MAC: Mines and Communities

Asia's Tainted Literary Fest

Published by MAC on 2012-01-23

A London Calling Report

The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival opened in India on 20 January 2012, and concludes this week on the 24th.

Billed as "the largest literary festival in the Asia-Pacific" it had already provoked heated debate before it got underway.

On 9 January, Darul Uloom Deoband, a leading Islamic seminary, asked the Indian government to bar British participant Salman Rushdie from entering the country, claiming he had "hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims" on publishing "The Satanic Verses" in 1988.

On the Festival's first day Rushdie did indeed pull out, stating he'd been told by intelligence sources that "paid assassins" from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to "eliminate" him.

Said Rushdie: "While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience, and to my fellow writers."

Almost immediately afterwards, and as a mark of protest, two other authors, Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, read out portions from Rushdie's "banned" book.

Understandably these events overshadowed another aspect of the Festival which had already created controversy and was surely equally worthy of public condemnation.

Rio, Coke & Tata

That aspect was the Festival's prominent sponsorship by two of the world's most heavily criticised mining/mineral companies, Rio Tinto and Tata.

Joined by Coca Cola as another prime sponsor, the integrity of the event had already been tainted, especially in the eyes of some Indians.

The world's leading "soft drinks" purveyor has long been condemned for its cadmium and lead poisoning of villagers in Plachimada, Kerala, as well as of "devastating the local ecology". See: Dying on the Coke Side of Life

In a statement issued on 21 January, S Faizi, the Environment Expert Member of the Plachimada High Power Committee, wrote:

"I am shocked to find the Cola company playing the role of a key sponsor at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.

"While more and more cultural and literary events should take place in India and across the world... it is an ominous threat to the future of the creative writing domain itself that such events are being sponsored by avaricious corporations like Cola."

Faizi  pointed out that: "Unfortunately, Cola is not the odd man in the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival... Rio Tinto is known for human rights violations across the global South, behaving like a colonial government in some small countries."

Among those listed as attending the Festival are internationally-renowned authors such as Ben Okri, A C Grayling, Farrukh Dhondy, Joseph Lelyveld, Tom Stoppard and Lionel Shriver.

Among other delegates, mentioned on the Festival's official website, are noted anti-mining Adivasi activist, Dayamani Barla, and the UK Independent journalist, Peter Popham.

Is it too late for any of the participants to regret that their presence was, at least partly, assisted by some highly dubious corporate enterprises?

Sources: "Rushdie cancels visit, angry authors read Satanic Verses", PTI/IANS, 21 January 2011; "Jaipur: A festival stained by tainted companies", Media statement by S Faizi, 21 January 2012.

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research. Its content is not necessarily endorsed by any other party, including editors of the MAC website. Reproduction is welcomed, so long as acknowledgment is given to Nostromo Research as sole author].

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