She’s a professional celebrity and a shameless self-promoter. She’s a compassionate, dedicated essayist and writer who deeply and genuinely cares for the poor and marginalised. She’s an anti-national traitor who is a tool of the environmentalist-terrorists. She’s an anti-Hindu proponent of Kashmiri secession.
She’s stupid and brilliant. She’s ugly and beautiful. She’s a wonderful writer and at the same time unendurably prolix. She’s a goddess, and deeply evil. She ought to be awarded a medal, and they should lock her up and throw away the key.
Obviously, anyone who rouses such extreme and conflicting emotions has to be something special. You obviously can love her or hate her, but you certainly can’t ignore her. Right.
Before I go any further, let’s just go over her antecedents, so we all know who we’re talking about. 
She was born in this very town, Shillong, nine years before I was. In the course of her life, she’s been an architecture student, an aerobics teacher, and an actress. She’s written a novel that won the Booker Prize, The God Of Small Things, a book which I, personally didn’t find readable. But one doesn’t have to be a good novelist to be successful, as far too many authors have found out to their cost. In any case, that book won her the Booker Prize and provided her with the financial security she needed to do the things that actually made her what she is now, so one shouldn’t grudge her it.
What does she do, then? What’s so special about Arundhati Roy? Who, exactly, is she?
I first came across Arundhati Roy (as an activist) when she attacked a film on the former robber gang leader and mass murderer Phoolan Devi, Bandit Queen . Phoolan Devi, at the time, had raised shrill objections to scenes in the film which depicted her being repeatedly raped (said rape had actually occurred and was pivotal in turning Phoolan Devi into a ruthless killer bent on revenge, so it was very germane to the film). Arundhati Roy was at that time very, very vocal in supporting Devi, and ended up with considerable egg on her face when Phoolan abruptly dropped all objections following a cash payment.
Well, we all make mistakes. In her defence, she was young then.
Arundhati Roy really became Arundhati Roy in the late nineties, when the so-called Indian “economic miracle” was actually taking off. Elsewhere I’ve discussed the hollowness of this so-called miracle, so all I’ll say about it was that it was from that time that the Indian government (never at any time caring overmuch about the poor and marginalised sections of society) graduated to openly becoming the enemy of those sections of society. It was then that mega-dams were built to submerge villages and forests in the name of providing water to distant towns, and the displaced people given farcical rehabilitation or none at all. It was in this time that Muslims became to all purposes second-class citizens in India, all but formally discriminated against in employment, education and even in the legal system. And it was in these years that the Indian middle class morphed into the Great Indian Muddle Class; a confusion of right-wing nationalism, right-wing Hinduism, intolerance for dissent, ignorance of economic realities, and overwhelming greed. The Great Indian Muddle Class is a study in itself.
The Wikipedia article I’ve linked to  gives a list of alleged “controversies” Arundhati Roy has been involved in. In each case, it will be noted, her crime, in its essence, was that she’s stood up for the poor and marginalised people against political and economic bullying, and right from the very beginning she was one of the few who had the spine to stand up to the Evil Empire’s plans for Unending War.
All this was irritating to the Great Indian Muddle Class, with its blind America-worship, its utter and absolute self-absorption, its consummate mythmaking, and its disdain for the lives of the poor and underprivileged. It hated her for holding up a mirror, too, with her sarcastic observations about what the Muddle Class has to say on various issues. And her left-wing politics made her, of course, the instant enemy of most of the corporate-owned media houses.
The crux of Arundhati Roy’s activism, if one leaves aside her opposition to the Evil Empire’s Global War Of Terror, revolves around three issues: her opposition to mega-dams, her willingness to meet and try and understand the Maoist rebels who are trying out their version of a peoples’ revolution in India’s forests, and her advocacy of Kashmir’s independence from India.
The Mega-Dams: India’s love affair with dams started soon after Independence, when the government began damming just about every river it could. These dams, of course, flooded a lot of land and displaced many, many people. Most of those people were never compensated for their losses, and vanished into menial jobs in the teeming urban slums.
Along with a group of activists known as the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Arundhati Roy protested against the damming of the Narmada River, an act that displaced people who were not given compensation because the state governments involved claimed they had no land to give them compensation. The dam was ultimately built…and not only did it not achieve its objectives, but the displaced are still to get actual and adequate compensation.
Arundhati Roy’s objections to the dams brought her the hatred of the Great Indian Muddle Class, whose anti-environment stance is almost a default mode. All the Muddle Class is interested in is satisfying its greed; the environmentalists, standing in the way of that greed, are the Enemy. Ergo, Arundhati Roy is the enemy. Then, too, the Narmada River was dammed in Gujarat, a state ruled over by a murderous Hindu-fascist regime which unleashed a pogrom on Muslims in 2002 and which makes every issue (including the dam) a question of “Gujarati pride”. Since the Muddle Class is Hindu-fascist by inclination, Arundhati Roy is an enemy of Hindus.
The Maoist Revolution: It isn’t that well known outside India, but in the jungles of Central India a low grade civil war has been spluttering on for decades between the government’s forces, allied right wing militias, and on the other side several different armed factions collectively known as Maoists. These scattered bands of rebels, armed with bolt action rifles and crude bombs, have been called, by India’s unelected so-called “prime minister”, India’s gravest internal security threat. I have discussed the Maoists here  for anyone who’s interested.
Now, the sin of Arundhati Roy was that she betrayed her class. Far from condemning the evil Reds and their anti-business insurgency, she actually went into the forests with them to talk to them at first hand, live with them, and try to understand them. From this came a wonderful essay  which is absolutely required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the insurgency. It’s slightly on the long side, and at points insufferably prolix (if Arundhati has one fault it’s her logorrhoea) but it’s more than worth reading. And the shrillest opponents of Roy, like S Prasannarajan of the very right wing rag India Today, would never even consider stepping out of their air-conditioned offices, let alone go wandering into the jungles with the Public Enemy Number One.
Am I wrong in detecting a whiff of professional jealousy here?
Kashmir: While entire volumes can be written on Kashmir, the stance Arundhati Roy has adopted is one with which I am at complete sympathy: to wit, that Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris, not to India and not to Pakistan, and India is doing itself no favours by holding on to the province by force. It’s such a “’controversial” stance that it’s got her officially accused of sedition, even though the judge had to ignore the law to do it . So much for freedom of speech in the “world’s largest democracy.
Ultimately the value of Arundhati Roy is this: she is India’s conscience. Whether she is a self-appointed one is irrelevant. The very fact that she angers such a lot of people shows that she’s no crank. One ignores or laughs at cranks. One gets angry at people who point out inconvenient truths.
And that’s why they’re so eager to shoot the messenger, and why I am on her side.