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Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers

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"Gorgeously wrought . . . pitch-perfect prose. . . . In language of terrible beauty, she takes India's everyday tragedies and reminds us to be outraged all over again."written in response to new developments in India that have seen the government launch a full scale war, "Operation Green Hunt," against the tribal community of Naxals defending their land in central India), and a previously unpublished essay also dealing with the government's response to the tribals' demands for greater land rights. Arundhati Roy's writings on the Naxals and her public support for their cause have led to a government investigation and threats of imprisonment, engendering worldwide petitions and outcry in her defense.

304 pages

First published October 1, 2009

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About the author

Arundhati Roy

112 books10.9k followers
Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer who is also an activist who focuses on issues related to social justice and economic inequality. She won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things, and has also written two screenplays and several collections of essays.

For her work as an activist she received the Cultural Freedom Prize awarded by the Lannan Foundation in 2002.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 155 reviews
Profile Image for Tarquin Hall.
Author 21 books612 followers
June 29, 2010
Earlier this year, I interviewed a senior economic adviser to the Indian government. When I challenged his view that India would soon be a “superpower” and referred to the country’s 600m poor, he shot me a venomous look: “You’ve been listening to Arundhati Roy!”

That Roy should be perceived as having singlehandedly coloured a foreign journalist’s perception of India is laughable. Away from the gated communities of the middle classes, the country’s problems are palpable. But no other Indian activist writes in such articulate English or attracts such attention in the West as the Booker prize-winning author of The God of Small Things.Having spent the past 12 years using her literary fame to shine a light on the country’s poor, she is seen by the elite as a veritable traitor.

Roy’s new book, in which she argues that a nexus of government, judiciary, industry and media is colluding to absolve each other’s sins, will not make her any new friends in such circles. No doubt the cheerleaders of the “new” India will dismiss these essays as the ravings of a woman who, in the words of the economic adviser, “will be out of a job when the Indian economy is bigger than America’s”. Those outside the country who have grown used to reading about the success of corporate India are also likely to question its realism.

Roy readily admits that she is “hysterical” about where Indian society is headed: “I’m screaming from the bloody rooftops.” In her view, “genocide” was committed in the Gujarat riots in 2002, Kashmir is under brutal military occupation and economic policies have driven millions to the brink of starvation. As for last November’s Mumbai attacks: “What we’re experiencing now is blowback, the cumulative result of decades of quick fixes and dirty deeds. The carpet is squelching under our feet.”

Hyperbole? Her razor-sharp diatribes are threatening precisely because they are so well reported and because she is so passionate about India’s future — a future that is being sabotaged, in her view, mainly by religious nationalism and political expediency. One case in point is the story of Mohammad Afzal, a Kashmiri sentenced to death for the 2001 attack on India’s parliament. Roy meticulously picks apart the bizarrely constructed case against him, based on circumstantial evidence, and sees the frenzied calls to hang him as an example of growing Hindu chauvinism: “If opinion polls, letters to the editor and the reactions of audiences in TV studios are a correct gauge of public opinion in India, then the lynch mob is expanding by the hour. It looks as though an overwhelming majority of Indian citizens would like to see Mohammad Afzal hanged every day, weekends included, for the next few years.”

Roy also chronicles the alarming abuses by India’s Supreme Court. One former chief justice was accused of allowing his sons to run a property empire from his official residence and profit from his court decisions. But the hapless Indian journalists who reported the story were found guilty of criminal contempt under an act that essentially prohibited criticism of the court or any of its justices.

But she saves her most devastating criticism for those involved in the killings of 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. Roy compares the Hindu right wing’s persecution of Muslims to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. “What kind of India do they want? A limbless, headless, soulless torso left bleeding under the butcher’s cleaver with a flag driven deep into her mutilated heart?”

Ultimately, Roy identifies the very democratic system India brandishes to the rest of the world as the underlying problem. It’s true, Indians are free to vote. But what connection, Roy rightly asks, does voting have with democracy when politics have mutated and justice is consistently subverted? Can Indians claim moral superiority when the highest judges in the land engage in brazen corruption; when the police boast of torture and routinely fabricate evidence to frame the innocent; when corporations commit “ecocide” in their quest for bigger profits?

“We’re standing at a fork in the road,” Roy exhorts her fellow citizens. “One sign points in the direction of Justice, the other says Civil War. There’s no third sign, and there’s no going back. Choose.”
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,549 reviews1,825 followers
December 12, 2019
I was thinking of reading The God of Small things in the near future, and so I had the idea of getting a sense of Roy by first reading some of her essays . I found this book an excoriating collection of articles and speeches mostly about specific incidents in recent Indian history - the attack on the Parliament, the attack on Mumbai and the visit of the younger Bush President to Delhi and the speech he gave (for security reasons) in the zoo.

They are wide ranging pieces taking in the nature and costs of rapid economic development, the situation in Kashmir, the treatment of minorities. The range of her rhetoric runs from the impassioned to the sarcastic, it's powerful effective prose not chosen to convert those holding opposite view points to hers. She asserts the value of being politically active outside of formal political structures, in her case through consciousness raising. She sees modern India as drifting apart into two countries and perhaps she sees herself as showing her fellow citizens this with a view to binding those two countries back together with bonds of sympathy and understanding. Hers is a deeply committed and impressive voice.

Her problem, so to speak, and I suspect this is the case with Noam Chomsky too, is that she is a patriot, so the daily reality of her country, its politics its political and judicial structures is particularly painful to her. Reading this as a British citizen I can look on the ills, injustices and inhumanity she exposes with a peculiar pride, it was my lot what started this off and look how well it is still carrying on even without us having to send out an official viceroy.

My perhaps less serious thought reading is that Democracy is hard work, I don't think I have heard of any society at any time as having even come close to having achieved it.
Profile Image for Sumirti Singaravelu.
102 reviews293 followers
October 8, 2015
Had I had read this book a few years before, I would have denied and thrashed Ms.Roy as just another an intellectual who enjoys the fruits of Capitalism and democracy yet pricking at its root constantly, for in my youthful fancy I never questioned my belief in free market and the superiority of my own nation. But only with age comes wisdom.

