Dear Prof. Noam Chomsky,

Hope you and your family are keeping well and safe physically in such trying times.

We are writing to you after having just discovered that you are scheduled to participate in the Tata Lit Live event, the annual Literature festival by one of the most notorious corporations in India, the Tata Group.  It comes as a great disappointment to us, as the Tata Group has had a long history of forceful displacement, human rights violations and environmental plunder. The Literature Festival and other such events by the Tata Group are evidently an attempt to erase its crimes from the public consciousness – an ideological whitewashing.

In 2005 Tata Steel’s attempts to forcefully construct its steel plant on Adivasi land in Odisha’s Kalinga Nagar without the consent of the local community and legal permits led to a strong resistance from the community. Ultimately on the morning of 2nd January 2006, Tata Steel forced construction workers to start construction with the aid of several platoons of police. When the Adivasi community resisted the police opened fire and killed 14 people including women and children, and at least a hundred people were critically injured. Civil society investigations revealed that Tata and the police had used land mines as well. From 2006 to 2010 the police, the paramilitary and Tata-backed militias carried out massive repressive measures in the region leading to more deaths, torture, incarceration, sexual violence, socio-economic and medical blockades, till the company managed to grab the land it needed for its steel plant. Even children were not spared and a 12-year-old Adivasi girl of Kalinga Nagar was killed on 31 Dec 2010 by the paramilitary with the justification that she was a hardcore Maoist rebel.

In close proximity of Kalinga Nagar are Tata’s chromite mines in Sukinda valley where chromium hexavalent contamination is widespread. In 2007 a report by the Blacksmith Institute declared Sukinda as the 4th most polluted place in the world. Tata continues to carry out open cast mining in Sukinda despite opposition of the Adivasi people and earlier this year had its mining leases extended by another 50 years. Tata’s presence in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand goes back to more than a hundred and fifty years ago, and since the beginning the company has forcefully evicted Adivasis for setting up its factories and mines. In Odisha’s Chilika the company’s attempt to monopolise fishing has led to brutal repression on the Dalit fishing community. In Odisha’s Chatrapur, Dalit farmers were killed for protesting against its proposed steel plant.

In 2006, the same year as the massacre in Kalinga Nagar for Tata’s steel factory, the company announced its plans for a car factory in Singur, West Bengal. The proposed site was a multi-crop farmland and the source of livelihood for a large Dalit population. The CPM-led state govt unleashed police brutality upon the farmers and forcefully occupied the land. The police and ruling party cadre’s violence injured hundreds of people. A young woman protestor and youth leader of the resistance movement was raped and burnt alive by the pro-Tata CPM cadre.

Tata’s proposed steel plant in Bastar, Chattisgarh also faced widespread opposition from the Adivasis in the region that was suppressed by a private militia called Salwa Judum that was known to be sponsored by the Tatas. The Salwa Judum was constituted by cadres of the Indian National Congress and the Bharatya Janata Party who came together to serve the interests of the corporations. Their violent genocidal campaign against Adivasi dissent led to the displacement of more than a thousand villages, countless deaths and rapes, and ultimately paved the path for Operation Green Hunt, a paramilitary campaign by the Govt of India to eradicate all Adivasi opposition against extractive industries. More than a 100,000 paramillitary soldiers were deployed in the mineral rich Adivasi districts of Odisha, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, etc. and India carried out a secret war against its own indigenous people. This organised state military violence continues to this date, and the socioeconomic fallout of this war is going to haunt the entire region for decades to come.

The Tata Group has more than two hundred brands that include steel, thermal power, hydro power, army vehicles, defense systems, etc. It is clearly one of the biggest profit makers from the Kashmir conflict. Tata is also one of the biggest donors to political parties and civil society that ensures smooth operations of its business. The Tata Group facilitated about 75% of the funding for the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the 2019 General Elections. At the same time it also hedged it’s bets as the biggest donor for the Congress party ensuring that whichever party came to power the corporation’s interests would be served.

