of ^”illegal assembly^‘ and faces the possibility of three years in prison if found guilty.

In Afghanistan, Meena left Kabul University in 1977 to lay the foundations for the Radical Association of Afghanistan Women, which gave voice to the deprived and silenced women of Afghanistan. Notably, Meena launched a

bilingual magazine, Payam-e-Zan (Women's Message), in 1980 to expose the criminality of fundamentalist operations in Afghanistan, before establishing Watan Schools for refugee children, and a hospital and handicraft centres for refugee women in Pakistan to support Afghan women financially. Meena was assassinated by KGB agents and their fundamentalist accomplices in Quetta, Pakistan, on February 4, 1987.

There are others of equal courage and fortitude, but at the end of the day we live in a world where too few voices are raised against the indecency which shames the 20th century.

On October 6 India's only Booker Prize-winning author, Arundhati Roy, delivered the 14th Wolfsohn Memorial Lecture at La Trobe University.

Comfortable with world acclaim for her novel The God of Small Things, secure with her royalties, Roy could have opted for the apathy of the global majority. Instead, she turned her hand to non-fiction, first with her End of Imagination, which highlighted the lunacy and hypocrisies of nuclear politics. Then she donated her The God of Small Things royalties to India's dalits, once called untouchables, for their struggle against caste discrimination and violence.

This year, Roy's For the Common Good has highlighted the injustice of the Sardar Sarovar dam project, the latest chapter of India's national water strategy, which has displaced 33 million people, mostly dalits constitutionally denigrated within India's caste society.

Most of their land and houses are now submerged as a direct result of the Sardar Sarovar project. They are increasingly subjected to police detentions and physical brutalities. Yet the organisation representing the villagers, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), and those living in the Narmada Valley remain firm in their resolve: ^”We may drown but we will not move^‘.

Added to the 14-year struggle of the Medha Patkar-led NBA for the beautiful, once peaceful, Narmada Valley, Arundhati Roy's voice, raised against bureaucratic and corporate indecency, has focused world attention both on the Sardar Sarovar project, and on the political process underpinning large dam engineering.

Roy's pen power is frequently breathtaking. Her two words, ^”Be there^‘, stirred the world's second most populous nation to heed the courage and resolve of the NBA in the August ^”Rally for the Valley^‘, while she herself saw her books burned, her personal security evaporate and separate charges of contempt and moral corruption laid against her in the Supreme Court.

Fearless voices for the victims of today's indecencies never die, but they are silenced by murderous laws which cater for fascist agendas. Arundhati

Roy's message at La Trobe University was, ^”Silence is indefensible^‘. If it stirred even one more voice to speak out against the indecency which pervades today's world, her trip down under was not in vain.

[Arundhati Roy is the author of The Cost of Living, Harper Collins, 1999, and For the Common Good, Harper Collins, 1999.]