In this wonderfully written essays, Roy fiercely and courageously speaks the truth and voices for the oppressed, be it the adivasis, kashmiris or the citizens killed in the Gujarat 2002 riots. In her ferocity and unscrupulous adherence to the truth nothing goes unscathed and she annihilates the glossy veneer around every of our institution - the media, Supreme court, government and almost everything.

In an uncannily candid prose(which sounds poetic at times), she reminds us of the collusion of the media, politicians, bureaucrats, judiciary - the four arms of our democracy. "The choas is real. But so is the consensus", she says. Has she spared the civil society? Quite not. "If they've(politicians) let us down, its only because we've allowed them to. It could be argued that civil society has failed its leaders as much as leaders have failed the civil society".

Comparing the Nazi with the Hindutva, she sums up that Modi is not all-in-all solution for our nation, "Individual charisma, personality politics, cannot effect radical change"(I wish Modi supporters hear it).

She didn't spare even Ramachandra Guha, the historian who questioned her repeated usage of the word 'fascism' to describe Hindutva in his famous book 'India after Gandhi'.

Roy is that intellectual whose voice is listened to, consistently, in home and abroad, and whom the politicians are much afraid to suppress(that she wasn't jailed or shot dead or deported proves it). However, is Indian democracy really in its infirmity? Is the Indian capitalism all a fallacy? Is Indian media a complete humbug? One cannot call it so. In spite of all the misgivings, atleast 70% of Indian state still remains in peace. There was no other riot in Gujarat after 2002; there is a new generation of youngsters growing up in Kashmir who are beginning to embrace Indian constitution(Read: http://www.tehelka.com/the-valleys-ne...), Supreme Court jailed a corrupt minister in the 2G scam, there is still some ethical Indian media and newspapers. Further, that her voice is heard shows that Indian democracy is still intact and her book is selling evidences that our market is still working.

Yet much remains unchanged, although we are far from being hopeless. Roy is a warning; a whistle blower; an anomaly in the system. She was created by the very system she strives to bring down. But she is important. Important to check ourselves often; to introspect ourselves; to remind us that we are great only when we remain humble. She is a product of our system to fix the system. Love her or hate her, but you cannot ignore her.

Ergo! Arundhati Roy!!

Profile Image for Vazir Singh.
25 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2010
Labelling Arundhati leftist,anti-national,anti-american,anti-hindu,anti-progess is obviously reducing her.Truth knows no boundaries. Her uncompromising stand & her defence of the underprivileged,the downtrodden,the minorities,the poor may not be palatable for many, but truth is seldom sweet. Her compassionate writing is like the voice of conscience.
Profile Image for Stephen Durrant.
668 reviews146 followers
December 6, 2009
Roy is an engaged intellectual, a rare breed these days--an Indian Noam Chomsky, one might say. And her anti-globalization, basically left-wing take on politics aligns her very much with Chomsky. There is however a fundamental difference: Roy is a great writer and a truly formidable polemicist. One can disagree with her positions, and on occasions I do, but no one can question her intelligence, passion, and capacity for mixing detailed data and first-rate prose. This book is largely, but by no means solely, about India. In fact, one wonders how a writer with such views manages to stay alive and out-of-prison amidst the political corruption and violence she describes. Like other radical intellectuals in the past, her fame protects her, I suppose. If India is a democracy, as its government so proudly trumpets, then perhaps, Roy argues, democracy itself should be rethought. The power of the Indian government to oppress, even practice genocide against its own people, and yet go largely unquestioned and unchallenged is astounding. The examples she provides are numerous and force one to reevaluate the "shining India" of "breathtaking economic development," Bollywood and much Anglo-American literature that gets so much attention these days. But Roy spares no one, and any American reader is sure to bristle when he reads her descriptions of genocide against the Indians in this country and her arguments that it was our former president's "war on terror" that sanctioned violence against Moslems all over the world, including the slaughter of 3000 innocent Moslems in Gujarat in 2001, a crime for which no one has been punished. At the heart of this book, and the message I sympathize with most, is an attack on the "purist politics" that characterize so much government rhetoric these days. Put slightly differently, as soon as a government comes to be dominated by purists who have the "only right religion" or the "only right ideology," bad things are bound to happen. For those of us who still believe in pluralism and think our greatest danger comes from those "who know the truth," this book, so hard-edged and caustic at times, is a much-needed reassurance!
Profile Image for Kevin.
278 reviews758 followers
June 4, 2023
Next up in my journey through Roy’s nonfiction… this volume picks some essays between 2002-2009 (i.e. War on Terror)…

--“Listening to Grasshoppers: Genocide, Denial, and Celebration”: the centerpiece essay indeed stood out; “grasshoppers” represents the “locusts” frequently used in xenophobic slogans for incoming “superfluous eaters”.
--Roy starts by considering different responses towards genocide, from denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish state to celebration in India’s RSS/BJP and settler colonialism’s Columbus Day.
--Roy’s key reference is Exterminate All the Brutes: One Man's Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide; she also makes an important point of the efficiency (from its silence) of displacement in wiping out lives (The Greater Common Good), as well as the politics of famines:
-Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World
-Hunger and Public Action(see link for its problematic assumptions)
-Famine: Social Crisis and Historical Change
-Silent Violence: Food, Famine, and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria
--From the Ottoman’s Committee of Union and Progress to BJP’s Hindu nationalism and economic growth fundamentalism, Roy picks out 2 common features (Nationalism and Economic determinism).

Further considerations:
--I think Roy’s analysis can be further refined:

1) National mysticism: the mythical construction of national identity and destiny (esp. racial/ethnic), with a clear distinction of otherness; “otherness” is essential for scapegoating, where visible and vulnerable groups are targeted while greater power relations (class, imperialism, debt) and abstract structural behaviors (see below) are avoided.

