Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Response: On Arundhati Roy

(Some readers have construed from my writings that I am OK with trampling rights of the people just because I support construction of the dam and pooh-pooh NBA. Here’s my response).

I am very much for people's rights. They cannot be trampled – I strongly believe it. While we seem to fight well for our rights, we seem to ignore many of our duties. I am just putting forth an opposing view because our nation seems to be enamored and wooed by the sentimental show put up my these two ladies, cashing in on methods employed by a freedom fighter fifty years ago. We seem to equate all those antiquity methods with virtuousness. Going to jail (even for murder), sacrificing (like Sonia did for other ulterior motives), fasting (like Medha Patkar severely affecting millions of others), taking out a yatra (like Advani to promote communalism), are all glorified only because this is exactly what Mahatma Gandhi did long ago. Whatever may be the 'goal' (selfish or selfless) the 'means' they employ seem to have a great impact.

When flooding happens, due to construction of dam- small or big, the government allocates land elsewhere. This happened with all dams before and so is happening with Narmada as well. Just to give you an instance- which involves a famous person- Captain Gopinath, founder and MD of Deccan Airlines, was a recipient of such land allocation. He was relating his story to many entrepreneurs in Bangalore- that he retired from Army, came to his hometown, around the time his father's lands were submerged due to construction of a small dam/canal nearby. Government allocated land elsewhere where his father had no interest to till. So, Captain Gopinath became a farmer for the next ten years. Rest is history.

Most of the time, the land is allocated at a different place (cannot be same place since it is being submerged), and sometimes it is compensated through money/cash. Whether you accept the new land or not, accept the cash or not is up to each individual. He may take the cash and blow it up on liquor- that’s his right.

In some countries, you have no option to refuse compensation. The US has mandated as a law that public interest works cannot be stopped by litigations- people will be compensated for and one has to accept it. Only in India, the rights are well fought for and duties well neglected.

I will be sad if my land is taken away. We all do. I may be happy or unhappy with the compensation- but I have to do it for the well-being of my country- that includes me and million others. I may be sad when paying taxes but I have to do it, because it is in the best interest of others as well mine. I could easily argue why am I the only one paying tax (because only 3% Indians pay taxes) while the rest (97%) is enjoying the benefits? May be, I should also go on a hunger strike to abolish taxes. This whole idea of stopping a development effort because you are not satisfied with compensation will never allow us to do anything in this country. People are always unsatisfied- they don’t want to pay wealth taxes or income taxes. Actually, they don’t want to pay up for anything. They encroach upon lands from forests and never give them up, they throw garbage on the streets and never pay for the cleaning, and they resort to illegal methods to avoid paying anything to the government. While they are ready to come out into streets to fight for their rights, they never step out to conduct their duties.

Many a times, encroachment by people shrinks the roads to narrow lanes, and when Government wants to widen them, we see a spate of protests and hunger-strikes. People squat on public lands, and when government tries to remove them, they go on strikes and mass movements, and people like Arundhati Roy supports them. Even when compensated, they are not happy with it. They just don’t want to move, no matter what the compensation is. And to make sure the project doesn’t take place, they do not even accept the compensation and blame government for inadequate rehabilitation.

NBA doesn’t want any compensation. NBA doesn’t want the Dam. Medha Patkar, in her initial days, even protested against any rehabilitation- she reasoned rehab would change the way those tribals lived. NBA has been changing their slogan- first it was ‘No Dam’ and now it is ‘First rehab, then Dam’. Then they will say ‘Let the rehab bear fruit, let the kids grow up liking the new place, let the people be happy and satisfied, and then may be a Dam’. By then millions would have died elsewhere after a series of droughts!

As a nation, we can’t stop such development activities to satisfy everyone. You don’t go about asking people if they want to pay taxes. If one were to take a poll, most of India would not want to pay taxes. It’s not a people’s choice- some of them are not. You don’t take a poll on whether you want to increase prices of oil. You just do it because its good for everyone, may not be for an individual.

Fight for your rights. And also do your duties. In my opinion, NBA is all about fighting for rights, and completely renouncing their duties.


