‘Choke.’ ‘Cripple.’ ‘Virus.’ ‘Infested.’ ‘Eliminate.’ ‘Stamp out.’ Yes. The idea of extermination is in the air.
And people believe that faced with extermination they have the right to fight back. By any means necessary.’
Arundhati Roy (2009a, p.160)
‘They use weapons, but they are not bloodthirsty. They are basically gentle, polite, highly civilized ... So when he kills, it is a necessary killing.’
Mahasweta Devi (2002, p.XXII)
It would of course be a truism to say that we live in an increasingly violent world. Various populations live terror stricken lives, occupied by foreign powers, or fearing militant attacks – to mention just two easily observed realities. To ...view middle of the document...
This convenient explanation, however, masks an altogether much darker reality. By textually exterminating the violent from mediated spaces, they become available to civil society solely as agents of violence, and not as ‘subjects’ of circumstances. They are transformed into irrational disruptions of a discursive field. So for example if one searches for articles pertaining to ‘Maoism’ in any of the major English dailies in India, including broadly progressive ones like The Hindu, one will see that they become available to the reader, and rather frequently in that, only as they (allegedly) commit violent acts. In the process, to say the least, they are inevitably dehumanised, and the textual extermination in turn justifies their physical extermination. These are not people who can be heard, nor (as a consequence and tautologically also as a cause) can they be understood, they can only be dealt with violently. Moreover, once this practise of ghettoisation of voices approaches normativity, various people not directly associated with violence can also be threatened with a forced association. So for example, the British Prime Minister in his speech in Munich on 5th February, 20116 extended his war to ‘what some people have called ‘non-violent extremists’’, dehumanising a set of individuals (‘what’) by associating them with violence. Similarly, while earlier individual Maoists in India needed to be specifically charged for criminal activity, in 2009 the government decided to call them a ‘terrorist’ organisation7, and also started using the category of ‘Maoist sympathisers’ till it was chastised by the Supreme Court8. In Kashmir, in 2010, the GOC-in-chief Northern Command inaugurated the category of ‘agitational terrorism’9 – and one could go on piling examples. Binayak Sen’s arrest on the 24th of December, 2010 is just one much publicised manifestation of this tendency.
By forcing her way into mediated spaces with stories staging individuals and groups as ‘subjects’ of violence – people caught in a violent field and perhaps even responding violently – Arundhati Roy, especially with her writing on the Maoists, has interrupted a textual domain that would rather these people not be seen as the products of circumstances. This paper, therefore, will hereafter proceed with a study of Roy’s developing negotiation of such ‘subjects’. Thereafter, it will move into a comparatively briefer study of a small sample of the celebrated Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi’s much larger corpus of work. She10, along with Roy11, has been one of the people increasingly caught up in the possibility of initiating dialogue with the Maoists. Their work, which has allowed them to function in the mainstream, while also earning the confidence of the Maoists, therefore, provides a very helpful ground for addressing questions regarding the textual staging of the subject of violence for metropolitan audiences. Moreover, by briefly branching into Bengali literature, while keeping...