2) Mythical destiny: a rigid plan on “progress”/ “development” for “living space”. In several cases, there are clear contextual narratives of a humiliated national mysticism seeking revenge.

--The next question is what conditions would this flourish in? The leftist (i.e. radical, seeking the root) explanation for 20th century fascism focuses on turmoil caused by the greater (and crucially: more abstract) power relations and structural behaviors, in particular global capitalism’s volatility (boom/bust from overproduction/speculative bubbles bursting/trade imbalances, capital flight, structural unemployment/jobless growth, debt deflation/asset price inflation). Liberal elites reliant on global capitalism are paralyzed, leaving space for reactionary scapegoating.
--Vijay Prashad summarizes: https://youtu.be/z11ohWnuwa0
-The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World
-Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism
…linking fascism and colonialism: https://youtu.be/R6PnB7bnLFY?t=223
…which is inspired by: Discourse on Colonialism
--Yanis Varoufakis on the structural Euro Crisis and the rising Right: https://youtu.be/PjrjO0d7fvI
…detailed in: And the Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future
--Michael Parenti on Great Depression capitalism, WWII Fascism, and purging communists: Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism
--Mark Blyth on “Global Trumpism”: https://youtu.be/Bkm2Vfj42FY?t=136
--David Graeber has some interesting analysis on the chain of debt obligations of settler conquest in Debt: The First 5,000 Years.
Profile Image for David.
203 reviews36 followers
March 1, 2021
First Roy I read, and I'm sure I'll be returning to her pen in the future. An incisive journalist and intense observer of social oppression, in Field Notes on Democracy (a series of essays, speeches and reports) she details the human cost of India's gridlocked democracy around the turn of the millennium. Though equipped with a constitution, a parliament and party-political pluralism, the country is ravaged without interruption by communitarian violence, caste against caste, religion against religion. The rule of law does little to curb this; indeed, in the case of Kashmir, it is only in the camp of the victims and the lowest castes that courts and police go to the efforts of seeing 'justice' delivered, leaving those responsible at a political level untouched.

A different scenario is scarcely imaginable, as the subservience of the courts to the political elites is guaranteed by caste and class mechanisms, and it is precisely among those political elites that the real culprits of pogroms can be found. Narendra Modi, for instance, who at the time of writing had been Chief Minister of Gujarat for a decade, has consistently the flames of Islamophobia and encouraged murderous mob violence. When in 2002 a train in Godhra caught fire, leading to the death of 60 occupants, mostly Hindus, waves of retaliation against the Muslim population of the region left up to 2.000 dead and magnitudes more without homes and businesses. Private media provided the fuse by publishing shocking revelations of would-be arsonists, oftentimes provided off the record by government officials and later found to be almost completely false. Modi has since only climbed the ranks and from 2014 onwards has served as India's Prime Minister. Between the British colonizers and the Indian ruling clique, 'divide and conquer' has remained the prime principle of governance.

Roy's evocative prose does much to instill the scale of human misery into the reader, and I found myself underlining on nearly every page. For instance, the occupation of Kashmir, geopolitical object of Indian aggression against its Muslim population and, by proxy, Pakistan, has cost upwards of 70.000 lives, but this reality is barely registered in the global media consciousness. On this level of counter-hegemonic journalism, Field Notes succeeds. But its fragmentary nature doesn't ever really add up to a structural critique, remaining stuck at the level of observation and shock. In Roy's assessment, India has no "Left" movement, every party being co-opted by pragmatism and a vague neoliberalism. The CPI (M) and trade unions scarcely feature; to the degree that protest and organization is profiled, only Kashmiri and Naxalite unrest is taken into account. The discussion of the relation between political spontaneity on the one hand, with hopes and demands far exceeding the political changes that can actually be achieved, and political organisation, with all the compromises that its advances entail, has been ongoing for centuries now. Roy seems to plant her flag squarely in the camp of spontaneity, coincidentally NGO's favoured theory of change and completely germane to liberal academia. Field Notes' heroes are journalists and martyrs, not movements or parties; from this point of view, every confrontation is rearguard defense, resistance instead of pushback. The reader can't help but be struck by the utter hopelessness of the situation; yet, the oppressed organize incessantly, even under the most difficult of circumstances. Between the lines, Roy is aware of this when she for instance mentions the hegemonic nationalist-islamist movements in occupied Kashmir. Their existence is noted but their ambitions, leadership and achievements (or lack thereof) aren't. In that way, the book, still being a valuable artefact of the time, ages pretty badly as a political explanation of the events.
Profile Image for Muhammad Arif.
18 reviews
August 13, 2018
Certainly, Arundhati Roy is one of the genuine champions of human rights, Justice and truth. Listening to Grasshoppers restores my faith in the courageously- spirited voice of a writer whose sole purpose and mission is to be the voice of the voiceless. This book is strongly recommended for those readers who want to understand the essence of democracy, particularly the vibrant and the shining Indian democracy. Roy raises some scathing questions about the spirit of democratic project. For instance, What have we done to democracy? What have we turned it into? What happens once democracy has been used up? When it has been hollowed out and emptied of meaning?What happens when each of its institutions has grown into something lethal?
Profile Image for Ashish.
254 reviews47 followers
January 3, 2018
This is a collection of essays, articles and lectures by the authors written over a period of time and after certain events in recent history. All of them are connected via a common underlying theme which Roy brings out in her usual brilliant writings.

