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 in view of its sponsorship by ‘the world’s most hated company’. Another four speakers – Vasundhara Raje, Meghnad Desai, Gavin Francis and 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. However, the Vedanta logo was removed from publicity on the day and stickers were used to poorly conceal the logo on the programmes.
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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.”