Thirty women’s organisations and other groups have now signed this open letter to Priyanka Chopra asking her to officially pull out of Vedanta’s shameless Our Girls Our Pride PR campaign. The TV campaign with Indian channel NDTV aims to paint the notorious mining company as a saviour of women’s rights, rather than the human rights abuser they have been repeatedly proven to be. (See previous article ‘Vedanta’s Our Girls Our Pride campaign is a farce and a sham’).
We hope Priyanka will see sense and respond to the call of worldwide and Indian women’s movements to stand by India’s women and girls and withdraw her part in this PR scam on the part of Vedanta.
Dear Priyanka Chopra,
We the undersigned, representatives of the women’s movement in India, the UK and the USA are deeply shocked and dismayed to hear that you have agreed to become a Brand Ambassador for a campaign ‘Our Girls, Our Pride’ launched by one of the most notorious mining companies in the world – Vedanta Resources. Are you aware that Vedanta’s activities are destroying the lives of thousands of girl children in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and other states of India where the company is active and also in many countries of Africa? Are you aware also that the struggle against Vedanta’s activities has been led by women and girls?
These activities have caused massive displacement which has led to the destruction of livelihoods and communities, deepening poverty, unemployment, insecurity and alcoholism – all factors which differentially affect women and girls. These factors also heighten violence against women and girls and leave them vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Vedanta’s activities have also led to extensive poisoning of natural resources and pollution causing death and ill-health on a vast scale. As is well-known, pollutants are absorbed by infants and into the foetuses of pregnant women in high concentrations leading to serious ill-health and birth defects. In March this year a major gas leak at Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite’s copper smelter in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu choked thousands of local residents and allegedly caused one woman to have a miscarriage. At Vedanta’s MALCO power plant in Mettur, Tamil Nadu, local women suffer continual breathing problems from pollution which rains down from the plant’s cooling towers, as well as a major red mud dump just beside their homes. There have also been a number of pollution incidents which have left local people with allergies and lung problems.
It is not surprising that women have been at the forefront of concerted struggles against the company for many years. Vedanta has responded with violent repression. In April this year ten women and two two-year-old children who were with them were picked up by a Vedanta vehicle with police inside it, arrested on false charges, and kept in jail for one month and three days. These women were members of the Land Losers Association – a group who have protested their forced displacement for the refinery with no compensation.
Vedanta has harmed communities not only as a result of displacement and pollution and environmental destruction but also as an employer. In Vedanta’s mines both men and women work in deplorable conditions for extremely low wages. Countless children’s life chances have been affected by the deaths and serious injuries sustained by their parents who are workers in Vedanta’s mines, factories and other processing operations.
In September 2009, for example, up to 100 workers were killed at Vedanta subsidiary BALCO’s Korba factory in Chhattisgarh when a chimney they were building with a cheap Chinese contractor collapsed on them. Vedanta claim only 42 were killed, but more than 60 remain missing.
The campaign on girl children is in fact just Vedanta’s latest attempt to save its tattered reputation after twelve villages in Odisha voted them out of Niyamgiri for good. Its earlier Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) exercises, such as building hospitals and health centres, have been revealed as shams. At the Lanjigarh refinery at the foot of the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha, a 2009 documentary film revealed that the hospital inside Vedanta’s housing colony for displaced people had no doctors at all. Vedanta’s 2010 film competition to promote its CSR activities, entitled ‘Mining Happiness’, had to be pulled following a campaign against it entitled ‘Faking Happiness‘ which showed the true face of the company and its multiple human rights abuses.
In another of Vedanta’s attempts at CSR whose grandiose proclaimed aim is to make India a ‘malnourished child free nation’the company has taken over 14,000 Anganwadi (child day care) centres – as part of a mass privatisation programme. This has in fact led to centres being shut down and jobs lost. Anganwadi teachers in Karnataka held a protest in July which demanded an end to Vedanta’s privatisation by December or a state wide strike would be held.
Vedanta is also involved in ‘transforming women into Rural Entrepreneurs’ through micro-finance self-help groups. This is taking place in the areas where women are resisting the destruction of their livelihoods by the company. On the one hand, this is an attempt to bind women into relationships of obligation through loans and suppress their protests. It is also a means of absolving the company of all responsibility for the survival of the poor families it has dispossessed and shifting the burden on to women.
The ‘Our Girls, Our Pride’ campaign is a 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 those of India, its people and particularly the girl children from poor communities it claims to be helping.
We hope that you will withdraw from this discredited and damaging campaign and not lend your name to its ill-effects.
Kavita Krishnan (All India Progressive Women’s Association)
Vani Subramanium (Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, New Delhi)
Arati Chokshi (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Bangalore)
Poarkodi Natarajan and Gandhimati (All India Progressive Women’s Association, Karnataka)
Vidya Dinker (Karavali Karnataka Janabhivriddhi Vedike, Mangalore, Forum Against Atrocities on Women, Citizens Forum for Mangalore Development, Mangalore)
Sushma Varma (Samanatha Mahila Vedike, Bangalore and Mahila Munnade, Mandya)
Soma Marik (Visiting Professor, School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, Jadavpur, West Bengal)
Manasi Pingle (Filmmaker, Bangalore)
Uma V Chandru (Activist, Bangalore)
Tultul Biswas (Activist, Bhopal)
Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, Odisha, India.
Baljit Banga (Newham Asian Women’s Project, London, UK)
Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters, Southall Middlesex, UK)
Sarbjit Johal (Freedom Without Fear Platform, UK)
Zlakha Ahmad (Apna Haq , Rotherham, UK)
Ila Patel (Asha Projects, London, UK)
Firoza Mohmed (Humraaz Refuge, Blackburn, UK)
Nityanand Jayaraman, (writer, social activist, Chennai.)
Nina Lopez (Global Women’s Strike, London, UK)
Niki Adams (Legal Action for Women, London, UK)
Andaiye (Red Thread, Guyana),
Claire Glasman (WinVisible – women with visible and invisible disabilities, London, UK)
Sara Callaway (Women of Colour in the Global Women’s Strike, London, UK)
Margaret Prescod (Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike, USA)
Pat Gowens (Welfare Warriors, Milwaukee, USA)
Monica Peabody, (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights (POWER), Olympia WA, USA)
Lori Nairne, (Legal Action for Women, USA)
Phoebe Jones, (Global Women’s Strike, USA)
Carolyn Hill, (DHS Give Us Back Our Children, Philadelphia PA, USA)
Pat Albright, (Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, USA)
Samarendra Das (Foil Vedanta, London, UK)