excerpts from the book
by Arundhati Roy
South End Press, 2001
... in the midst of putative peace, you could, like me, be
unfortunate enough to stumble on a silent war. The trouble is
that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen
it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act
as speaking out. There's no innocence. Either way, you're accountable.
What we need to search for and find, what we need to hone and
perfect into a magnificent, shining thing, is a new kind of politics.
Not the politics of governance, but the politics of resistance.
The politics of opposition. The politics of forcing accountability.
The politics of slowing things down. The politics of joining hands
across the world and preventing certain destruction. In the present
circumstances, I'd say that the only thing worth globalizing is
dissent. It's India's best export.
... in far away Holland, the World Water Forum was convened. Four
thousand five hundred bankers, businessmen, government ministers,
policy writers, engineers, economists-and, in order to pretend
that the "other side" was also represented, a handful
of activists, indigenous dance troupes, impoverished street theater
groups, and half a dozen young girls dressed as inflatable silver
faucets-gathered at The Hague to discuss the future of the world's
water. Every speech was generously peppered with phrases like
"women's empowerment," "people's participation,"
and "deepening democracy." Yet it turned out that the
whole purpose of the forum was to press for the privatization
of the world's water.
There was pious talk of having access to drinking water declared
a Basic Human Right. How would this be implemented, you might
ask. Simple. By putting a market value on water. By selling it
at its "true price." (It's common knowledge that water
is becoming a scarce resource. One billion people in the world
have no access to safe drinking water.) The "market"
decrees that the scarcer something is, the more expensive it becomes.
But there is a difference between valuing water and putting a
market value on water. No one values water more than a village
woman who has to walk miles to fetch it. No one values it less
than urban folk who pay for it to flow endlessly at the turn of
So the talk of connecting human rights to a "true price"
was more than a little baffling. At first I didn't quite get their
drift. Did they believe in human rights for the rich, that only
the rich are human, or that all humans are rich? But I see it
now. A shiny, climate-controlled human rights supermarket with
a clearance sale on Christmas Day.
One marrowy American panelist put it rather nicely: "God
gave us the rivers," he drawled, "but he didn't put
in the delivery systems. That's why we need private enterprise."
No doubt with a little Structural Adjustment to the rest of the
things God gave us, we could all live in a simpler world. (If
all the seas were one sea, what a big sea it would be . . . Evian
could own the water, Rand the earth, Enron the air. Old Rumpelstiltskin
could be the handsomely paid supreme CEO.)
When all the rivers and valleys and forests and hills of the
world have been priced, packaged, bar-coded, and stacked in the
local supermarket, when all the hay and coal and earth and wood
and water have been turned to gold, what then shall we do with
all the gold? Make nuclear bombs to obliterate what's left of
the ravaged landscapes and the notional nations in our ruined
... Let's begin at the beginning. What does privatization
really mean? Essentially, it is the transfer of productive public
assets from the state to private companies. Productive assets
include natural resources. Earth, forest, water, air. These are
assets that the state holds in trust for the people it represents.
In a country like India, seventy percent of the population lives
in rural areas. That's seven hundred million people. Their lives
depend directly on access to natural resources. To snatch these
away and sell them as stock to private companies is a process
of barbaric dispossession on a scale that has no parallel in history.
Essentially, privatization is a mutually profitable business contract
between the private (preferably foreign) company or financial
institution and the ruling elite of the third world.
... we don't want to be like good middle-class Germans in the
1 930s, who drove their children to piano classes and never noticed
the concentration camps springing up around them-or do we?
In a Call Center College, hundreds of young English-speaking Indians
are being groomed to staff the backroom operations of giant transnational
companies. They are trained to answer telephone queries from the
United States and the United Kingdom (on subjects ranging from
a credit card inquiry to advice about a malfunctioning washing
machine or the availability of cinema tickets). On no account
must the caller know that his or her inquiry is being attended
to by an Indian sitting at a desk on the outskirts of Delhi.
The Call Center Colleges train their students to speak in
American and British accents. They have to read foreign papers
so they can chitchat about the news or the weather. On duty they
have to change their given names. Sushma becomes Susie, Govind
becomes Jerry, Advani becomes Andy. (Hi! I'm Andy. Gee, hot day,
innit? Shoot, how can I help ya?) Actually it's worse: Sushma
becomes Mary. Govind becomes David. Perhaps Advani becomes Ulysses.
Call center workers are paid one-tenth of the salaries of
their counterparts abroad. From all accounts, call centers are
billed to become a multibillion-dollar industry.