Monday, July 21, 2003

Statement from Arundhati Roy

As diplomats' families and tourists disappear from the subcontinent, western journalists arrive in Delhi in droves. Many call me. "Why haven't you left the city?" they ask. "Isn't nuclear war a real possibility? Isn't Delhi a prime target?

If nuclear weapons exist, then nuclear war is a real possibility. And Delhi is a prime target. It is. But where shall we go? Is it possible to go out and buy another life because this one's not panning out? If I go away, and everything and everyone - every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved - is incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love?

And who will love me back? Which society will welcome me and allow me to be the hooligan that I am here, at home? So we're all staying. We huddle together. We realise how much we love each other. And we think, what a shame it would be to die now. Life's normal only because the macabre has become normal.

While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, the old generals and eager boy-anchors on TV talk of first strike and second-strike capabilities as though they're discussing a family board game.

My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the documentary about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fireball. The dead bodies choking the river. The singed, bald children, still alive, their clothes burned into their bodies.The cancers, implanted genetically, a malignant letter to the unborn. We remember especially the man who just melted into the steps of a building. We imagine ourselves like that.

As stains on staircases. I imagine future generations of hushed schoolchildren pointing at my stain...that was a writer. Not She or He. That. I'm sorry if my thoughts are stray and disconnected, not always worthy. Often ridiculous. My husband's writing a book on trees. He has a section on how figs are pollinated. Each fig only by its own specialised fig wasp. There are nearly a thousand different species of fig wasps, each a precise,exquisite, synchrony, the product of millions of years of evolution. All the fig wasps will be nuked. Zzzz. Ash. And my husband. And his book.

A dear friend, who's an activist in the Narmada Bachao Andolan, is on indefinite hunger strike protesting the forced eviction of villagers to make way for the Man Dam. Today is the fourteenth day of her fast.

What an act of faith and hope! How brave it is to believe that in today's world, non- violent protest will register, will matter. Will it? To governments that are comfortable with the notion of a wasted world, what's a wasted valley?

The threshold of horror has been ratcheted up so high that nothing short of genocide or the prospect of nuclear war merits mention. Peaceful resistance is treated with contempt. Terrorism's the real thing.

The underlying principle of the War Against Terror, the very notion that war is an acceptable solution to terrorism, has ensured that terrorists in the subcontinent now have the power to trigger a nuclear war.

Displacement, dispossession, starvation, poverty, disease - these are now just the funnies, the comic-strip items. Our home minister says Amartya Sen has it all wrong - the key to India's development is not education and health but Defence (and don't forget the kickbacks, O Best Beloved).

Perhaps what he really meant was that war is the key to avert the world's attention from fascism and genocide. To avoid dealing with any one single issue of real governance that urgently needs to be addressed. For the governments of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is not a problem, it's their perennial and spectacularly successful solution. Kashmir is the rabbit they pull out of their hats every time they need one. It's a radioactive rabbit now, and it's careening out of control. No doubt there is Pakistan sponsored cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

But there are other kinds of terror in the Valley. There's the inchoate nexus between jehadi militants, ex-militants, foreign mercenaries, local mercenaries, underworld Mafiosi, security forces, arms dealers and criminalised politicians and officials on both sides of the border. There's also rigged elections, daily humiliations, 'disappearances' and staged 'encounters'.

And now the cry has gone up in the heartland: India is a Hindu country. Muslims can be murdered under the benign gaze of the state. Mass murderers will not be brought to justice. Indeed, they will stand for elections. Is India to be a Hindu nation in the heartland and a secular one around the edges?

Meanwhile the International Coalition Against Terror makes war and preaches restraint. Britain is busy arming both sides. Tony Blair's 'peace' mission a few months ago was actually a business trip to discuss a one billion pound deal (and don't forget the kickbacks, O Best Beloved) to sell Hawk fighter-bombers to India.

"Why isn't there a peace movement?" western journalists ask me ingenuously.How can there be a peace movement when, for most people in India, peace means a daily battle: for food, for water, for shelter, for dignity? War, on the other hand, is something professional soldiers fight far away on the border.

And nuclear war - well, that's completely outside the realm of most peoples' comprehension. The last question every visiting journalist always asks me is: Are you writing another book? This talk of nuclear war displays such contempt for music, art, literature and everything else that defines civilisation. So what kind of book should I write?

It's not just the one million soldiers on the border who are living on hair-trigger alert. It's all of us. That's what nuclear bombs do. Whether they're used or not, they violate everything that is humane. They alter the meaning of life itself. Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?

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