…the thing is for me, for so many years, people—let’s say in India—have been fighting this very idea of progress, of infinite growth, of this form of development which has resulted now in what we call jobless growth, what everybody knows to be the case. You have nine individuals who own the same amount of wealth as the bottom 500 million. This is what infinite growth has led to—infinite growth for some people.
So I remember years ago, I wrote an essay which ended by saying, “Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?” Because I think that’s ultimately the question. Can you look at the mountain and not just calculate its mineral worth? Can you understand that a mountain has much more than just the value of the minerals in it? And there is—it’s a civilizational issue, right? That for people who have lived there, have known that mountain, they know it sustains not just the people. It’s not just a question of who is getting displaced. But how does, for example, that bauxite mountain—which stores water and waters the plains all around it, which grows the food, which sustains a whole population—but it’s meant for a corporation that is given the mining contract. It’s just, how much does that bauxite cost? Can we store it and trade it on the futures market?
…there is a psychotic refusal to understand that the survival of the species is connected to the survival of the planet, you know? Because this sort of progress is a kind of church now. It is not amenable to reason. So it is very difficult to know how any real conversation can happen, which is why I said yesterday that the only real conversation that is happening is a conversation in which the language around climate change is being militarized. Because the U.N., underneath every conflict which appears to be a conflict between a tribe and a tribe, or a country and a country, is increasingly climate change, is increasingly the shrinking of resources and people collecting together to claim them and therefore, the growth of this kind of nationalistic or identity or tribal politics.
…a month or two ago, the Supreme Court of India, based on a case that a wildlife NGO had filed, said that two million indigenous people should be evicted from their forest homes with immediate effect. Why? Because that forest needs to be preserved as a sanctuary. But when, for the last 25 years, people were fighting against projects which were decimating millions of hectares and acres of forest, nobody cared. And it was the same people that were being displaced. Then it was for progress; now it is for conservation. But it is always the same people who have to pay the price.
And when you are talking about evicting two million of the poorest people, stripping them of everything they ever had, there is little outrage. When the Congress party announced that it is going to have a scheme in which 20% of the poorest people will get a living wage, everyone just exploded. Like, how can you think of doing this? Because it strikes at the core of unregulated capitalism. Any sense of talk of equality or justice seems to just have the same effect that blasphemy has in religious societies. That is what capitalism has become—a form of religion that will brook no questioning.
When I go to speak in places like anywhere in India, literally thousands show up. Why? Not because I am some superstar, but because everybody is looking to understand what is happening at this moment, when really the era that we think we know and understand is coming to an end. And this is the simplest way of saying a complicated thing, you know? Literature is.
And I feel that the radical understanding now has to come from not thinking of climate— “Oh, I’m a specialist in climate change”; “I’m a specialist in river valleys”; “I’m a specialist on Kashmir”; “I’m a specialist—.” You know, this kind of compartmentalization is actually reducing the real problem that we have. Because now you have to understand there’s a connection between caste and climate change and capitalism and nationalism and internationalism. And I think this is where literature and a way of grappling with history as a kind of supple narrative is important.