The main takeaway from this book is that her's is a voice that needs to be heard when we talk about modern Indian history and where it is leading us. One might not agree with her views, even might be opposing to all that she says and what she stands for, but one shouldn't disregard what she says. Even I don't see eye-to-eye with some of the views she holds but I am willing to read what her understanding of things are and where she is coming from. It's easy to disregard her as being an anti national, leftist, "activist", but it would be counterproductive. In fact this book does a great job at explaining her stand on things as might even surprise some of the people who hate her because it goes against the popular perception and her image that has been built in mainstream political discourse. While she doesn't hold back any punches and minces no words when coming down hard against right-wing communal politics, she recognises the mistakes, the atrocities and the faults of the other side too. She doesn't appear appeasing to anyone in particular and some of the things she says make way too much sense and makes you feel why we don't hear more from her. Sadly she has been muffled because of the harsh reality that she brings to the table and that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. She could very well have been the voice of a nation that has been played by the politicians and the media for far too long, it needs the will of the people to see beyond the decisive plays at work, to see their collective interest in mind, but sadly it's human nature to be manipulated.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,309 reviews757 followers
August 30, 2018

None of what was being said was new, it's just that what was once considered unacceptable was suddenly being celebrated.

Each time you defend the right of an institution, any institution (including the Supreme Court), to exercise unfettered, unaccountable powers that must never be challenged, you move toward fascism.

There is no terrorism like state terrorism.
It's been nearly a decade since Roy collated these writings, and I have to wonder, while she was putting together her vicious satire of Bush's visit to India, she could have foreseen a US president so vitriolic, so inept, so swelled up by the smell of his own perfumed and fascist asshole that he would make war criminal Bush look like a well educated Franciscan monk. God knows I never saw it coming, but I was young in 2009, smack dab in the midst of the transition between high school and college, and back then my hell holes functioned on a much smaller scale than afforded by imperialism, fascism, and genocide. Now that I'm older and have leaped from the frying pan and into the fire, I see justification for what the "neutral" no nothing centrists would call the Tumblr hivemind/SJW/Antifa violence: neo-Nazis, "Grab them by the pussy"-ists, white supremacists, all of them left and right, front and back. And yet, no small thanks to said Antifa violence and none at all to state bankrolled pigs in uniform, the damage has been contained and combated more than I could have hopped for. There's still a bigoted mess just outside my door, but Roy helps me create the language and call to action necessary to fight it, and while she's not perfect, she's a fuckton better than most.
I like the companies who make AIDS drugs that no one can afford. I love that kind of dark, edgy humor.

Criminals are not meant to resign. They're meant to be charged, tried, and convicted.

Anti-terrorism laws are not for terrorists; they're for people that governments don't like. That's why they have a conviction rate of less than 2 percent.
Roy takes the time to point out the various traps spawned by a society that thinks itself democratic but defines democracy along such narrow and oligarchical lines (think Ancient Greece with the slaves and the brood mare status of women in general) that it is all too easy to argue for free speech for the would be hirers of assassins and an equal platform for both genocide aiders/abetters and anti-genocide activists. All's fair in love and war, and in the US, free speech only means the government can't (overtly) come after you, but it doesn't protect one from those who know what it's like to be first targeted by dogwhistling and sealioning and boiling frogs until finally the deluge hits and what's after you now, pray tell. One major caveat I have with Roy's line of thought, however, is her lazy usages of "insane" and "mental house" to characterize aspirants to fascism, as her gleeful exposition on who, other than Jewish people, were targeted by Nazis is worth shit if she doesn't acknowledge and subsequently incorporate into her rhetorical framework how disabled and mentally ill people have been demonized, sterilized, and exterminated by both the left and the right, and it was Nazis in 1939 who participated in this much glorified tradition. A decade since the publication of this work
is a long time, but considering the times being what they are, I wouldn't be surprised if Roy fell back, like so many others do, on this ableist system of metaphors as a safe recourse for racism, sexism, and so many other isms. Not good enough, considering the intersection of it all. not nearly fucking good enough.
"Union" (racial/ethnic/religious/national) and "Progress" (economic determination) have long been the twin coordinates of genocide.

In other words, genocides are often denied for the same set of reasons genocides are prosecuted. Economic determinism marinated in racial/ethnic/religious/national discrimination.

In the genocide sweepstakes, while pleading for justice for one people, it is so easy to inadvertently do away with the suffering of others. This is the slippery morality of the international politics of genocide.
As one can tell, I'm of two minds when it comes to this work. ON the one hand, it predicated much of what my experience of the 21st century as an adult has been, and my only reason for not regretting reading it sooner is that I doubt I would had the necessary toolkit back in January of 2017 to engage with it, although I would've caught a glimmer of the need for one in the hellscape of November of 2016. On the other, Roy disappoints like a great number of so called great thinkers do by gleefully indulging in the throwing of the disabled/neuroatypical community under the bus in order to portray the dangers of a genocidal fascism that will, like so many other genocides before, go after the weak, mentally ill, physically disabled, first. It's a shame. If she still holds by that, I won't be there to speak for her when they finally come for her, as I'll have already been taken away.
A superpower never has allies. It only has agents.

What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?

Even if it were true (which it most certainly isn't) that every person who has been killed was in fact a gangster, terrorist, insurgent, or extremist—it only tells us there is something terribly wrong with a society that drives so many people to take such desperate measures.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that history will repeat itself. Not unless it is made to. Not unless people actively work to create such a cataclysm.
What will you do.
8 reviews7 followers
December 29, 2009
Throughout the book, she jumps seamlessly from being a fantastic analytical thinker to a utter nonsensical ideologue and back. She does raise some valid issues but most critique is rhetorical.
September 7, 2020
আজকাল প্রগতি ও উন্নয়নকে সমার্থক হিসেবে দেখা হয়। উন্নয়নের নামে বন নিধন, নদী দূষণ, কৃষিজমি দখল কিংবা পাহাড় কেটে বিভিন্ন সরকারি বা কর্পোরেট প্রতিষ্ঠানের প্রকল্পে ব্যবহার নিত্যনৈমিত্তিক বিষয়। যারা এর বিরোধিতা করে, তাদেরকে ব্যাপকভাবে উন্নয়নবিরোধী ও প্রতিক্রিয়াশীল প্রমাণের চেষ্টা করা হয়। অরুন্ধতী রায়ের এই বইয়ে সংকলিত প্রবন্ধগুলো ২০০২ থেকে ২০০৮ সাল পর্যন্ত সময়ে রচিত। হিন্দুত্ববাদীদের আস্ফালনকে কঠোরভাবে সমালোচনা করেছেন অরুন্ধতী রায়। ১৯৯২ সালে বাবরি মসজিদ ভাঙা, ২০০২ সালে গুজরাটে মোদি সরকারের নেতৃত্বে কমপক্ষে দুই হাজার মুসলমান নিধন, অসংখ্য নারী নির্যাতন এবং দেড় লাখ মুসলমানের বাস্তুচ্যুত হওয়ার ঘটনাকে বিবৃত করেছেন।

