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. Over 100 Writers had appealed to participants not to participate. The letter said, "The mining company has been implicated in international human rights violations, claims a letter signed by dozens of writers, academics and activists and the London edition of the Jaipur lit fest must be boycotted since ‘literature does not exist in a vacuum”. The entire text of the letter can be read here.
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.”
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?’