MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling has words to say about Vedanta's literary sham

Published by MAC on 2016-05-21
Source: Foil Vedanta, The Wire (2016-05-21)

Despite its unhindered ravaging of India's tribal communities over the past thirteen years, London-listed Vedanta Resources plc hasn't fared so well in projecting a less destructive face to more discriminating audiences.

In June 2009, a ceremony to award Vedanta the "Golden Peacock" environmental prize, held in the state of Himachal Pradesh, broke up after protestors mounted the platform, denouncing Vedanta's attempt to access the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hills in Orissa.

The state's chief minister failed to patronise the event, while an exiled Tibetan leader walked out, followed by a troop of school girls who'd been martialled by the British organiser. (See: Golden Peacock? Pure poppy cock!).

This weekend, the company tried to gain  some kudos with Indian and British writers, by sponsoring the Jaipur Literature Festival which - despite the name - was held in London.

The event went ahead more or less as planned. However, some participants withdrew in advance on learning whose money had oiled their path to Britain. Demonstrators managed to occupy the platform for a short period. And the organisers hastily stickered over Vedanta's name on the programme.

The protests were also anticipated by a leading Delhi magazine. (See second article below).

All in all, this was a mild PR disaster for a company whose name, after all, was cynically snatched from some of India's holiest scriptures. 

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of any other person or group. Reproduction is welcomed under a Creative Commons Licence]

Vedanta sponsored Jaipur Literature Festival disrupted in London

Foil Vedanta Press release

21 May 2016

A group of protesters from a wide range of organisations today disrupted the Jaipur Literature Festival at London's Southbank Centre, taking over the stage with their placards and giving shouted speeches to the eminent audience about the multiple criminal convictions and abusive pattern of operation of the festival's main sponsor, the British mining company Vedanta. A number of attendees left the event in response. NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt's presentation was also disrupted by chanting naming the news channel for taking Vedanta funding for the Our Girls Our Pride campaign which is accused of being a whitewash sham for the company.

 Earlier two speakers at the festival - the scientist and broadcaster Aarathi Prasad and K. Satchidanandan, a Malayalam and English poet – had pulled out in response to an open letter calling for a boycott of the event (1) in view of its sponsorship by ‘the world’s most hated company’. Another five speakers - Vasundhara Raje,Meghnad Desai, Gavin Francis, Gideon Levy, Rachel Spence – also had their names removed from the programme suggesting they too have refused to participate. Nonetheless Sanjoy Roy, the managing director of Teamwork Arts and festival organisers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple have continued to defend their sponsor in the media even claiming Vedanta are not guilty of any criminality, despite multiple convictions cited in the open letter.(2) However, the Vedanta logo was removed from publicity on the day and stickers were used to poorly conceal the logo on the programmes.

Participants in the London protest included writer Kavita Bhanot, poet Amarjit Chandan, film-maker Simon Chambers, and representatives from Women of Colour in Global Women's Strike, Feminist Fightback, London Mining Network and All Africa Women's Group, Raised Voices, South Asia Solidarity Group, and BP or no BP (whose campaigns against oil sponsorship of the arts in London have been very successful).

Naren Bedide, editor of Round Table India, who co-organised the demonstration and open letter gave this comment on Vedanta's best known human rights violations affecting the indigenous communities of the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha:
“Niyamgiri is a moral question, above all. Stealing someone else's home, Gods, land is immoral. This is where the terms nation, common good and development reveal their complete hollowness, starkest ugliness. All the world's words are not enough to whitewash Vedanta. Justice, you know clearly in your hearts, is on the other side, on the side of those who posit their humanity against your clumsy scramble for excuses.”

Ends.

Please contact Foil Vedanta on 00 44 7941 475103  or Roundtable India on 00 91 9866 940520 for more information.

--

(1) The letter (attached to this email) has now been signed by over 100 writers, academics, activists and people directly affected by Vedanta’s operations, including poets Nabina Das, Hemant Devate, Rafiq Kathwari and Surya Vahni Priya Capildeo and writers Tariq Mehmood, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Courttia Newland and Gladson Dungdung.

(2) Sanjoy Roy, the managing director of Teamwork Arts, which produces the festival, issued this statement to the media on behalf of the festival organisers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple:

‘While we appreciate the concerns of those who have posted the open letter, we remain an open platform that allows for free thought and expression. Our strength continues to be our programming, the speakers and the quality of free and frank discussions that JLF brings to audiences. Our sponsors do not influence these choices nor have a say in our content.’