'৯৮ সালে অটল বিহারি বাজপেয়ীর বিজেপি সরকারের আমলে ভারত পুনরায় পারমাণবিক অস্ত্রের সফল পরীক্ষা চালায়৷ এই ঘটনার পরের দিন প্রত্যেকটি গণমাধ্যমে পারমাণবিক পরীক্ষাকে অত্যন্ত গৌরবান্বিত ঘটনা বলে প্রচারণা চালানো হয়। জাতীয়তাবাদীদের তুষ্ট করে এই পারমাণবিক জাতীয়তাবাদ। কিন্তু দেশের গরিব মানুষগুলোর অবস্থার কোনো পরির্তন হয় না। হিন্দুত্ববাদের গৌরব কৃষককে আত্মহত্যার হাত থেকে রক্ষা করতে পারেনি। গণমাধ্যমের তা নিয়ে কোনো মাথাব্যথা নেই। তারা ব্যস্ত আগ্রাসী জাতীয়তাবাদের পক্ষে উচ্চস্বরে গুণগান গাইতে৷

১৯৯২ সালে তথাকথিত সেক্যুলার কংগ্রেস সরকার ক্ষমতায় ছিল। তবু এলকে আদভানির রথযাত্রা থামানোর কোনো চেষ্টা করেনি সরকার। ফলশ্রুতিতে '৯২ সালের ৬ ডিসেম্বর বাবরি মসজিদকে ভেঙে গুড়িয়ে দেয় হিন্দুত্ববাদীরা।

২০০১ সালে ভারতের সংসদে পাঁচজন যুবক হামলা চালায়। নিরাপত্তারক্ষীদের সাথে বন্দুকযুদ্ধে তারা নিহত হয়।  সরকার দাবি করে এই হামলার সাথে পাকিস্তান জড়িত। পুলিশ কাশ্মীর থেকে আফজাল গুরু, তার ভাই শওকত গুরু ও দিল্লি বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক গিলানিকে হামলার সাথে জড়িত সন্দেহে গ্রেফতার করে। বিচার শুরু হওয়ার আগেই গণমাধ্যম তাদেরকে দোষী সাব্যস্ত করে এবং তাদের বিরুদ্ধে ব্যাপক প্রচারণা চালানো হয়। সরকার দাবি করেছিল এই হামলায় পাকিস্তানের জড়িত থাকার অকাট্য প্রমাণ রয়েছে। কিন্তু বিচারের সময় তারা এমন কোনো প্রমাণ দেখাতে পারেনি৷ এই মামলার প্রধান আসামি গিলানির বিরুদ্ধে সন্দেহতীতভাবে অভিযোগ প্রমাণ করতে পারেনি পুলিশ। শওকত ও আফজাল গুরুকে পুলিশি নির্যাতনে জোর করে সাক্ষ্য নেওয়ার বিষয়টি নিশ্চিত হয়। সবচেয়ে উল্লেখযোগ্য হলো আফজাল গুরুকে ফাঁসির আদেশ দেওয়া হয়। অথচ আদালত রায়ে উল্লেখ করে আফজাল গুরুর বিরুদ্ধে অকাট্য কোনো প্রমাণ পাওয়া যায়নি৷ স্রেফ জনমতকে তুষ্ট করতে তাকে ফাঁসি দেওয়া হয়!

২০০২ সালে গুজরাটের সবরমতি এক্সপ্রেসে আগুন দেওয়া হয়। তাতে অগ্নিদগ্ধ হয়ে মারা যান ৫৮ জন হিন্দু তীর্থযাত্রী। গুজরাটের তৎকালীন মুখ্যমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদী দোষীদের শাস্তি দেওয়ার ব্যবস্থা করেননি। বরং নিরীহ মুসলমানদের নিধন দেখেছেন। সবরমতি এক্সপ্রেসে হামলার জেরে বিজেপি, বজরং দল, বিশ্বহিন্দু পরিষদ আর উগ্র হিন্দুরা মিলে কমপক্ষে দুই হাজার মুসলমানকে হত্যা করে, নারীদের ধর্ষণ করে এবং বাস্তুচ্যুত করে দেড় লাখ মুসলমানকে। এই দেড় লাখ মানুষ নিজ বাসভূমি পরবাসীর মতো বসবাস করতে বাধ্য হন। এই হামলার সময় প্রধানমন্ত্রী বাজপেয়ী ব্যস্ত ছিলেন তার কাব্যগ্রন্থের প্রচারণা নিয়ে। হামলার পর মোদিজি আগাম নির্বাচন দেন এবং জনতার ভোটে ব্যাপক সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠতা নিয়ে পুনরায় গদিতে বসেন৷ উল্লেখ্য, সম্প্রতি মোদিজিকে গুজরাট গণহত্যায় ''সম্পূর্ণ নিষ্পাপ" ঘোষণা করেছে তদন্ত কমিশন!

