Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Calling BS (not Business Standard) on Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is controversial in India, but most of the time foreign writers treat her with kid gloves. She's famous, and she's good looking, and she makes good copy. But, folks, let's face it, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since she won the Booker Prize for the God of Small Things. These days, she's basically a pamphleteer, whose fame/notoriety rather than talent inspires India's top weeklies to assign 3,000 word "essays."

Read any of her recent articles with a gimlet eye, and you'll see what I mean.

Propaganda serves a purpose, of course, and I have a great deal of sympathy for Roy's politics. But even pamphleteering depends on at least a kernel of truth, and I'm afraid Roy may have stepped outside the lines with a recent statement to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper -- like everybody else, dutifully grasping at the hem of her fame.

Stumping for India's Maoist rebels in an interview with Stephen Moss, Roy said that the reason that the rebellion doesn't get more ink is that the international media is in bed with the guy's pumping money into the country. “I have been told quite openly by several correspondents of international newspapers, that they have instructions – ‘No negative news from India’ – because it’s an investment destination," Roy said. "So you don’t hear about it. But there is an insurrection, and it’s not just a Maoist insurrection. Everywhere in the country, people are fighting.”

I have to call BS... and I don't mean Business Standard.

If any editor has ever turned down a story on the Maoists in my experience, it has been because they were too cheap to pay travel expenses, or because they thought readers were already following too many wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc), or because they weren't convinced that there was anything new to say -- which Roy would be right to dispute.

The Indepedent's Andy Buncombe gave Roy the benefit of the doubt, though he'd also never been told of such a ban (and, like me, has written plenty of negative stories about India). He asked around. Nope. Nobody he could turn up had heard of an injunction on bad news. Even more curious, most everybody has been the target of complaints that they don't write enough about India's five star hotels and (supposedly) sparkling new office buildings (the old "India basher" routine).

Here's Buncombe:

In the time I’ve been here, I’ve written about insurgencies, caste, poverty, farmer suicides, killings in Kashmir, Hindu terror cells, corruption (a number of times), honour killings, slums, land battles and homelessness. In the last 18 months, I’ve published three substantial pieces on the Maoists. My colleagues have done the same, travelling to Nyamgiri to write about the tribal people’s fight against mining company Vedanta, to the Maoist “infested” areas of Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, to Srinagar and Bihar, or working in Delhi where they highlighted the corruption and mis-management surrounding the Commonweath Games or else illegal child labour involved in the textile industry.

In an emailed reply to Buncombe's question on the subject, Roy said that she had heard about the supposed ban on bad news from two foreign journalists -- not "several." But they had told her the canard in confidence so she couldn't reveal their names.

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