Arundhati Roy Biography | Early Life, Books, Quotes & Age

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy’s full name Suzanna Arundhati Roy was born in Shillong, Meghalaya, India, to Rajib Roy, a Bengali Hindu tea plantation manager from Calcutta, and Mary Roy, a Malayali Jacobite Syrian Christian women’s rights campaigner from Kerala. 

She was an Indian author, actress, and political activist best known for her work on the environmental and human rights movements as well as the critically acclaimed book The God of Small Things (1997).

She moved back to Kerala with her mother and brother when she was two years old due to her parent’s divorce. The family temporarily resided with Roy’s maternal grandpa in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. When she was five, the family returned to Kerala, and her mother opened a school there.

Early Life and Career

Her mother, a Christian of Syrian heritage, successfully sued to change India’s inheritance laws so that Christian women might inherit an equal share of their father’s estates. Roy’s father was a Bengali tea planter. Despite being an architect by training, Roy had no passion for art and preferred to pursue writing. 

She worked at several odd jobs before writing and starring in the 1989 movie In Which Annie Gives It to Those Ones. Later, she created the script for the 1992 movie Electric Moon and other television plays. 

She moved back to Kerala with her mother and brother when she was two years old due to her parent’s divorce. The family temporarily resided with Roy’s maternal grandpa in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. When she was five, the family returned to Kerala, and her mother opened a school there.

Roy first attended Corpus Christi in Kottayam before transferring to the Lawrence School in Lovedale, Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris. She later went on to study architecture at the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, where she first met Gerard da Cunha. Before separating and divorcing in 1982, they were married in 1978 and shared residences in Delhi and Goa.

Her writing career was cut short by criticism, but the films won Roy a dedicated following. She claimed in two newspaper pieces from 1995 that Phoolan Devi, a heroine of the oppressed and one of India’s most sought criminals in the early 1980s, was exploited in Shekhar Kapur’s film Bandit Queen. 

As a result of the controversy the columns produced, which included a court case, Roy withdrew from the public and resumed writing the novel she had started.

Also Read: Biography of Ruskin Bond

Personal Life

Arundhati Roy went back to Delhi and was hired by the National Institute of Urban Affairs. She met independent director Pradip Krishen in 1984, and he offered her a part as a goatherd in his critically acclaimed film Massey Sahib. 

Later that year, they got married. They worked together on two films, Annie and Electric Moon, as well as a television series about the struggle for Indian freedom. Roy tried his hand at a variety of jobs after becoming disenchanted with the movie industry, including teaching aerobics courses. 

With the popularity of her 1997 book The God of Small Things, she was able to ensure her financial future. Roy is a distant relative of well-known media figure Prannoy Roy, a former leader of the Indian television media conglomerate NDTV. Delhi is her home city.

Career of Arundhati Roy

Roy had a brief career in film and television. She played the lead in 1985’s Massey Sahib. She wrote the scripts for Electric Moon (1992) and In That, Annie Gives It These Ones (1989), a movie based on her time as an architecture student in which she also appeared. 

Their partner Pradip Krishen worked as the director for both during their marriage. Roy’s 1988 screenplay for In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay. 

Novels and Nonfiction Works

She gained notoriety in 1994 when she criticized the Phoolan Devi-based film Bandit Queen, directed by Shekhar Kapur. She questioned the legality of “restaging the rape of a living woman without her permission” in her movie review headlined “The Great Indian Rape Trick” and accused Kapur of taking advantage of Devi and distorting both her life and its significance.

The God of Small Things, Roy’s debut book, was widely praised when it was published in 1997. The semiautobiographical book strayed from the formulaic storylines and lyrical style that had previously characterized bestsellers. 

Roy’s novel, which received the 1998 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, was composed of lyrical language about South Asian themes and characters in a story that meandered through time. It was a best-selling book by an Indian author who was not an expatriate.

After that, most of Roy’s writing was political nonfiction, much of it focusing on the issues her native country was experiencing in the age of global capitalism. She published a number of books, including Power Politics (2001), The Algebra of Infinite Justice (2002), War Talk (2003), Public Power in the Age of Empire (2004), and 

Reading Broken Republic: Three Essays (2011), Listening to Grasshoppers (2009), and Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2014). 

Her first book in 20 years, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, was released by Roy in 2017. In order to examine contemporary India, the performance features a huge ensemble of characters, including a transgender lady and a resistance fighter in Kashmir.

Legal Issues And Advocacy

Roy was involved in a number of environmental and human rights movements, frequently coming into conflict with Indian law authorities and the middle-class establishment of the nation. She received criticism for her outspoken backing of Maoist-backed Naxalite insurgency groups, which she enumerated in the 2011 book Walking with the Comrades. 

Supporters of the project said Roy attacked them at a protest in 2001 while she was organizing attempts to stop the construction of dams in the Narmada. 

Her plea for dismissal of the accusations upset Supreme Court judges with its vituperative tone, and although the charges were dropped, she was found guilty of contempt of court the following year. She received a fine and a one-day jail term. 