অরুন্ধতী রায়ের মতো কঠোর ভাষায় লিখতে কোনো বাংলাদেশির কমপক্ষে সাতজন্ম তপস্যা করতে হবে৷ এমন লেখনী মগজে দ্রোহের আগুন জ্বালায়। বইয়ের প্রায় সবগুলো লেখা ভারতে হিন্দুত্ববাদের ভয়াবহতা ও রাষ্ট্রীয় সন্ত্রাসের বিরুদ্ধে। অরুন্ধতী রায় আমাদের স্মরণ করিয়ে দিয়েছেন,

" There is no terrorism like state terrorism. "
Profile Image for Nick.
Author 2 books16 followers
May 6, 2019
When reading a book it is always a good idea to check up on the author. Arundhati Roy is of a dying breed, the activist writer. I have to say that she intrigued me and I will, when given the opportunity, try to read some of her fiction even if I had several reservations concerning this book.

For starters, it does require a sturdy knowledge of Modern Indian history to fully comprehend her point of view, one has to know about the rise of hindou nationalism, the Kashmir situation, the naxalites, Gandhi, the legacy of the congress party and the growing divide in India between the public life dominating emerging middle class and an increasingly vocal disillusioned poor majority.
I was lucky to have enough knowledge of these things, but this does severely limit the non indian audience. I did find that to many essays on the terror attack of 13 december 2001 on the Indian parliament were included, for a non Indian it is difficult to grasp the significance of this event making it less impactful as was intended. However, that was not my biggest concern when reading this. Nor was it the criticism most easily found on the web of her supposed anti India agenda ( a sort of hollow accusation made by nationalistic bullies and their ilk) or sympathies for certain social and political causes (she is quite open of them making the point moot). My frustration had more to do with the fact that the book is a bit deceiving. It is presented as a book on democracy yet a more fitting title and description would have been, a bundle of essays on related topics specific to India. Content wise she made me shiver with horror and other times yawn.

The yawn had to do with various classic radical left wing discourse on the US and the nature of fascism. More precisely the classic premise that big corporations and fascism go hand in hand. In various essays in this bundle does Roy direct or indirectly put a link between the riots and killings of Muslims by the radical Hindu movement in Gujarat state and neoliberalism. I agree that big mine and oil companies as well as big agricultural companies have used and benefited from police and paramilitary protection from and violent oppression of dispossessed and angry local inhabitants who lost their livelihood from pollution and exploitation. Yet does that mean companies considered India a better investing opportunity after the mass killings and forced expulsion of Muslim Indians? Never does Roy actually prove or even explain how exactly big companies have benefited from the killings. That then state leader of Gujarat and now leader of India Modi had a direct role in the mass killings and following protection for perpetrators is crystal clear as are his good relations with big companies and neoliberal think thanks. It does not mean however that they love him because he had a strong role in the killings, it is rather that he has a very strong pro companies policies that makes companies ignore his other side as a politician. I was even more frustrated when she made a few side remarks on the possibility of the terror attack on the parliament 2001 could have been organised by the Indian secret service as a sort of Indian version of the burning of the reigstag in 1930ties Germany, a bit too much conspiracy thinking for my taste.

The shiver however will stick a lot longer with me then the yawn. For Roy has a polemic style of writing that grips you and does not let go. The divide between the masses and the middle class and the increasingly open choice of the Indian state to ignore the majority except as for foot soldiers and ideology reasons for the benefit of a growing, yet in numbers marginal, class of people. Roy in her various essays show how these supposedly decent people the so called new India are both deceived by a media increasingly shallow and commerce driven to believe their little world is the norm for all of India and both actively support the oppression of all those who do not fit in the new India. In particular the rural poor, ethnic minorities and indigenous people, ecologists and all those who dare to defend them are considered an obstacle to the new India, giving a carte blance for the Indian justice system and secret service to handle the enemies of the Indian state any way they see fit. In short it is the Indian path to it's own form of fascism and ecocide contribution to global climate change in the name of holy progress and unity. It is quite easy to understand why right wing India hates her and why the popular media declares her to be a nutcase with a confused agenda. At some point I was skeptic of her ability to introspect and yet she surprised me when discussing a rally in Kashmir and making the comparison with the crowds chanting and flags and the Hindu nationalists, what kind of freedom do these Kashmir leaders have in mind she wonders and will it be any different from the freedom proclaimed in Gujarat? Or as she in the latter part of the book puts it, how easily victims of injustice can become perpetrators themselves...

In a way her style of writing and message reminded me of another Indian author I read recently, Pankaj Mishra and his ruins of empire, I consider both to be examples of a rapidly diminishing group of voices, those of elite secular progressive India, the class that spawned people such as former prime minister Nehru and his fellow early congress party members. While Mishra preferred Tagore and his spiritualist views, Roy on the other hand is an admirer of Gandhi and the vision he had for India. In time I might pick up something else by this author.
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,401 reviews148 followers
April 27, 2013
Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy is the 12th non-fiction book by Booker Prize winning author, Arundhati Roy. In this collection of eleven related essays, the author of The God Of Small Things turns her prodigious talent for striking imagery and eloquent prose to the exploration of the political situation in India. Roy states that the essays were written in anger, in reaction to certain events (massacres, pogroms, genocide, assassinations, death sentences) and have been reprinted unchanged (although endnotes may have been added). While the significance of many names will be missed by those readers unfamiliar with current affairs in India (this reader included), nonetheless, Roy gets her point across. Although the corruption she writes about is no surprise, her revelations of the judiciary system, genocide, the Kashmir situation and religious tensions may be an eye opener. The conclusion I make from this powerful read is that I am eternally grateful not to be living as a non-Hindu in present-day India. As well as copious endnotes and references, Roy includes a short story, The Briefing, in the Appendix. I wonder, do fans of this amazing author’s novel hope in vain for another foray by her into the world of fiction?
Profile Image for Kapil Batra.
1 review
September 28, 2012
"Its understandable that a writer writes about a place where he was born, as he is the most apt person to assess about the situations and circumstances prevailing at that place. However, it becomes disheartening, when he manages to manipulate data and facts, bundled with exaggerated and biased point of view, especially when he covers his own views and depicts them as view of the masses. It creates a disaster". This is the most outrageously developed book by Arundhati Roy, desperately seeking an opportunity to register a mark through the facts and figures distortingly unreal. Her views are completely backed by anger (probably about something which she thinks represents "her people" who are totally unheard in India). Could have been written in a better way, had she critisized the system in India in general rather than darting at just one or two political parties.
Profile Image for Pallavi Kamat.
206 reviews79 followers
June 30, 2019
The book mentions only three things in different forms and means - Modi and the 2002 Gujarat 'riots', Indian 'occupation' in Kashmir and justification of radicalization. The author obviously doesn't believe in democracy or the peoples' decision.
Profile Image for Sameer.
22 reviews10 followers
February 8, 2018
It rarely happens that you agree with most of the things written in a non-fiction book. This has been one such book for me. All these pieces were written between 2001 and 2008. However, the issues, majority communalism, unaccountable institutions, Kashmir, which come under incisive analysis of Roy, remain as relevant as then, if not more. Roy may seem to some as overly pessimistic and highlighting only that is wrong with India. But, it is expected of an activist who has seen ground realities. Read this with an open mind. Even if you don't agree with her views, you cannot miss her yearning for a beautiful India.
113 reviews2 followers
February 17, 2010
I admit up front that I didn't read the entire book, though I read several of the essays and skimmed the rest. Why? I don't trust what Roy writes.

