Of The People

Aruna Roy’s The Personal is Political: An Activist’s Memoir is a testament to an extraordinary life devoted to bringing changes in an unequal society.
Aruna Roy and others during the book launch
Aruna Roy and others during the book launch

All activists are communicators; without being a communicator, you can’t be an activist,” Aruna Roy, one of India’s well-known social activists, and a founder of the movement for Right to Information, said in her opening remarks at the recent Delhi launch event of her book The Personal Is Political: An Activist’s Memoir (HarperCollins).

Roy, a former IAS officer, spent nearly four decades traversing multiple villages across the nation meeting people, after she quit her job, to do social work. Over the years, she has been a rallying figure in innumerable dharnas, gatherings, and petitions, becoming part of the everyday pain and struggles of ordinary Indians, who have no access to the corridors of power.

Stories of women take centre stage in the book; its title is the slogan ‘The Personal Is Political’ raised by third-wave feminists in the turbulent ’70s; something that was adopted by the activists of various women’s movements in the following decades. In the book, Roy rejected the idea of authorship of slogans saying, “Good slogans rarely have a single author” as they come out of collective experience.

The book recalls many women invisible in public discourse — for instance, two Rajasthani women Bhuli and Kesar, who introduced her to a rural India far from bureaucratic offices, or, Naurti and Mangi, two Dalit women daily wagers, who mentored the author over the years.

Activist and author, Aruna Roy
Activist and author, Aruna Roy

Women helping women

Roy also talked about women solidarities, women dressing for themselves, and their participation in events organised by women such as the Mahila Mela and how women have broken the culture of silence. In rural Rajasthan, where talking of violence against women was taboo, she talked of being witness to women discussing the trauma and anxiety of rape.

She referred to women joining hands and protesting against the enforced Sati of Roop Kanwar in the ’80s, and also when Bhanwari Devi, a social worker, was gangraped in the ’90s due to her efforts to prevent a child marriage in a Gujjar family. Most of these women were poor and came from Dalit or OBC backgrounds. In her book, Roy has analysed their oppression and the role of class and caste in orchestrating violence against women.

Speaking at the launch, political scientist and author Nirja Jayal, one of the panelists, said that Roy’s book is an impressive testament to an extraordinary life. “She has worked extremely hard to make India a better, fairer, and inclusive place through the tools of activism,” Jayal added.

‘Not India’s enemies’

Ten years have gone into the making of this book. “It took so long to gestate because I am not a writer, primarily. Secondly, the constantly changing scenario and the pressure on me as an activist to run around the country also delayed the book,” said Roy, who thinks that the book can make people understand that activism and activists are “not the enemies” of this country.

“Activists are not people born out of a desire to break the country. They are people who are moved by discrimination, inequality, and inadequacy and want to do something to remedy the situation. There are people who do not understand this. I hope this book talks to them.”

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The New Indian Express