  1. You mean NBA has some rights that it is fighting for?

    The rights they think they have are to obstruct development, browbeat the governments and blackmail the judiciary by making irresponsible statements against them and above all fool the poor illiterate affected people that they(NBA) are fighting for them.

    IN the end, even the ever believing Indian public gets taken in by the tears and fasts of these activists.

  2. I would just say that some people havent yet come to terms with a changing world. The Socialist Era which caught on in the 1900's is well and truly over. The Globalist Era is challenging people to adopt to it. But some who love the socialist ideals still are clinging on to them. For the ideals sake. Without any conviction to back it up.

    Step back once and think about the more basic thing. Poverty. People still die of hunger in that Kutch area. Die of thirst. Economic Development is the only way out for them. Socialism did not alleviate it. Lets give Globalisation a chance to do it.

  3. Sujai I agree with you that NBA has been inconsistent but things change when facts do. like any other organisation NBA has to change with times. It earlier opposed the dam construction on the premise that it would do more harm than good. This was proven wrong in the court. However the same court also gave certain parameters for resettlement and they were accepted by the govt and the construction began. Now the govt violated the same arrangement so the bargain went dead thus the protest is not unfair or anti-development. The previuos SC ruling has firmly stated that at no point should the construction work surpass the rehabilitation efforts. This as we know has failed so the protest is justified and lawful. About NBA well I don't agree to their ideas on development that all big dams are necessarily bad. However I don't agree with your take on people's duty to sacrifice thei liovelihood for development or the grerater common good. This is the old socialist rhetoric to put majority interests over minority. The dam should be built but the resettlement cannot be neglected as secondary or a lesser priority. Duty versus right framework is an unsuitable point of reference in the present issue. Both are to be given equal weightage and as you yourself say choice of compensation in form of land or cash should be for the oustees to decide MP govt saying we have no land violating the earlier promise is unjustified and worthy of protest.

  4. Tanvi-
    But how long does it take to make a dam? And how long will NBA change its stance to make sure the dam is not built. Just because jails are not good you don't stop putting people in jails. Just because roads are not proper one doesn't stop the buses. Just because those affected by making new roads are not happy, one doesn't stop making roads.

    One can make convoluted arguments the way one wants. While I denounce the socialists like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, you seem to accuse me of using 'old socialist rhetoric'.

  5. Sujai
    I will say the logic is complicated not convuluted.
    I don't accuse you of anything.
    "You just do it because its good for everyone, may not be for an individual."
    You said this and also of duty towards the country and so on....
    The socialists also give the greater common good logic to subvert individual rights.
    I am not against the dam and I don't have a problem if people have to be relocated but Not without adequate compensation that is resettlement and rehabilitation and if the govt can't do that it has no business expecting people to happily see their dwellings submerge under water for the so called greater common good.
    Anyway lets call it even now :-)

  6. I think you have excellant ideas and great logical argument. But you are spoiling the fun by making it as an argument against a particular person, instead of a particular principle or opinion. You are packaging beautiful intellect and wasting it on merely bashing a person!

  7. nice post there.. and i agree with most of your views on NBA, arundhathi roy, etc..

    Actually there's a good case for abolition of income tax.. and have taxes only on consumed goods.. that way, u don't have to deal with only 3% paying the taxes, but whoever consumes material goods will have to pay the taxes proportionately.. but then, we all have to pay higher prices for all the goods/services!

  8. lone sailor:
    I don't ever propose or suggest that taxes on incomes should be done away with. On the other hand, I believe that more people should brought under the income tax bracket (as is common in most developed countries).

  9. Sujai,

    Let us visit the location together and talk to people, to govt. agencies and leaders and understand their plan and achievements as far as re-hab is concerned, and subsequently discuss on this forum. What do you say. Let me know when you would like to visit. I will arrange to take you. You need to dedicate about a month's time (24*7) atleast at ground zero. That wouldn't be a problem for you, I am sure, witnessing the eagerness and concern you have expressed for the development of this nation as well as the general well being of humanity. Do let me know a date when you would like to arrive here. I will arrange my dates accordingly.


    Vaskar Bhattacharya

  10. Hi Sujai - liked both your articles on Arundhati Roy and Medha patkar. These are two ladies that the country could definitely do without.

