“Her latest book focuses on India’s newest unfolding tragedy: its hidden war against Maoist rebels, who have established a firm foothold among the neglected tribal people of India’s heartland. New Delhi has ignored the tribal belt – and the hardships of its residents – for years. Now, though, the government, and India’s corporations, want to mine the minerals buried beneath the region’s soil – and are dismayed to find the Maoists in their way.
Maoists have organised tribal communities since the late 1970s, helping them fight forest officials and exploitative contractors who buy forest leaves for traditional, hand-rolled cigarettes. Now, the rebels are leading the resistance to the expropriation of tribal land. New Delhi has dubbed the guerrillas India’s biggest internal security threat.
In late 2009, Roy spent three weeks with the Maoist guerrillas in their “liberated area”, in Chhattisgarh State. Her experiences travelling with them – “some of the most amazing moments of my life,” she tells me – are at the heart of her new book. Her sympathetic depiction of the Maoists has provoked angry accusations that she is too starry eyed about a violent movement with no qualms about killing Indian troops. Yet she makes no apologies.
“For me it was such a wonderful thing to see those people standing up to the most powerful forces in the world,” she says. “There is such a romance in their resistance. I believe that, and I hope I never lose the capacity to allow romance into my life, without being frightened, and without trying to protect myself.”
She insists she does not endorse violence, or armed struggle, yet she feels that tribal communities have few options to protect their way of life, as they confront the concerted efforts of state officials and large corporations to displace them. “If you are going to treat unarmed Gandhian struggles the way the [anti-] Narmada [dam] struggle [protesters] were treated, people are going to move into another zone,” she says. “It’s not as if they are sitting around saying, ‘Should we struggle or should we not?’ They don’t have a choice. They have nowhere to go.”’
"So, Son, instead of crying, be strong, so as to be able to comfort your mother… take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wild flowers here and there… But remember always, Dante, in the play of happiness, don’t you use all for yourself only…. help the persecuted and the victim because they are your better friends…. In this struggle of life you will find more and love and you will be loved."