JLF/Teamwork also gave this response to a concerned participant:

‘its so difficult to figure the colour of money and whose money we should or shouldn’t take…The larger issues we appreciate but as a journo had mentioned we do not understand what is fact or fiction in the vedanta matter …. They have not been prosecuted nor convicted in any of the alleged crimes they are supposed to have committed …. Why then are we expected to stand judgment and take a call as to the colour of their money?’


Writers Protest Vedanta Sponsorship of Jaipur Lit Fest London

The Wire

21 May 2016

New Delhi: On May 21, writers, academics and others plan to gather at Southbank London, to protest the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) London, for receiving sponsorship from Vedanta Resources, the controversial British mining company with operations in India, Zambia and Australia.

According to the ‘Boycott Vedanta JLF London’ Facebook event page, the protest will target “Vedanta’s shameless PR campaign through the sponsorship of Jaipur Literature Festival, London” and express “solidarity with the many communities suffering pollution, illness, oppression, displacement and poverty as a result of Vedanta’s operations.”

The protest follows an open letter, signed by over a hundred writers, academics, professionals and students, urging participants of JLF London to boycott it.

On May 19, writer and broadcaster Aarathi Prasad and Malayalam and English poet K. Satchidanandan pulled out of the festival as a result of the letter.

Vedanta’s mining operations have met with repeated criticism for being unsafe and aggressive towards local peoples and environments. In particular, individuals and groups, including Amnesty International and Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, have condemned Vedanta’s treatment of the Dongria Kondh tribe and the region around the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha where they have lived for generations.

Vedanta has consistently denied allegations of environmental pollution and human rights violations. It has claimed to be working to benefit the lives of millions of people through its various corporate and social responsibility programmes.

In response to the open letter, Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts, which produces the festival, said in a statement:

“While we appreciate the concerns of those who have posted the open letter, we remain an open platform that allows for free thought and expression. Our strength continues to be our programming, the speakers and the quality of free and frank discussions that JLF brings to audiences. Our sponsors do not influence these choices nor have a say in our content.”

Writer Kavita Bhanot, however, questions JLF’s self-description as an “open platform” for “free thought and expression,” no less because of the “hypocrisy” apparent in such a venture receiving funding from a company accused of violating human rights, but also because of what she calls the “colonial core” of the festival.

She points to descriptions of the festival on its website as “a creative caravan of writers and thinkers” that will “bask in the colourful ideas of Jaipur,” and by one of its founders William Dalrymple as “a chance to enjoy early summer in Britain, escaping the heat in India,” claiming that these are fundamentally and problematically colonialist in character and that the festival is thus based on such a colonialist engagement with India’s literatures, cultures and peoples.

According to Bhanot, the festival’s choice of sponsorship this year, but also in previous years (which has included Shell and Coca Cola), raises questions about “whose freedom of speech” it allows, and about its very legitimacy and relevance. Bhanot says: “Hidden behind this colourful celebration… is the blood of those at whose cost such a festival is being put together, highlighted so clearly in JLF’s sponsorship by Vedanta.”

Bhanot quotes Gladson Dungdung, a Jharkhand based human rights activist, as saying: “Vedanta intends to manufacture consent in its favour in order to ensure the loots of the natural resources of India.” Bhanot adds that Vedanta has “been desperately attempting to save its image internationally, and to whitewash over its crimes. The latest manifestation of this is its foray into the world of ‘literature.'”

The protest against “Vedanta JLF” comes after two other recent literary festival controversies in India that have highlighted the complexities in the relationship between literature and politics.

In 2011, Kashmir’s first-ever literary festival “The Harud” was cancelled following organisers’ concerns about possible violence. At the time, over 200 people signed an open letter stating that a literary festival is “an event that celebrates the free flow of ideas and opinions… To hold it in a context where some basic fundamental rights are markedly absent… is to commit a travesty.”

In November 2015, Vikram Sampath stepped down as director of the Bangalore Literature Festival, after a furore over his views on writers returning their awards to protest government policies and actions.


Alliance Calls for Boycott of Vedanta Sponsored Jaipur Literary Festival. London

Foil Vedanta and Roundtable India

14 May 2016

Renowned writers, activists and people directly affected by the activities of British mining company Vedanta Resources have signed a letter calling for the participating authors to boycott of the Jaipur Literary Festival at Southbank in London on May 21st in view of Vedanta's human rights abuses and criminal activities worldwide. A protest organised by Foil Vedanta and Roundtable India will also be held outside the event.

