An ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire by Arundhati Roy:A Book Review


An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire is a major political work that has established itself to be one of the most informative and relevant texts of all time. Arundhati Roy begins the book with the question that is very frequently asked to her “how to confront empire”. It is a huge question and she says in order to address this question we must first learn what an Empire means and how it works in reality. “Empire” is a huge term that consists of a lot of things and In many countries it has led to the emergence of several dangerous by-products- nationalism, religious bigotry, fascism and terrorism.

Roy then goes on to explain the Indian condition where the Prime minister, the home minister along with the other “significant” figures are all members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an ultranationalist Hindu guild which has openly admired Hitler and his methods.

A constant never-ending process of privatization is going on in India that eventually pushes people off their lands and out of their jobs. Hundreds of farmers are committing suicide while the elite journeys to their imaginary destination near the top of the world. Roy further talks about the violence that had taken place against Muslims in different parts of India and how it never really affected the main significant figures who never seemed to refrain from spreading their political propaganda. All they think and care about is money, goods, patents and services that are globalised.

An empire consists of all these things. This accumulation of power, the greatly increased distance between those who make the decisions and those who suffer them are integral parts of an empire and as pointed out by Roy, our sole purpose should include the vision of eliminating this very distance between these two class binaries in the society.
Roy moves on to discuss the suggestive methods we can take to dismantle this obscene accumulation of power. We must learn from our history. We must continue building public opinions.
She also puts forth the huge role the mass media plays in spreading this propaganda among people. The newspapers and others forms of media are gradually becoming “sponsored” and it plays a big role in manipulating and hegemonizing the common mass. One of our main tasks therefore should be to expose this hypocritical act of promoting and spreading fabricated misinformations.

She also talks about the incidents where the police have repeatedly opened fire and went on with their violent acts over common people for protesting against the violation of their rights, and every time media and other resources have reported these incidents to be provoked by violence from the opponent group of people. The poor and, in particular the Dalits and the Adivasi communities suffer the most when it comes to protesting for their basic human rights.
Roy goes on to explain how “peace is war” for most of the people in India- a daily battle against hunger, thirst and the violation of their dignity. War is nothing but an end result of a long-term flawed and putative peace.

The only way to make democracy real is to start questioning whatsoever has been static for a long time. We have to remember our freedom was never actually gifted to us but rather, wrested by us. And finally, we have to lose the terror of the mundane and at the very least we should go on trying to become peace correspondents instead of war correspondents.

Although many critics have argued that Roy’s perspective is biased and not neutral due to her supposed hatred towards the country and its governing bodies but the amount of awareness this particular book puts forward is unmatchable. It enables the readers to re-think and re-consider the preconceived conceptions and therefore I would highly recommend this book to every curious soul out there who enjoys taking up different perspectives through a political touch.

-Suvasree Bandyopadhyay

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