Arundhati Roy Speaks on Indian Politics, Development in Keynote at HKS Science, Technology and Human Future Symposium | news

Indian author Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, gave her keynote address at a Harvard Kennedy School symposium on Thursday on the political and social implications of India’s development.

Roy’s remarks opened the three-day conference entitled “Science, Technology and the Human Future” commemorating the 20th anniversary of the HKS Science, Technology and Society program.

In her speech, Roy recalled the situation in India when she last spoke at Harvard.

“The government at the time, led by the Congress Party, had opened up the Indian constitution-protected indigenous homelands for mining and infrastructure projects,” she said.

Roy said mining for bauxite – a source of aluminum found in the mountains of Bastar – has led to the destruction of nearby forests and rivers. The forests contained many of India’s forest-dwelling tribes and the headquarters of the Indian Communist Party (Maoists), she added. The government launched a military operation to clear the land in 2009 and the Maoist People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army responded, leading to a civil war.

“Villages were burned down,” she added. “People were chased into the forest, where they lived under the open sky for months. Women were particularly attacked, raped and killed.”

Roy highlighted the complicated relationship between science, technology, politics and justice.

“Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?” said Roy. “We have the science and technology to turn it off. Do we have the imagination or the vision to keep it in?”

Although India has seen technological development, she said, it comes at a cost.

“Now that the rivers are drying up and the forests are disappearing, as the water table is falling across the country, there is unrest,” she said. “There are protests by people who refuse to give up their lands and access to their resources and refuse to give more credence to false promises.”

Roy said she believes conflicts in India will never be resolved.

“How do you search for light?” she said. “How do you find something to hold on to for a while, where to catch your breath? To me that’s all we can do.”

The event also presented an original piano quintet entitled Machine Dreams, written by composer and Harvard Law School student Chung Hon Michael Cheng ’19.

“It seemed like an exciting way to combine two strands of my background and identity — STEM and music,” Cheng wrote in the event’s program notes.

Thursday’s program also included readings from The Future Humans Anthology, a curation of poetry, fiction and art about the future of humanity. Michael P. Evans ’24, an STS grantee and associate editor of the anthology, said the work stemmed from a question.

“It was about imagining a future where something fundamental about the world will be changed and exploring how that can change the way we think about ourselves, each other and our values,” he said.

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