In her first non-fiction work, award-winning novelist Roy (The God of Small Things, 1997) reveals the authoritarian paternalism of the Indian state that lies behind a mask of benevolence.
To Roy, India with all its fissures and factions is a fictitious nation created by the state to legitimate itself. Once the fiction is in place, the state can justify its actions in the name of the common good no matter how injurious these actions may be in reality. So it is with India’s undertaking of massive dam and irrigation projects and its successful detonation of a nuclear bomb, the subjects respectively of the two essays in this volume. The second essay offers the bomb as an example of state arrogance and foolishness whose potential consequences are obvious and terrible. In the first essay, which will likely be more revelatory to American audiences, Roy focuses her attention on the Naramada valley, home to 325,000 people, mostly of minority tribes. When the building of a series of huge dams is completed the valley will flood and all will lose their homes, becoming in a bloodless acronym, PAPs: Project Affected Persons. A whole way of life will end as PAPs are relocated to dismal camps or end up in urban slums. Roy clearly and bitingly demonstrates, however, that it is not at all clear the project will do what it is supposed to do. It may use more electricity than it generates or destroy more farmland than it creates, and those who are to receive drinking water may never have a drop reach them. The Indian state goes on its haughty way, blithely dismissing all doubts. Yet the people of the Naramada valley have organized and resisted, and though the outcome is unclear, this resistance is what inspires Roy. This resistance, not the state, is the home of Indian democracy, and she urges the struggle to continue (royalties from the book are going to the organization heading this struggle).
With eloquent anger and careful research, Roy expertly captures the faces of both folly and courage. (Author tour)