Please contact roundtableindia.co.in (+91 9866940520) or foilvedanta@riseup.net (+44 7941475103) for more information.

--

Open letter to the writers attending Vedanta JLF London 2016:

from Niyamgiri mountain to the river Kafue calling Vedanta to justice

14 May 2016

Dear All,

We were surprised to hear that you have agreed to participate at the Jaipur Literature Festival, claiming to be “The Greatest Literary Show on Earth”, which has 'the world's most hated company' Vedanta as its key sponsor. Are you aware that Vedanta’s activities are destroying the lives of thousands of people in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Punjab and also in Zambia, South Africa and Australia? Are you also aware that Zambian villagers are currently taking Vedanta subsidiary KCM to court in the UK, accusing it of consistently poisoning their water over the last decade?

In 2011 Zambian High Court Judge Phillip Musonda said he wanted to make an example of Vedanta for their ‘gross recklessness’ in polluting the River Kafue without remorse, and highlighted 'KCM's don’t-care attitude whether human life, which is sacrosanct in our constitution, was lost or not.' In 2014 Vedanta 69% owner and Chairman Anil Agarwal was caught on video bragging to businessmen at a Bangalore conference, that he had bought the Zambian copper mines at a fraction of their value and was making $500 million each year despite declaring a loss in Zambia. The Zambian government reacted by auditing the mines, and discovered vast tax evasion schemes and asset stripping.

In Korba, Chhattisgarh, India between 40 and 100 workers died at Vedanta subsidiary BALCO’s aluminium smelter complex when a chimney under construction collapsed on them in September 2009. The subsequent judicial inquiry into the incident found Vedanta guilty of negligence and using sub-standard materials and construction methods. However, Vedanta’s lawyers suppressed the report, which was leaked by activists in 2014.

In Odisha, in India, a nineteen year struggle by indigenous communities, Dalits and farmers led to a historic victory in 2014 when Vedanta was stopped from mining the sacred Niyamgiri hills for bauxite. Vedanta's attempt to secure the mountain through State Owned OMC was again recently rejected by the Supreme Court on May 6, 2016. "The great writers going to Vedanta's literature festival should first know of the reality of Vedanta,” writes Subash Kulesika, Youth Leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti. “All its claims of developing our land and the Adivasi Dalit communities of Lanjigarh-Niyamgiri is a big lie. The first thing that Vedanta snatched from us was our Dignity and then our land, air and water. They used criminals to intimidate us and our activists and leaders. They molested our mothers and sisters. They used the police to torture and detain us under false cases. They have treated us worse than animals. They have contaminated our river and air with never ending pollution. They have stolen our water from beneath the ground. They have found great allies in the Brahmin babus who also don't want our development and look at us like animals.”

Meanwhile in Goa, Vedanta’s iron ore mining subsidiary Sesa Goa (now Vedanta Limited) was the largest company that was indicted by the Shah Commission in 2012 for illegal mining, including failure to obtain leases or environmental clearance, and exporting 150 million tonnes of iron ore from Goa in 2010/11 while only declaring 76 million, their agreed export allowance.

There is growing criticism of fossil fuel companies sponsoring arts and cultural organisations. Recently, the Tate Gallery, under pressure of sustained campaign by the coalition Liberate Tate over the last few years, agreed to give up on its sponsor BP. For years now, Vedanta has been attempting to create favourable public opinion by sponsoring the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), the NDTV Our Girls Our Pride gender project and even the oxymoronic Mining Happiness campaign, using celebrities and media houses to hush up its liabilities. But each of these attempts has been exposed by grassroots groups and people's movements pointing out Vedanta's corporate crimes using social media and letter writing.

The Vedanta JLF at Southbank is yet again another cynical attempt to distract attention from Vedanta’s crimes at a time when it stands exposed across India and internationally. Vedanta’s interests are directly opposed to the Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan Samaj and black communities it claims to be helping.

Literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We believe that writers and artists, as public figures, also have responsibilities. It makes little sense to discuss books and ideas and the problems of the world in abstraction, while being funded by and publicising a company that has been and continues to be a gross violator of human rights across the world. We hope that you agree, and will withdraw from involvement in this discredited and damaging PR campaign, rather than lending your name to it.