    Also, just curious - did you take up the offer in the post above. And if you did, how did the "communist tour" method go?

  11. The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer building its house and laying up supplies for the winter.
    The Grasshopper thinks the Ant is a fool and laughs and dances & plays the summer away.

    Come winter, the Ant is warm and well fed. The Grasshopper

    has no food or

    shelter so he dies out in the cold.

    *Indian Version:**

    The Ant works hard in the withering heat all summer

    building its house and

    laying up supplies for the winter.

    The Grasshopper thinks the Ant's a fool and laughs

    & dances & plays the

    summer away.

    Come winter, the shivering Grasshopper calls a press

    conference and

    demands to know why the Ant should be allowed to be warm

    and well fed while

    others are cold and starving.

    NDTV, BBC, CNN show up to provide pictures of the shivering

    Grasshopper next

    to a video of the Ant in his comfortable home with a table

    filled with food.

    The World is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be

    that this poor

    Grasshopper is allowed to suffer so?

    Arundhati Roy stages a demonstration in front of the

    Ant's house.*

    Medha Patkar goes on a fast along with other Grasshoppers

    demanding that

    Grasshoppers be relocated to warmer climates during winter.

    Mayawati states this as `injustice' done on Minorities.

    Amnesty International and Koffi Annan criticize the Indian

    Government for

    not upholding the fundamental rights of the Grasshopper.

    The Internet is flooded with online petitions seeking

    support to the

    Grasshopper (many promising Heaven and Everlasting Peace

    for prompt support

    as against the wrath of God for non-compliance) .

    Opposition MPs stage a walkout. Left parties call for

    'Bengal Bandh' in West

    Bengal and Kerala demanding a Judicial Enquiry.

    CPM in Kerala immediately passes a law preventing Ants from

    working hard in

    the heat so as to bring about equality of poverty among

    Ants and


    Lalu Prasad allocates one free coach to Grasshoppers on all

    Indian Railway

    Trains, aptly named as the 'Grasshopper Rath'.

    Finally, the Judicial Committee drafts the ' Prevention

    of Terrorism Against

    Grasshoppers Act' [POTAGA], with effect from the

    beginning of the winter.

    Arjun Singh makes 'Special Reservation ' for

    Grasshoppers in Educational

    Institutions & in Government Services.

    The Ant is fined for failing to comply with POTAGA and

    having nothing left

    to pay his retroactive taxes, it's home is confiscated

    by the Government and

    handed over to the Grasshopper in a ceremony covered by


    Arundhati Roy calls it 'A Triumph of Justice'.

    Lalu calls it 'Socialistic Justice '.

    CPM calls it the ' Revolutionary Resurgence of the

    Downtrodden '

    Koffi Annan invites the Grasshopper to address the UN

    General Assembly. **

    Many years later....**

    The Ant has since migrated to the US and set up a

    multi-billion dollar

    company in Silicon Valley, 100s of Grasshoppers still die

    of starvation

    despite reservation somewhere in India ,


    As a result of loosing lot of hard working Ants and feeding

    the grasshoppers,

    India is still a developing country.

  12. Sick of reading this puerile "Indian Version" all over the web. Firstly the author's total detachment from reality, which leads him/her to conflate the agendas of Arundhati Roy & Medha Patkar with the likes of Lalu & Mayawati. Secondly, this withered old argument about how socialism is just democratizing poverty- reigning in the industrious and subsidizing the lazy- suffers from one crucial flaw: unlike in our lovely animal world, the hard-workers and the richest people are NOT one and the same. Everyone does not start out in life on a bright sunny day with exactly the same opportunities. Hard- work and success have little, if any, correlation. So yes, reservations at colleges and workplaces do help level the playing field. Amnesty International criticizing corporations for dispossessing millions of their lands and livelihoods does deserve our attention. Because we live in a world that is achingly, often shamelessly unequal. Because behind every great fortune, far more often than a great slog or a great invention, there lies a great crime. Because until an equal summer of opportunity shines down on every human being, the meek need a shield against the strong. Better the slowly rising development of equity than the peaks and ditches of oligarchy, wouldn't you say?


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