A discussion between linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky and historian-editor Vijay Prashad, part of the ongoing week-long Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, was cancelled hours before the event on Friday, the two said in a joint statement. Scheduled to take place on Friday evening, over the online platform Zoom, it was to be live streamed on various social-media platforms.
The move follows the duo’s decision to read a statement against “corporations such as the Tatas, and the Tatas in particular”, responding to a joint appeal by 50 activists and civil society members, urging them to not participate in an event sponsored by the company.
In their statement, the academics said that the organisers got in touch with them in September to participate in a conversation around Chomsky’s latest book, Internationalism or Extinction (2019, Routledge).
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Prashad said, “Both of us agreed to hold this dialogue because we believe that the themes in the book, be it the dangers of nuclear war, climate change, and the erosion of democracy, require debate and discussion.”
The US-based Prashad added that they were only informed of the cancellation on the day of the event, without citing any reason.
Responding to the incident, a senior member of the festival’s organising committee said, “The different programmes at the festival give an insight into the kind of diversity of views and subjects being covered, which in the present political climate, would be considered absolutely anti- establishment… However, the idea of the festival is to have a free exchange of ideas, and not a free exchange of anyone’s agenda.”
Festival director Anil Dharker in a statement late Saturday expressed respect and admiration for Chomsky, but said the decision to cancel the session ” was necessary to protect the integrity of the festival”.