Power Politics, by Arundhati Roy. Specifically, it will answer several specific questions regarding the construction of Big Dams in India. The Big Dam projects in India are especially contentious to the author, and as she writes about her opposition to the projects, it becomes quite clear she is passionate about her country and what happens to it in the future.
As with any controversial large project, there are people who oppose the building of Big Dams in India, and people who support the construction and both have a variety of reasons for their opinions. Those who support the building of the Big Dams include power companies, who hope to generate more power from turbines in the dams, and of course, the construction companies who are going to build the dam. Anyone who stands to reap profits from the dams sees them as progress India vitally needs, especially since they can harness the power for their own uses, such as the trash-incineration company who wants to build one of the Big Dams, with no prior dam building experience. Those opposed to the building of the Big Dams cite most often the environmental costs to India as millions of acres of viable lands are flooded by the backup behind the dams, and the human cost. As author Roy states, “Big Dams in India have displaced not hundreds, not thousands, but millions – more than thirty million people in the last fifty years. Almost half of them are Dalit and Adivasi, the poorest of the poor” (Roy 20). As the growing lakes behind the dams displace these poor people, the Indian government has done virtually nothing to help them relocate their families and find new work. In addition, Roy charges that the government has never studied the effects the dams have had on India or her people, and so they continue to build them without any real knowledge of their usefulness or effectiveness.
The opposition to the dams formed a protest movement to help advance their interests and educate the world about what was going on in India at the expense of the environment and her people. Often, protest is the only form of objection that receives attention from the media and from the government, and so, sometimes protest movements are the only way to get things done and fight for change. That is why Roy wrote this book, to have her protest written down so others could find out the truth about what was happening with the Big Dams in India. If not for this book, thousands of people might never have known about what was happening. Roy also feels her books is about the free speech necessary for protest, and she questions the idea that only experts, along with their “dubious politics” (Roy 27) and special interests, are capable of commenting on important civil matters. Thus, protest is an important part of the political process, and one that often gets the most results, which is why opponents of the dams turned to vocal protest about their opposition to the projects.
The author clearly feels she must participate in the protest movement against the dams for a number of reasons. First, she feels the dams have been shoved down the throats of the Indian people as items of nationalist pride, in fact the government call them “developmental nationalism” (Roy 64). Therefore, to speak out against them is seen as basically speaking out against the country itself, but Roy is trying to dispel that image by illustrating just how destructive the dams can be. In fact, Roy likens keeping silent to “good middle-class Germans” (Roy 65), who kept silent about the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s. Her illusion is that the dams, in the long run, are just as dangerous as the Nazis, and to her country, they very well could be. Roy feels the government is deceiving the people, and she hopes to set the record straight by writing the truth. She also wants the people to know that the dams are really only benefiting a few people, while all the citizens are paying for them, and many of them are uprooted from their homes and displaced because of them. The government also touts the dams as a source of irrigation, thereby leading to more food production, but the author asserts that actual food production has only risen by 10%, and that India regularly loses 10% of its food production to spoilage or eating by rats. Thus, she says, “India must be the only country in the world that builds dams, uproots millions of people, and submerges thousands of acres of forests in order to feed rats” (Roy 66). It is easy to see that the author is quite passionate about what she believes in, and she wants to share her knowledge with others, so they can stop India from creating any more dams, and losing any more land to the projects.
The average citizen in the United States has absolutely no stake in the outcome of this conflict – except of course in the moral sense. They can protest what the Big Dams will do to the global environment and population, but they have no personal stake in the outcome – but some U.S. corporations have a gigantic stake in the outcome, as Roy notes here. “For a variety of reasons, there is little (read: almost zero) additional demand for power equipment in the first world. This leaves these mammoth multinationals with a redundant capacity that they desperately need to offload. India and China are their biggest target markets […] (Roy 46). Thus, these large U.S. corporations, such as General Electric (GE), have a huge stake in the construction of Big Dams in India, and they use their political power and influence on the Indian government to see the projects go through and are completed. The big power equipment manufacturers are just the tip of the iceberg, however. U.S. financial institutions, which will lend funds for the dam’s construction, will make millions of dollars in interest on their investments, and dam construction companies will share in the profits. Therefore, while the average American citizen (except perhaps a stockholder or two) will not realize a thing from the construction of these Big Dams, many American companies certainly have quite a big stake in their completion, and that is one reason the author felt she needed to go public with her information.
Roy, Arundhati. Power Politics. Cambridge, MA: Southend Press, 2001.
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