Maoists form only the most militant end of a spectrum of tribal resistance movements, says writer and activist Arundhati Roy. In an emailed interview with Sanjib K Baruah, the Booker Prize-winning author says non-tribal leaders have helped these movements retain a link with the rest of the country, and "development", as envisaged by the government, is not the answer to their woes.
Does India appropriately recognise the traditional rights of the indigenous people?
India has behaved with tribal people like a colonial power. It has disenfranchised them, made them squatters on their own land and criminalised their way of life. They were criminals by default then. They're terrorists now.
Are we at present seeing a tribal upsurge or a Maoist struggle?
Both. Tribal resistance in central India predated Mao by centuries. However today, right now, we are seeing a convergence of interests of Maoist ideology and tribal resistance. A huge majority, maybe more than 90 per cent of the Maoist cadre, is made up of tribal people.
But the Maoists are only one part of the insurrection. They do not represent all tribals, or all resistance movements. They do not even claim to. The character of the current rebellion is diverse, not homogeneous. That diversity is what gives it its strength.
Unlike the Maoists, I don't think that tribal people are fighting to overthrow the Indian state. They don't know what the Indian state is. They are fighting to preserve their homelands, to not be displaced, to not have their mountains and forests and rivers devastated by "development".
The Maoist party's goals are different. The tribal areas are where they hope to consolidate their military strength and launch their revolution. But though they have different goals, different worldviews, different ideas about what development means, they all know they are ranged against the same corporate juggernaut.
Is it a contradiction that the Maoist leadership is essentially non-tribal?
If the movement were exclusively tribal, it would have been easier to encircle and crush. It would have been easier to discredit because it would quickly become an "identity" struggle.
It is the "non-tribal" Maoists and other activists in the other resistance movements, as well as other free-floating activists, who keep that link alive.
The nature of the leadership may be an issue if the revolution they dream of actually materialised, and there were very different ideas about what to do with that victory. But right now, that is in the very very distant future.
In the current context, is economic development the problem or the solution?
The kind of development (Home Minister) P Chidambaram and (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh envisage is most definitely the problem. So when they come up with the "two-pronged" strategy idea, of "development" and "security", it's a little like saying we'll use two guns instead of one. There are no weekend solutions to this insurrection.