The nuclear disarmament community in the U. S. is part of a global movement, so, for this week’s tribute to pioneers of policy and peace we’re focusing on author Arundhati Roy, one of the most prominent international anti-nuclear voices. Roy has used her incredible literary talent to push against nuclear proliferation and the role of militarism within global foreign policy, empowering women from all walks of live to speak out for what they believe in.
Arundhati Roy was born in India in 1961. Her mother, Mary Roy, was a women’s rights activist who had a tremendous influence on her path to political activism. She had a unique upbringing due to her parent’s marriage outside of their caste, and subsequent divorce after her birth. Growing up, Roy was homeschooled by her mom until she was 10, and by the time she was 16, she had moved to Delhi where she studied architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture and eventually took a position at the National Institute of Urban Affairs. During this time, she also began creating independent films with her partner Pradip Krishen. These films gave Roy an avenue to promote progressive issues such as women’s rights, particularly those concerning sexual violence.
As she starred in independent films, she also began writing her first novel. In 1997 she gained international attention when she published The God of Small Things, a semi-autobiographical book that exposed the harsh realities women in India faced due to their gender, caste, and religion. The novel received the 1997 Booker Prize for Fiction and was also a massive commercial success, selling over 6 million copies. With the success of her first novel, Arundhati Roy gained a significant public platform. A year later, India began nuclear testing, and Roy turned her attention to political activism.
In response to the nuclear testing, Roy wrote an essay entitled “The End of Imagination,” which was highly critical of India’s nuclear weapons program. She argued that supporters of the test were celebrating the toxic displays of military power instead of addressing horrible conditions that the Indian people had to suffer through. Roy was also critical of Pakistan’s nuclear tests, which occurred only weeks later. She argued against nuclear solutions between the two countries in the essay stating that, “the nuclear bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human, outright evil thing that man has ever made,” and would ultimately destroy any country who used them. Her blending of literary prose in her essays and op-eds has continued for over 20 years, making the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons all too clear. These works are of major importance to the international peace movement, and in 2004 she was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. A year prior, she was also awarded special recognition as a Woman of Peace at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards.
She has been a notable detractor of modern wars, as she believes they have created countless human rights violations. Unsurprisingly, she was firmly against the U. S. War on Terror, and even argued that the war was, in actuality, an act of terror itself. She framed her critiques of countries that support nuclear weapons, namely the U. S. and India, within the toxic masculinity of nationalism, and has made sure to go against the nationalist rhetoric that one must support war and violence in order to be a true citizen. Since nuclear weapons were created, the threat of war has always been present, and, according to Roy, their existence is a violation of human rights that people “should take personally.”
What makes Arundhati Roy’s activism so special is how she has made the personal political. With her talent as a fiction writer, she has been able to humanize the threat of nuclear war, emphasizing that nonproliferation is a cause that impacts everyone. She has also criticized those who believe that due to her literary background she has no place in the political arena. According to her, she “was never interested in just being a professional writer,” and refused to be relegated to any one space, especially because of her gender. While her anti-militarism stance has been viewed by many as too radical for a woman, her voice, and the voice of countless others within the peace movement, is vital. We must never forget that “a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”