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Naxal Literature

In: English and Literature

Submitted By abiranath43
Words 1761
Pages 8
‘Choke.’ ‘Cripple.’ ‘Virus.’ ‘Infested.’ ‘Eliminate.’ ‘Stamp out.’ Yes. The idea of extermination is in the air. And people believe that faced with extermination they have the right to fight back. By any means necessary.’
Arundhati Roy (2009a, p.160)
‘They use weapons, but they are not bloodthirsty. They are basically gentle, polite, highly civilized ... So when he kills, it is a necessary killing.’
Mahasweta Devi (2002, p.XXII)

It would of course be a truism to say that we live in an increasingly violent world. Various populations live terror stricken lives, occupied by foreign powers, or fearing militant attacks – to mention just two easily observed realities. To put it somewhat differently, different political agents, different agents seeking to change or perpetuate the ordering of society, seem to be increasingly reaching out to violence as a tool for achieving their purposes. India, the primary concern of this paper, too, is convulsed by an increasing spiral of violence. Kashmir remains one of the most heavily militarised zones in the world1; pitched battles continue to be fought in the ‘North-East’; Hindu2 and Muslim extremists carry out terrorist strikes in the country; and the CPI-Maoists3, one of over thirty underground Communist parties waging war against the Indian state4, is met by a Government that arms civilians to fight them5 and also sends in various security forces for its ‘Operation Green Hunt’. The list could go on for some time. And this without considering the fact that all major political parties in India work with their own goons, and/or are associated with some. Yet, in political debates in various news channels or opinion pieces in newspapers one hardly finds anyone advocating violence. Put like this, this may appear absurd, but of course there is an obvious explanation – that democracy has no room for violence, and therefore preachers of violence, however numerous, should not be given the space to disseminate their ideas. This convenient explanation, however, masks an altogether much darker reality. By textually exterminating the violent from mediated spaces, they become available to civil society solely as agents of violence, and not as ‘subjects’ of circumstances. They are transformed into irrational disruptions of a discursive field. So for example if one searches for articles pertaining to ‘Maoism’ in any of the major English dailies in India, including broadly progressive ones like The Hindu, one will see that they become available to the reader, and rather frequently in that, only as they (allegedly) commit violent acts. In the process, to say the least, they are inevitably dehumanised, and the textual extermination in turn justifies their physical extermination. These are not people who can be heard, nor (as a consequence and tautologically also as a cause) can they be understood, they can only be dealt with violently. Moreover, once this practise of ghettoisation of voices approaches normativity, various people not directly associated with violence can also be threatened with a forced association. So for example, the British Prime Minister in his speech in Munich on 5th February, 20116 extended his war to ‘what some people have called ‘non-violent extremists’’, dehumanising a set of individuals (‘what’) by associating them with violence. Similarly, while earlier individual Maoists in India needed to be specifically charged for criminal activity, in 2009 the government decided to call them a ‘terrorist’ organisation7, and also started using the category of ‘Maoist sympathisers’ till it was chastised by the Supreme Court8. In Kashmir, in 2010, the GOC-in-chief Northern Command inaugurated the category of ‘agitational terrorism’9 – and one could go on piling examples. Binayak Sen’s arrest on the 24th of December, 2010 is just one much publicised manifestation of this tendency. By forcing her way into mediated spaces with stories staging individuals and groups as ‘subjects’ of violence – people caught in a violent field and perhaps even responding violently – Arundhati Roy, especially with her writing on the Maoists, has interrupted a textual domain that would rather these people not be seen as the products of circumstances. This paper, therefore, will hereafter proceed with a study of Roy’s developing negotiation of such ‘subjects’. Thereafter, it will move into a comparatively briefer study of a small sample of the celebrated Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi’s much larger corpus of work. She10, along with Roy11, has been one of the people increasingly caught up in the possibility of initiating dialogue with the Maoists. Their work, which has allowed them to function in the mainstream, while also earning the confidence of the Maoists, therefore, provides a very helpful ground for addressing questions regarding the textual staging of the subject of violence for metropolitan audiences. Moreover, by briefly branching into Bengali literature, while keeping the political context constantly in mind, the hope is also to suggest a different framework, a different location, for reading Roy. The paper will conclude by briefly shifting terrain to another region of conflict, Kashmir, to encapsulate in brief the argument of the paper through a reading of Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2010).

Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things (Roy, 1997) begins by setting up a very violent stage. The first paragraph is inhabited by rivers receding in the heat, ‘black crows [that] gorge on ripe mangoes’, and ‘dissolute bluebottles’ that ‘stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled by the sun.’ By page five, by which time the reader has already encountered Sophie Mol’s death and is at her funeral, the narrative zooms out of the service with the words - ‘It was hot in the church, and the white edges of the arum lilies crisped and curled. A bee died in a coffin flower.’ Even the metaphors smell death in the air, the rain is ‘like gunfire’ (p.1) and found to be ‘carpet bombing’ the earth (p.10). By page three we have already reached a disturbing rhyme that will repeat itself through the text.
‘... they were as old as Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one.
Not old.
Not young.
But a viable die-able age.’
Looking at the painted ceiling of the church Rahel (p.6) is led to imagine the possibility of someone doing the painting and then falling and ‘lying broken on the hot church floor, dark blood spilling from his skull like a secret.’ Immediately thereafter the narrative voice grounds the sinister imagination of the child – ‘By then Esthappen and Rahel had learned that the world had other ways of breaking men. They were already familiar with the smell. Sicksweet. Like old roses on a breeze.’ Boehmer (2010a, p.65), while making a slightly different point with regard to Roy’s critical reception in the ‘West’, draws attention to ‘the critical interest in verbal effects, and the general responsiveness to their emotional, indeed `tropical’, intensity’. She goes on to argue (p.70), convincingly, that Roy’s play with the language challenges such acts of critical containment when they might verge on limiting the text’s radical potential by reading it through familiar terms. What remains to be pointed out, from this paper’s point of interest, is that the very language that sets up the tropical location in the text is permeated by an unusual amount of violence, therefore further complicating attempts at containing it within a bloodless textual universe of readings. As ‘boundaries blur’ (p.1) the violence is not ghettoized in a wilderness, but bleeds through the lives of characters, their imaginations and the language of the narrative. As the characters develop, the vulnerabilities of people in various positions – from divorced women to young boys to Untouchables – are carefully located. Moreover, the narrative is interspersed with bracketed constructions like (p.13) ‘Tender Buds Nursery School (for Touchables)’ and (p.75) ‘Mammachi (with Impenetrable Touchable logic)’ that interrupt a comfortable reading and show up the complicity of narratives in regularising violence by omission. And the primary victims of this structural violence in the novel are Velutha and Ammu, in different ways. This casting of the two of them is of significance, as both of them have a resistant spark that has the potential to surprise expectations. Baby Kochamma is caught off guard as she ‘hadn’t taken into account the Unsafe Edge in Ammu. The Unmixable Mix – the infinite tenderness of motherhood, the reckless rage of a suicide bomber.’ (p.321) The point at which Ammu first registers her attraction for Velutha she ‘hoped that under his careful cloak of cheerfulness, he housed a living, breathing anger against the smug, ordered world that she so raged against.’ (p.176) Both Ammu and Velutha, come together as subjects of violence, embodying a transgressive potential and indeed, as Kumar (2000, pp.28-31, p.28) points out, it is this threatening spark that makes them attractive characters. Yet, even as they do not return the violence of the world, Velutha in particular is also used for pushing comparisons with those who do – the members of the Communist Party of India – Marxist-Leninist, also known as the Naxalites. The Naxalites first enter the text (p.28) through Baby Kochamma’s fears, connecting the dispossession of large numbers of people to a perceived threat to her furniture. Even at the point at which the Naxalites become available as agents of violence therefore, they are also staged as its ‘subjects’. The trade union rally passing the Plymouth, in many ways, captures this tension at the heart of the novel – the fear of the dispossessed resisting. The rally is organised by the parliamentary left, but even Chacko, a member of the party, decides it is most prudent to roll up the car’s windows. The narrator notes – ‘There was an edge to this anger that was Naxalite, and new.’ (p.69) Though Ahmad (1997, pp.110-119, p.112) believes this to be evidence of Roy’s confusing the different left movements, a more likely interpretation – given that the text has already delineated the two movements (p.67) – is that the text is here staging the pressure on the parliamentary left from the Naxalites’ radical agenda. In a deft stroke, by locating the imminent threat of the Naxalite option available to peasants as being behind at least some of the progressive activism of the CPI-M, the novel brings to life the reality of that political choice. This is further added to by the early references to Velutha’s arrest and death (p.7, 8), and the rumour that he might have been a Naxalite (p.77). Though this turns out to be a false trail, the violence meted out to Velutha prefigures in important ways the violence about to be meted out to the Naxalites.

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