Below are a few quotes from this book regarding the United States. I use these examples not to defend the U.S. but because I am most familiar with them:

The United States "continues to celebrate Columbus Day...which marks the beginning of a holocaust that wiped out millions of Native Americans, about 90 percent of the original population." (Roy does not mention that the vast majority of Native Americans died from imported diseases from which they had no immunity--diseases which spread through North America much faster than the Europeans. She tries to infer that 90 percent of Native Americans were deliberately "wiped out" by the U.S, which is not true. For the record, the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians estimated that the Native American population in North America numbered about 1,894,350 at about A.D. 1500, and that epidemics and other factors reduced this number to only 530,000 by 1900. There are other sources with different numbers.)

"Lord Amherst, the man whose idea it was to distribute blankets infected with smallpox virus to Indians, has a university town in Massachusetts, and a prestigious liberal arts college named after him." (Amherst, who was British, did not have the idea to infect Native Americans with smallpox-infected blankets--a Colonel Henry Bouquet did and there is no proof that his idea was put into action. For the record, there is one instance of two possibly infected blankets being given to Native Americans in 1763, hundreds of years after smallpox and measles started spreading across the Americas. The town of Amherst was named by a British governor while Massachusetts was a colony. Roy makes it seem as if the U.S. named the town and college in honor of Amherst. Roy mentions Amherst in an attempt to show that the U.S. honors him for spreading smallpox among Native Americans, which is not true.)

"In America's second holocaust, almost thirty million Africans were kidnapped and sold into slavery." (According to Wikipedia, based on other sources, "twelve million Africans were shipped to the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States." The vast majority of the 645,000 slaves were brought to the colonies by European nations--not by the U.S. Again, Roy inflates the numbers to suit her purposes.)

My point is is this--how can you believe what Roy writes, when she ignores what does not support her highly politicized view and swallows material from other sources without checking facts? How can I believe what she writes about India if her goal is not truth but advocacy?

Roy blatantly states that accuracy is not her goal. "I have often wondered whether the attempt to always be precise, to try and get it all factually right somehow reduces the epic scale of what is really going on. Does it eventually mask a larger truth? I worry that I am allowing myself to be railroaded into offering a prosaic, factual precision when maybe what we need is a feral howl, or the transformative power and real precision of poetry."

Personally, I prefer objective truth to subjective poetry, and think it is important to get it "factually right". But then I am not a polemicist or a propagandist.

Note that if you love the work of writers like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, you'll probably love this book too.
25 reviews13 followers
July 14, 2019
I was skeptical of Arundhati Roy going into this book for a few reasons. I've heard a lot of negative propaganda about her from the Right-wing. Her fiction has a lot of fluffy metaphors and I usually like my nonfiction to cut directly to the point. So, I saw her as an anarchist with an agenda, who dabbles in sophistry.

But this book made a fan out of me. Roy doesn't take any political sides, although she reserves her most cutting criticism for the BJP and it's Hindutva project. She's not only brutally direct in her writing style, but also made me chuckle every few pages- A rare talent for Indian "intellectuals".

This book is a compilation of essays written in the last decade(2000s). It mostly covers the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat (overseen by a rising politician named Narendra Modi), the aftermath of two terrorist attacks on Indian soil and the conflict in Kashmir. It was chilling to read the origin stories of our current leaders and MPs, with their involvement in cover-ups, bomb blasts and genocides.

Looking back, this book almost reads like prophecy. A must-read for Indians who are still fans of democracy.
Profile Image for Jonathan Pool.
538 reviews99 followers
July 17, 2018
Arundhati Roy is best known for her debut novel The God of Small Things (1998).
The renown of that (Booker Prize) winning novel has given her a platform to shine a light on her native India.
The follow up novel The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness published twenty years later is half novel, half political agitation. Readers of Ministry (which I enjoyed despite its scattergun approach) will find that Listening to Grasshoppers covers much of the same ground. This time the names aren’t changed (in novels to allow artistic licence).
Ms. Roy is no supporter of the ex Gujarat governor, and now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Roy discusses Hindutva, Hindu supremacy, and pulls no punches. She equates Modi's deliberate suppression of the Muslim community with Hitlers Nazi regime.
A seminal moment happened On 27 February 2002, a train with several hundred passengers burned near Godhra, killing approximately 60 people (Muslims). Coupled with the 9/11 attack on America, this gave the green light to  the Gujarat authorities to pursue state sanctioned killing.
Roy reminds us that there are 150 million Muslims in India.
A quick google search does confirm that Modi's reputation internationally is chequered, including bans on visiting the UK and the USA (prior to his becoming Prime Minister)

Those familiar with Arundhati Roy’s writing will recognise the causes that she champions most passionately.

