In September 2020, the Mumbai (Tata) Lit Fest invited Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad to participate in a dialogue about Noam’s important new book Internationalism or Extinction. Both of us agreed to hold this dialogue because we believe that the themes in the book – the dangers of nuclear war, climate catastrophe, erosion of democracy – require the widest circulation and debate. We were pleased to join even though we had reservations about the sponsor of the event.
The dialogue was set to occur on Friday, November 20 at 9 pm Indian Standard Time. The advertisement was circulated and the team at Mumbai (Tata) Lit Fest had confirmed all the details. The last communication came in at 9 am Indian Standard Time on November 20 to remind us of the zoom link and other details. Then, out of nowhere, near 1 pm Indian Standard Time, we received an email which said, cryptically, ‘I am sorry to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, we have to cancel your talk today’. Further inquires informed us to be in touch with the festival’s director, Anil Dharker. No communication has been established thus far with Mr. Dharker.
Noam’s book is based on a lecture that he delivered in Boston in 2016, in which he warns that human beings must act to end various calamities. Of nuclearism, Noam writes specifically, ‘Either we will bring it to an end, or it’s likely to bring us to an end’. The urgency of these matters cannot be dismissed. In conversation with the actor Wallace Shawn, which followed the lecture, Noam speaks about the perils of public discourse. ‘“Objectivity” has a meaning’, he notes. ‘It means reporting accurately and fairly what’s going on inside the Beltway, White House, and Congress’. In other words, what is being said by the elites is notable and must be given judicious care by the media owned by large corporations, but what is said outside those circles must be ignored or disparaged. 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?
What were the themes that we were going to develop in the panel? 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 India, the issue of the erosion of democracy is a serious matter, with the passage of bills such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the vast sums of money that have now suffocated the voices of the hundreds of millions of impoverished Indian voters as examples of the problem; the issue of warfare is significant, with the Indian government participating in the highly destabilizing Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, Japan, and the United States.
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; the use of Tata Advanced Systems weapons by the Indian forces against the people of Kashmir; and Tata steel’s release of hexavalent chromium into water sources has created the fourth most polluted place on the planet in Sukinda, Odisha. These are just a few examples of the atrocious way in which the Tata corporation has brought levels of extinction to the peoples of the planet.
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.
The Tatas do not own the platform of the Mumbai Lit Fest, which began a decade ago outside their sponsorship. We wanted to appear at this platform in the spirit of open discussion to hold our dialogue about extinction and internationalism, about the darkest part of our human story and the brightest sparks of hope that shine in our world.
It is with regret that we could not hold our discussion at the Mumbai Lit Fest, now owned and operated by the Tata Corporation. We will shortly announce a venue and a date for our dialogue on the pressing issues of our time.
20 November 2020.
This was first published in Peoples Dispatch.