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.