We want to clarify that we are not calling for an ‘academic boycott’. Boycotting a Tata Corporation platform is fundamentally different from boycotting public/democratic institutions such as colleges or Universities as you yourself have pointed out in several interviews. While talking about boycott-divestment campaigns concerning Israel – you have clearly described corporations operating on the occupied territories as ‘criminal organisations’ and advocated for public boycott of American, French, British corporations. We urge you to treat a corporation such as the Tata Group in the same light. There is a logical problem of applying different standards when it comes to dealing with an ‘Indian Corporation’ today as opposed to an American or a French corporation because the Tata Group is as multinational as any other major world corporation. The only possible argument could be a tactical one – “Does boycotting a corporation like the Tatas harm the interests of disempowered communities in terms of employment generation, etc?” But just a brief look at the statistical data should convince you that the poor in India – a country where 81% of the people are still employed through the informal sector – have had nothing to gain in economic terms from the functioning of corporations like the Tatas. It is in fact quite the other way round.

A corporation that is older than the Indian republic itself, with its origins in  colonial era opium trades has mastered the art of manufacturing a public image of benevolence and social welfare – a typical example of a major corporation ‘manufacturing consent’ in it’s favor. It operates several charitable trusts that make large donations to NGOs and academia thus ensuring there isn’t much public discourse that exposes its organised criminal activities. Events like the Tata Lit Live are designed to solicit the endorsement of credible intellectuals, activists and authors and counter the ‘negative publicity’. You and several other American intellectuals have been vocal about the role of big corporations in undermining both the environment, and democracy – for instance with what is going on in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline that is being forcefully pushed through American Indian territories. There is absolutely nothing that is morally or ethically different from the role of Indian corporations like the Tatas when it comes to their disastrous industrial projects in Adivasi regions. If anything, the scale of destruction these institutions have caused just in terms of the number of people they have maimed and murdered, is far higher than what would be allowed under the American domestic legal framework.

Therefore we urge you to not become a tool in the Tatas’ propaganda against the Adivasi people of India. And we invite you to consider speaking instead on a different independent/public platform, addressing the role of Indian corporations in destroying both democracy, and environment.

If you believe that refusing to participate in the Tata Lit is the only action that is logically consistent with what you have fought for your entire life, then we also urge you to issue a public statement indicating the same. A statement from someone like you in this regard we think will go a long way to strengthen the absolutely crucial democratic movements of Adivasi and Dalit resistance against criminal corporations like the Tatas. The impact of such a statement, we believe, will be far greater than the effect your planned conversation with Prof. Vijay Prashad (where we are sure you plan to critic big corporations among other things) would achieve.

We thank you for listening, and eagerly await to know what you think about the concerns we raise.

Regards and best wishes,

Signatures:

Prasanta Paikrai, Activist

Surya Shankar Dash, Filmmaker

Debaranjan, Filmmaker

Biswapriya Kanungo, Advocate

Nigamanand Sadangi, Writer and Translator

Srimant Mohanty, Political Activist

Sini Soy, Anti Tata Movement, Kalinga Nagar

Sunil Gagarai, Kalinga Nagar

Ranjana Padhi, Activist

Nisha Biswas, Kolkata

Bela Bhatia, Advocate & Writer

Binu Mathew, Editor, Countercurrents

Bobby Kunhu, Writer and Advocate

Pratyush Nilotpal, Delhi

K. K. Singh, Delhi

A Ranan, Patna

Rashmi, Patna

Biswabasu Dash, SUCI (C)

Srikant Mohanty, Chaasi  Mulya Sangathan

Pramodini Pradhan, Activist

Ashley Tellis, Independent Researcher, LGBH activist

Icarus (A literary print and online Magazine, Jadavpur University, Kolkata)

Chena Adhuli (A theatre organization, Chakdaha, West Bengal)

