The Mumbai LitFest abruptly cancelled a talk by writer Noam Chomsky and journalist Vijay Prashad on Friday as parts of their intended speech would have contained content against “corporations such as the Tatas”, which is the main sponsor of the literary event.
The talk was to be on Chomsky’s latest book Internationalism or Extinction, during which the two speakers intended to “talk about the specific role of countries such as India and corporations such as the Tatas,” according to a joint statement by Chomsky and Prashad.
Mumbai LitFest emailed the duo that their session had been cancelled “due to unforeseen circumstances”, about 12 hours before their dialogue, the statement said, adding that no further communication has been established with the festival’s director Anil Dharker.
Responding to their statement, Dharker said that the decision to cancel their talk was “necessary to protect the integrity of the festival.”
In their joint statement, Chomsky and Prasad said, “We were going to talk about the broad issues that threaten the planet, but then also talk about the specific role of countries such as India and corporations such as the Tatas.”
“Regarding the Tatas, we wanted to put on record a few facts that should lead sensitive people to understand what the Tata company has underneath its fingernails: a role in the killing of adivasis who were peacefully protesting the construction of a Tata steel factory in Kalinga Nagar, Odisha in 2006; the use of private militias to terrorize the population for a planned Tata steel factory in Jagdalpur, Chattisgarh, about ten years ago…” they said.
Calling the new citizenship law the “erosion of democracy”, they said “We wanted to talk about how governments such as those led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and corporations such as the Tatas are hastening humanity towards a deeper and deeper crisis.”
“Since we do not know why Tata and Mr. Dharker decided to cancel our session, we can only speculate and ask simply: was this a question of censorship?” the duo asked.
In response, Dharker said that the decision to cancel the talk was taken after they found that “this session would also be used to make a statement regarding how they feel about corporations such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular, including airing the views of these activists, which was never the intended purpose of the session.”
Stating that the festival does not owe its success to a free expression of someone’s specific agenda, Dharker said, “The expression of such an agenda — whether against a specific organisation, a corporation or an individual — is therefore misplaced in the discussions at our festival.”