Friday, 2 September 2011

Who Will Wash The Tribal Blood Stains On Tata's Image?

These are the observations and revelations penned by an activist and filmmaker, Surya Shankar Dash, who has been relentlessly documenting the atrocities on the people of Kalinganagar in Orissa.

A little more than a year ago Nira Radia was heard telling Vir Sanghvi about her fight with the 'Maoists' for the Tatas in Kalinga Nagar. Around the same time Madhyantara Vol 4 (a video magazine by the Samadrusti TV collective) was released and featured extensive footage of hundreds of policemen pillaging villages in Kalinga Nagar. A few defenseless villagers threw stones at a sea of marauding para-military forces but at the end their foodstocks were on fire, their utensils were systematically broken and their water sources were contaminated with kerosene.

This is part of a long drawn battle between the Adivasi inhabitants of Kalinga Nagar and Tata Steel, with the entire administrative and police machinery at Tata's disposal. Had it not been for the Radia tapes then one would have found it almost impossible to prove that indeed the Tatas had campaigned with the media to portray the anti-displacement activists of Kalinga Nagar as 'Maoists'. After the 2nd Jan 2006 massacre of 14 people, Tata Steel engaged in a media war against the tribals of Kalinga Nagar. The strategy was very clear, to paint the movement as a Maoist movement and facilitate excessive police action.

Despite everything Tata Steel was unable to wash off blood stains from its image. Despite attempts to completely censor news from Kalinga Nagar during last year's raids on the villages, illegal evictions and atrocities by a mixed force of goons and para-military, a lot of revealing information came out in the form of videos shot by the villagers that were put up on Youtube immediately. And around the same time even the Radia tapes started surfacing.

A year later, Tata has got much smarter. They are no longer banking on the Nira Radias to do the job. Rather they have hired some of the most credible documentary filmmakers to do the best whitewash job in recent advertising history - a series of TV Commercials highlighting some CSR ventures by Tata Steel - namely Bachendri Pal's mountaineering antics; the story of another woman who has supposedly been empowered by wearing pant-shirt and being employed as an earth-moving vehicle driver, etc. Perfectly timed to bolster the company's announcements, of completing the Kalinga Nagar plant by next year.

In short, the TVCs announce that the Tatas have won Kalinga Nagar. Not only the battle on the ground but the information war as well. 

To get top-notch documentary filmmakers, known especially for their rights based approach, to do their whitewash job is a clean triumph in the media turf. They have won after getting about 20 Adivasis killed by bullets. Including the 12-year-old Janga on the night of December 31, 2010. Hundreds displaced. Villages divided. Scores arrested. Tortured. Many more denied of medical services. Pregnant women unable to go to hospitals fearing they and their accompanying relatives will be arrested. Half a dozen villagers died when Kalinga Nagar remained out of bounds for the rest of the world except for Tata goons and an all pervasive para military force.

What compelled the filmmakers to do the job is hard to put a finger on. Most of them were aware of Tata Steel's doings in Kalinga Nagar. I have reason to believe even some of them had seen the videos on Youtube. In the past, a national Award winning filmmaker had done a similar job for Posco and then more recently another emerging 'development' filmmaker's company was found to be doing videos for Vedanta.

It is sad to see the kinds of Nira Radia being replaced by brighter and more sensitive people which will only lead to more compelling propaganda from the house of Tata Steel. The people of Kalinga Nagar will have to re-invent their communication skills now as a more evolved breed of communicators and media practitioners have arrived to silence their voices.

Below is one of the Tata Steel TVCs. This link gives further details about this campaign.


  1. Dear Priyanka,

    I'm not surprised than no 'mainstream' (pun intended?) journal is prepared to publish the truth behind the events at Kalinga Nagar. I have read your blog on this issue and have also written to you in this regard. The 'Tata' brand has been created and nurtured with great care and planning to present a benevolent image of a crafty business empire. The media has either swallowed it hook, line and sinker (and rod, probably) or have preferred to turn a Nelson's eye as their advertisements depend to a large extent on the various business units of the Tata Empire. I'm not impressed by the publicity campaigns regularly aired and telecast - remember the ads "We also make steel" and "Values stronger than steel?" Can we also recall the publicity created by the 'compensation' to the affected employees of the Taj Hotel afte the terrorist attack? No madam, I have no doubts that the House of Tatas is no less capitalistic than other business houses - the only difference being their class and panache in presenting a likeable image of themselves - unlike the crude dealings of the Reliance Group. The bottom line is that a Tata employee is still as much a wage slave as an employee in any other organization. The difference if at all, is quantitative, not qualitative. You may continue to send me your posts - I have mentioned this before and have no hesitation in stating it again, that even if I'm the only one, I will support you in your efforts to bring truth to the fore. Good luck, my child and may fortune be with you. Love. - Ravi

  2. I will reserve my judgment on this issue. Not because I respect Ratan Tata (he is a media-made icon), but because I do have a lot of
    respect for the house of Tatas, tall men like JRD and Jamshedji and
    I was born in Jamshedpur, the cradle of the Tata legend and have
    experienced first-hand the way a business enterprise can go out of its
    way to make life better for scores of people in one of the country's
    (and world) poorest hinterlands. Twenty percent of our school's seats
    were reserved for tribals and i had scores of tribal friends, products
    of fine families who took the tougher choice- of assimilating into the
    mainstream being brought to their tribal hamlets by a business
    If If you remember in the late 1980s, Tata Steel came up with this
    brilliant series of adverts with the punchline 'We Also Make Steel'
    which the legend goes was coined by Russi Mody when the best of
    ad-film makers couldn't come up with a punchline that could
    sufficiently do justice to the massive 72000-people strong Tata Steel.
    The Tata downslide started with the ill-health of JRD in the early
    1990s and the Congress mentality among some of the top directors that
    if anyone had to be Tata boss, then the surname had to be Tata as
    well. The house of Tatas first played dirty in order to remove Mody-
    for the simple reason that the man all Jamshedpuris fondly called
    Maharaj- had even dwarfed JRD in popularity. It is sad that after Nira
    Radia and her brilliant PR skills that even made the Nano launch look
    like an earth-shattering event, Ratan Tata has fallen back on the
    time-tested brains of the man he once despised and who he got removed
    through backroom politics- Russi Mody himself. The new ads are so much
    Russi Mody.

    But apart from that. great to see such blogs. Keep it coming