Tata Lit Fest cancels a discussion between Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, raising concerns of censorship

Published : Nov 23, 2020 09:45 IST

Noam Chomsky, a 2018 photograph.

Noam Chomsky, a 2018 photograph.

A discussion between Noam Chomsky, a political activist and celebrated linguist, and Vijay Prashad, writer and Frontline columnist, organised by the Tata Literature Festival, was abruptly cancelled a few hours before the event. Chomsky and Prashad were scheduled to speak on November 20 on an online platform about Chomsky’s latest book Internationalism or Extinction. The organisers said they cancelled the event to “protect the integrity of the festival”.

Both Chomsky and Prashad accused the organisers of censorship and said they will find another platform to have the discussion, which they said was “important and relevant”.

Over 50 well-known activists had urged Chomsky and Prashad to bow out of the event, organised by the Tatas, who, they alleged, were involved in widespread human rights violations. It is believed that Chomsky and Prashad were planning to read out a statement during the discussion against “corporations such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular”. The organisers reportedly learned of the plan to open the discussion with the statement and cancelled the event.

In a statement published on “Peoples Dispatch” (an international media organisation highlighting voices from people’s movements) and released to the media,Vijay Prashad says: “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.”

Vijay Prashad’s statement says: “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?”

“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 destabilising Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, Japan, and the United States…. 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.”

Anil Dharkar, Tata Mumbai Literature Festival director, issued a statement saying: “The festival which I founded and run with a dedicated team, owes its success to a free expression of ideas, not a free expression of someone’s specific agenda. 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.”

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