Drishyantor, Theatre Organization, Kolkata

Arul Ganesh, Mumbai

Ishan Santra, West Bengal

Tathagata Sengupta, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai

Ananta Prasad, Bhubaneswar

Amrita Howlader, Feminist activist

All members of Lokpaksh

Poushali Basak, West Bengal

Koel Chatterji, West Bengal

Sanchita Ali, West Bengal

Ipsita Samanta, West Bengal

Amrita Howlader, West Bengal

Satyaki Majumdar, West Bengal

Upama Nirjharini, West Bengal

Madhurima Ghosh, West Bengal

Jhelum Roy, West Bengal

Sanmit Chatterjee, West Bengal

Promod Gupta, West Bengal

Sutanoya Chakraborty, West Bengal

Soubhik Karmakar, West Bengal

Abir Neogi, West Bengal

Sananda Dasgupta,West Bengal

Tamoghno Halder, West Bengal

Debalina, West Bengal

Aldish Edroos, West Bengal

Response from Vijay and Noam – 

Dear Surya,

Thanks for your emails. Could you please forward this to those who have written the appeal?

We are aware of the situation and have decided on the following procedure:

  1. We will continue with the programme.
  2. We will start the programme with Vijay reading a statement written by the two of us. This statement makes it very clear how we feel about corporations such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular (we have drawn from many sources for this, including Surya’s work).
  3. The statement will run immediately at peoplesdispatch.org.
  4. We will then continue our conversation about Noam’s’ book, Internationalism or Extinction, making various connections between the general themes in the book and the Tatas.

Warm regards,

Noam and Vijay.


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5 Comments

  1. Avatar K Manoharan says:

    The response from these two persons is disappointing. One may recall the infamous statement made by Chomsky and Tariq Ali in connection with the Singur-Nandigram incidents. These duo signed that statement after being persuaded by Vijay Prasad who is part and parcel of the CPM. Once Chomski-Ali pair faced a strong criticism from the genuine left and democratic forces and civil rights group, they retracted their statement while at the same time inserted an appeal for all the left forces in West Bengal to come together, discuss and sort out the problems (of course of the police and the CPM brutality). This time there is a different pair and it wants to pass itself off as a heroic one that would beardi the lion (in fact a hyena) in its own den. It is no wonder they feel shy of appearing in another – people’s platform.

  2. Avatar K Manoharan says:

    The response from these two persons is disappointing. One may recall the infamous statement made by Chomsky and Tariq Ali in connection with the Singur-Nandigram incidents. These duo signed that statement after being persuaded by Vijay Prasad who is part and parcel of the CPM. Once Chomski-Ali pair faced a strong criticism from the genuine left and democratic forces and civil rights group, they retracted their statement while at the same time inserted an appeal for all the left forces in West Bengal to come together, discuss and sort out the problems (of course of the police and the CPM brutality). This time there is a different pair and it wants to pass itself off as a heroic one that would beardi the lion (in fact a hyena) in its own den. It is no wonder they feel shy of appearing in another – people’s platform.

  3. Avatar K. Sudhir says:

    They could have taken the same condemnatory posture from a peoples platform, with greater effect.

  4. May I look at this matter from a moral point of view. We face here 2 conflicting options.

    Issue No. 1
    There is that classic problem of ‘Ends’ and ‘Means’. Does the End justify the Means or should the means remain equally clean as ends themselves. Is the “killing” of a dictator as an immoral act (because killing a human being is a naked act of violence), a justifiable act, if this dictator is killing thousands of human beings every day, or is his removal from power through non-violent means and putting him in prison after trial a more justifiable act?

    Issue No.2.
    In an authoritative and undemocratic system is it better to stay away from it and be a silent spectator of evil happenings, and hence be morally clean, than getting involved in that system and change that system from inside after getting into it and transform, speak a silent non-violent “subversion”. Here, in the second variant, does the End justify the Means?

    Noam and Vijay apparently have chosen the second alternative.

    In an open democracy, despite all undemocratic practices in it, both options are operationally viable. The question is what to choose, how you come up with the right option.

    Undeniably, we are faced with a moral dilemma here. If you are a “Purist” you will take the first option and remain aloof. If you are a practical realist who wants to achieve something, do something about it, better than doing nothing, the second option is your choice.

    George Chakko, former U.N. correspondent, now retiree in Vienna, Austria
    Vienna, 20/ 11/ 2020 00:58 am CET

  5. Avatar santosh banerjee says:

    EVERY DOUBT IS THERE WHETHER THESE PERSONALITIES WILL REFUSE THE INVITATION!!