Yours sincerely,

Anu Ramdas, Editor, Round Table India

Naren Bedide (Kuffir), Editor, Round Table India

Akash Poyam, Founding Editor at adivasiresurgence.com

Dr. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Medical doctor and author, Jharkhand, India

Gladson Dungdung, activist, author

Surya Shankar, Filmmaker

Arao Ameny, Founder of Association of African Journalists & Writers

Kavita Bhanot, writer

Courttia Newland, writer

Manju Rajak, artist

Neetisha Xalxo

Samantha Asumadu, Media Diversified

Ruby Hembram, Founder & Executive Director, Adivaani

Sridhar Gowda, Literary Agent

V.Divakar, Editor, The Baroda Pamphlet

Thongam Bipin, Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), UoH

Tariq Mehmood, writer, Assistant Professor, American University, Beirut

Nabina Das, poet and writer

Koonal Duggal Researcher, Department of Cultural Studies, EFL University, Hyderabad

V.Divakar, Editor, The Baroda Pamphlet

Firoze Manji former Editor, Pambazuka News

Rollie Mukherjee, artist & writer, Vadodara.

Priyabrata Mahapatra, IT Professional

Dharma Teja, Dalit Camera

Vinita Damodaran, Director, CWEH, University of Sussex

Subash Kulesika, Youth Leader, Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti

Amita Kanekar

Ananta Dash

James Nyasulu, community activist and pollution affected person, Chingola, Zambia.

William Chitundu, KCM former miners, Zambia.

Jonathan Mbewe, Residents of 1st Street against Pollution, Chingola, Zambia.

Miriam Rose, Foil Vedanta

Samarendra Das, Foil Vedanta

Zuky Serper, artist, Foil Vedanta

Amrit Wilson, writer, activist

Amarjit Chandan, Poet

Mangalesh Dabral, The Public Agenda (Hindi fortnightly), poet, journalist

Vijay Chandra, Telugu poet

Ashley Tellis, writer, lecturer, activist

Ashutosh Wasnik, senior human resources analyst at SaskPower, Govt of Saskatchewan,Canada

Akshay Pathak, Writer

Gaurav Somwanshi, Entrepreneur

Rafiq Kathwari, poet

Hemant Divate, poet, editor, publisher and translator

Sruthi Herbert, Doctoral Candidate, SOAS

Murali Shanmugavelan, Researcher, Media and Anthropology, SOAS

Vaibhav Wasnik, postdoctoral researcher, Saarland University, Department of Physics

Sukant Chandan, Malcolm X Movement

Gouri Patwardhan, filmmaker

Cathal Healy-Singh, Environmental Engineer, Trinidad & Tobago

Atul Anand, Researcher & Documentary maker

Alex Lubin, Professor, University of New Mexico

Aflatoon, All India Organisational Secretary, Samajwadi Janaparishad

Vinay Shende, HR Professional

Nilesh Kumar, PhD Researcher, TISS

Devangana Kalita, Foil Vedanta

Rebecca Oliner, Artist

Taru Dalmia , the Ska Vengers

Samara Chopra, the Ska Vengers

Mohinder Singh, Assistant Professor, Political Science JNU

Vinita Damodaran, Director, CWEH, University of Sussex

Pinak Banik, Artist and Teacher

Sir Julian Rose, author and President of International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside.

Ganesh Digal, Odisha Research Scholars for Social Justice (ORSSJ)

Priyadarshini Ohol, artist

Stalin K. Director, Video Volunteers

Abhiyan Humane, Artist and Teacher

Madhusree Mukerjee, writer

Professor Patrick Bond - Centre for Civil Society, Johannesburg

Charu Soni, independent journalist & writer

Pamela Gonsalves - Save Goa Campaign

Dr. Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick

John Hutnyk, Professor, National Chiao Tung University

Anandi Ramamurthy, University of Central Lancashire, School of Journalism Media & Communication

Eye Art Collective

Siddhartha Deb, author

Biswajit K. Bora, Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Shyama Prasad Mukherji College (for Women), University of Delhi

Roshan, Odisha Research Scholars for Social Justice (ORSSJ)

Rajesh Bagh, Odisha Research Scholars for Social Justice (ORSSJ)

Stefan Kaye, The Ska Vengers

Asad Zaidi, writer and publisher, Three Essays Collective

Sufi Hussain, Anthropologist & Coordinator DST at Dalit Sujaag Tehreek

Sumit Mahar, Community Media Student, TISS Mumbai

Arundhati Ghosh, India Foundation for the Arts

Raghavendra Rao, Srishti, School of Art, Design and Technology, Visual Artist

Manohar Naga, Ex teacher, University of Hyderabad

Shiv Prasad Joshi, Poet-Writer, Translator, Media Teacher, Journalist

Ujjwal Bhattacharya, Journalist and Writer

 

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