• Opposition to the building of giant dams, for much needed water, and power, but which destroy the country

• Anti Globalisation. Roy points out that the international corporations who mutually support Modi, are also the owners of TV stations, and the publicity machine. The dawn of a new age Post Congress party India- popular with foreign investors- but disastrous for the indigenous population who are blithely exploited.

I attended a talk and Q & A session delivered by Arundhati Roy for the Penguin podcast on 4 June 2018 at the Emmanuel Centre, London. Roy was compared to the great George Orwell (by interlocutor, Kirsty Lang). Roy is a campaigner who writes from the front line, not the sidelines.
She confirmed that we can look forward to one thousand pages of essays next year The End of imagination My Seditious Heart bringing together five of her books. Its not for the faint hearted!!
2 reviews
March 24, 2019
I held similar reservations touted by the Indian media about roy before reading this book, however i was taken with gentle surprise, since this book shattered the myth of her being a "anti-Hindu". Though this book seems opinionated, it does raise some valid questions. It is a truism that the tribals in certain areas of India have suffered displacement due to nexus of government and corporate doings. Roy suggests that the Indian system have failed the tribals, and armed struggle is their only resort. Yet certain questions remained unaddressed such as why the church of england invested in the bauxite mining corporation like vedanta? How come licenses were granted to mine in tribal areas by politicians like YSR reddy(devout christian)? How come naxalism increased under the sonia gandhi congress led UPA? I did accede a lot with her take on the Indian judiciary. The trial of mohammed afzal was certainly curious and even though Im averse to her views on Kashmir issue, i do agree with the eminent lawyer jethmalani when he said in one interview "He(afzal) deserved a better defense." Her relegating RSS and its branches with fascist influence seems valid, even though her accusations on the government of using "Union (racial/ethnic/religious/ national) and "progress" (economic determinism), the twin co-ordinates of genocide, for shaping new India is far fetched.
4 reviews
December 29, 2017
I think she has a contempt for whole world, a global, cosmopolitan intellectual who has severed her roots from her nation ,army and have a huge disregard for India's democracy and governance system.She has a contempt for Indian middle class and its capitalist class. Making conspiracy theories like union and progress.Applauding statements like Lalu"s remark on hindu nationalism.Calling every terrorist attack on india suspicious and wanting to give Pakistan a benefit of dout, as if indians are themselves planning terror attacks on their country. A headmistress who is above from all wrongdoins and wants justice for all injustices happened or happening. I think she does 't know that - hatred , egotism , envy , violence are integral parts of the system through with individual 's or this world works.
Profile Image for Sharath Chandra Darsha.
16 reviews23 followers
August 10, 2016
Firstly, we should appreciate people like Arundathi Roy for bringing out the voice of unheard. In this book Roy talks about the controversies surrounding the various attacks/genocides happened in India. We may never know who are the real culprits of these massacres. But one thing is sure; discrimination (racial/ethnic/religious/national) is the mother of all problems. As Rabindranath Tagore said, world peace which we dream of can be achieved only if people think they are part of a single family(In fact we are; we all evolved from single ancestor) and stop discriminating each other.

Hope evolution remove those genes which discriminate ( that's impossible though, unless we populate the world by clones of a single person).
Profile Image for Puri Kencana Putri.
351 reviews35 followers
March 17, 2016
In order to know about India social and political context, one should read this one. And I would like to quote Roy's argumentation in which may relate to my country situational right now, when she has actually underlined a solid point if view on pivotal freedoms and its relation with security policy. Roy believed that, "Terrorism is a heartless ideology, and like most ideologist that have their eye on the big picture in their calculations except as collateral damage. It has always been a part of, and often even the aim of, terrorist strategy to exacerbate a bad situation in order to expose hidden fault lines. The blood of 'martyrs' irrigates terrorism."
Profile Image for Sunil.
12 reviews3 followers
February 2, 2017
As a liberal political reader, I expected more of a rational read, but instead I got a book of accusing, abusing and name calling. At the same time whitewashing the diabolic communist theories, she tried to abuse every other political ideology. Nothing but a waste of time.

By the title, an average reader would think this book is democracy, no it is not, this book does a frivolous attempt of vilifying democracy to maximum possible extent giving an communist proletariat police state as an alternative.
10 reviews
November 29, 2019
A brave, brave book. And a grim, eye-opener. We've all read and believed theories of how 9/11 was an inside job, yet when it comes to Indian govt, we tend to trust them blindly. In this collection of essays, Roy fiercely attacks the authorities, armed with information in public domain and a sharp logic honed by her precious intellect.

It's a dangerous book to write, considering I feel scared to even write this review. But then, as Roy said, "Even if we lose, we don't want to be on their side. So we just do it."
Profile Image for Imran.
31 reviews13 followers
September 27, 2014
Though this is a small collection of about 12 essays and a fictional account I have spent almost a month with the book. This is because every essay needs to be read and reflected upon. This is no light-reading. Every essay in the collection has troubled me as any other in it.
Roy is one author who does not deal in escapist stuff about everything being hunky-dory with the world. She says it as it is; a revelation for most of us who are very fortunate to have the lives we lead.
458 reviews5 followers
November 26, 2010
There were good parts of this book, but there was nothing new enough to justify spending 200 pages with it. Because it was a collection of essays there is a lot of annoying repetition -- Roy tells the same anecdotes and uses the same facts in multiple pieces, which is fine unless you're reading all those pieces one after the other. And the satire of George W. Bush was just childish.
Profile Image for Vani.
93 reviews9 followers
July 11, 2014
Her writing is hard hitting, we all know that! With this book she brings forward all the ironies of our "Indianised" democracy and the fallacies of the system we are living with. I strongly recommend this book to everyone who wishes to critically see the way our country functions. Arundhati Roy's voice is strong, her observation sharp and inferences heart breaking.
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