Roy’s legal issues persisted, and in 2010 she narrowly escaped being charged with sedition after making comments in favor of Kashmiri independence. She received a notice of contempt of court in December 2015 for an article in which she defended a professor who had been detained on suspicion of having Maoist ties. 

A stay was given by the Supreme Court two years later, temporarily halting the proceedings. Roy stayed active in a number of causes throughout this time. She was one of several who signed an open letter in 2019 urging Afghan women to take part in negotiations between the United States and the Taliban.

Since the 1997 release of The God of Small Things, Roy has focused mostly on political action and nonfiction. She is a vocal opponent of neo-imperialism and U.S. foreign policy as well as a speaker for the anti-globalization/alter-globalization movement. She disagrees with India’s nuclear weapons policies as well as its industrialization and economic expansion. 

She has also questioned the actions of the Indian police and government in the cases of the Batla House encounter and the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, claiming that the dark past filled with shady terrorist assaults.

Support for Kashmiri Separatism

In an interview with The Times of India in August 2008, Roy expressed her support for the independence of Kashmir from India following the large-scale demonstrations in 2008 in favor of independence. 

On August 18, 2008, 500,000 people demonstrated in Srinagar, in the Kashmir region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, for independence in response to the Amarnath land transfer controversy. 

The demonstrations, in her opinion, demonstrated that Kashmiris wanted separation from India rather than union with it. She received criticism for her comments from both the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party.

Project Sardar Sarovar

Together with activist Medha Patkar, Roy has waged a campaign against the Narmada dam project, arguing that it will uproot 500,000 people with little to no compensation and that it will not bring about the irrigation, drinking water, and other benefits that were anticipated. 

Roy can also be seen in the 2002 project documentary Drowned Out by Franny Armstrong. Congress and BJP officials in Gujarat denounced Roy’s resistance to the Narmada Dam project as “maligning Gujarat”

The Supreme Court of India served Roy with a notice of contempt in 2002. Roy responded to the notice with an affidavit, claiming that the court’s decision to start the contempt proceedings based on an unsupported and flawed petition, while refusing to look into claims of corruption in military contracting deals due to a backlog of cases, revealed a “disquieting inclination” to stifle criticism and dissent using the power of contempt. 

Roy’s activism over the Narmada dam has drawn criticism from environmental historian Ramachandra Guha. Guha praises Ms. Roy’s “courage and commitment” to the cause but criticizes her advocacy as being exaggerated and self-indulgent. 

She argues that “Ms. Roy’s propensity to overestimate and streamline, her Manichaean viewpoint on the world, and her harsh pushing tone have given a bad name to ecological analysis.” 

2001 Attack on the Indian Parliament

Regarding the analysis of the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 as well as the accused’s trial, Roy has voiced concerns. She claimed that Mohammad Afzal Guru was being used as a scapegoat while he continued to argue that the case had not been solved and point to flaws in the legal and investigative processes. 

She even implied that there was proof of state involvement in the terrorist attack in her book about the execution of Afzal Guru.  Journalist Praveen Swami disputed her claimed proof of state collusion in an editorial in The Hindu, claiming it had been “cherry-picked for argumentative effect.”

She had also criticized news coverage of the trial and demanded that Mohammad Afzal’s death sentence be suspended while a parliamentary investigation into these issues is carried out. 

Prakash Javadekar, a spokesman for the BJP, criticized Roy for referring to Mohammad Afzal, a convicted terrorist, as a “prisoner-of-war” and referred to Arundhati as a “prisoner of her own dogma.”  2013 saw the hanging of Afzal. 


For her book The God of Small Things, Roy received the 1997 Booker Prize. The prize for winning was around $30,000, and it came with a citation that said, “The book keeps all the promises that it makes.” Roy contributed to human rights issues by donating her prize money and book royalties. 

Prior to winning the Booker, Roy’s script for In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones, which beautifully depicted the suffering of students residing in academic institutions, received the National Film Award for Best script in 1989. She returned the national award in 2015 in opposition to religious intolerance and the rise of right-wing violence in India.

Her work on “civil societies that are adversely affected by the world’s most powerful governments and corporations” earned her the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award in 2002, which was given in honour of both her life and her ongoing efforts in the fight for freedom, justice, and cultural diversity.

Along with Bianca Jagger, Barbara Lee, and Kathy Kelly, she received “special recognition” as a Woman of Peace in 2003 at the Global Exchange Human Rights Awards in San Francisco.

In May 2004, Roy received the Sydney Peace Prize in recognition of her contributions to nonviolent social movements. She and Seymour Hersh received the Orwell Award from the National Council of Teachers of English in the same year.

The Algebra of Infinite Justice, a collection of essays on modern issues, won her the Sahitya Akademi Award in January 2006; however, she chose not to accept it “in protest against the Indian Government toeing the US line by ‘violently and ruthlessly pursuing policies of the brutalization of industrial workers, increasing militarisation, and economic neo-liberalization’.” 

She received the Norman Mailer Prize for Distinguished Writing in November 2011. The 2014 Time 100 list of the 100 most important individuals in the world included Roy.

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