12:00 AM, May 30, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 30, 2016

Victimized masses and unsatisfied souls

Author: Arundhati Roy || Published in 2014 by Haymarket Books, USA, Total Pages: 128, Price: USD 11/- (Paperback)

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Arundhati Roy came back once again in 2014 with another outstanding book Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Like all her previous books, this one is also loaded with pointblank words and resentments towards injustice, social inequity, abuse of power and other political and economic anomalies in South Asia and beyond. The level of socio-economic discrimination that prevails across the South Asian countries including India touches the hearts of readers, particularly when it is narrated by Arundhati Roy. Her non-fictional works are just as marvelous and moving as her fictional masterpiece The God of Small Things. Her compassion towards people living below the poverty line is highly noteworthy in all her publications. Simultaneously, her ironbound standpoint against repression also deserves accolades. 

She argues that it is capitalism that has over the decades unleashed an inequitable allocation of wealth that has made just a handful of people abnormally rich leaving millions of ordinary people in hardcore poverty. Billions of dollars glitter in the coffers of a few Indians, while a massive number of people have to sweat to the last drop to secure two meals a day. According to Capitalism: A Ghost Story, 2,50,000 debt-ridden Indian farmers have so far committed suicide to get rid of the agony and humiliation caused by their failure to pay back loans taken from different financial agencies and landlords. These ill-fated farmers are just a portion of the huge number of poverty-stricken masses victimized under the jackboot of capitalism. In this book Arundhati Roy allegorically cited the word “ghost” to refer to the unsatisfied souls of these luckless farmers who had to kill themselves for redemption from the whips of pauperism. According to the book, millions of Indian people have been rendered homeless to facilitate the construction of different private and state-sponsored projects. Most of these forcibly ousted people belong to lower castes and tribal clans whose tears and grievances often go unacknowledged and most of them have shifted to the shanty colonies and slums of Indian cities after their eviction from rural areas. 

In Capitalism: A Ghost Story we further come across the “ghosts” of dead rivers, 

denuded forests and demolished mountains. Deforestation in different parts of India goes on continuously in the name of privatization and progress. This kind of assaults on environmental resources may lead to severe ecological disasters, but the authorities concerned don't have time to pay heed to these issues, Roy regrets. Enormous business organizations have been ceaselessly doing large-scale damages to the forests and hills of India for expansion of their industries. The owners are being allowed by the Indian government to go ahead with their onslaught on India's environmental splendour and diversity, the writer claims. Moreover, she ticked off another ongoing menace of India—the detention of tribal people on vague charges which are even unknown to the detainees. In her words, “Hundreds of people have been jailed, charged for being Maoists under draconian, undemocratic laws. Prisons are crowded with Adivasi people, many of whom have no idea what their crime is.” She gave the example of a female school teacher from a district in central India who was arrested by Indian cops for interrogation and was tortured in the most ruthless manner to force her to confess that she was a Maoist messenger. No action was taken by the Indian government even when the news of this inhumanity flashed out. Rather the police officer who was in charge of that interrogation was later on rewarded for "gallantry". Forced confessions and merciless persecution of detainees take place under the custody of Indian law-enforcing agencies quite frequently, as stated in Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Similar instances are found in Arundhati Roy's another book Listening to Grasshoppers.  

In Arundhati Roy's view, the form of capitalism we see in South Asia makes itself comparable to an unchained monster—terrifying and gobbling up the poor on its rampage. Besides, capitalism views the world as a marketplace where everything goes on sale—beliefs, moral values, ballots, ideologies and all other things we can think about. 

Arundhati Roy touches upon some foreign issues as well in her latest book. She doesn't approve India playing the role of an intermediary between United States and China. She looks back on the Cold War era when Pakistan played a similar role to reconcile United States with Soviet Union as an ally of the White House and she warns the readers about the Indian policymakers' current practice of rubbing shoulders too closely with the American ruling authority keeping in view the present embattled and beleaguered condition of Pakistan. So, neither India nor any other South Asian country should exhibit superfluous eagerness to butter up the western powers all the time. Each state should have its own individual values and principles to determine its policies on governance and development.

The reviewer is Vice President, Chowdhury Philanthropic Trust, Sylhet, Email: mhasib.chy@gmail.com

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