In the years of Jaipur LitFests, Tata LitFests and many other such literary events, why another literary festival? Aren’t these festivals attended by literary giants? Hasn’t Jaipur Literature Festival been described as the ‘Greatest literary show on earth’? Isn’t it a matter of great honour to get an invitation to the Tata Literature Festival? Doesn’t an excellent exchange of ideas happen at those fests?
One of the purposes of People’s Literary Festival is to bring all these sentiments under the microscope. If we look at the list of sponsors of these corporate festivals, we would know that these festivals’ existence is dependent on the blessings of corporations, whose existence, in turn, is based on the exploitation of humans and destruction of ecology. The twitter page of Kalinganagar Mahotsav (an art fest) claims the event to be a celebration of the “success of the uprising steel hub of India”. One should remember at this point the murder of 12 tribals in 2006 in Kalinga Nagar, Odisha, during the government-facilitated forcible acquisition of land for Tata’s proposed steel plant. The Kalinga Nagar incident is hardly unique. All over the country, from Singur to Kodaikanal, these corporations are directly responsible for eviction, torture, murder, and destruction of ecology.
Shouldn’t it be worrisome when these entities, through their capital investment, essentially become the arbiter of what ‘good literature’ is? After all, if ‘good literature’ is what Jaipur LitFest certifies as ‘good’, and if our exposure to literature becomes largely confined to what these corporate literary festivals promote, then we let these corporations become gatekeepers of ‘literary intellect’ and have a lot of control over our cultural engagements and our spaces of imagination which literature stimulates. And then we risk losing space for the literature that challenges the murderous, destructive ways of capitalism and the present social order, of which these corporations are an integral part.
People’s Literary Festival (PLF) has been planned by Bastar Solidarity Network – Kolkata Chapter (BSN) to provide a space for subjects that are taboo in many so-called ‘spheres of intellect’. BSN is a forum formed by some young rights activists and students to bring into light the state- and corporate-sponsored atrocities perpetrated on the Adivasis in the heartland of India, and to build up a solidarity movement. BSN believes the solidarity movement cannot be built up in isolation, but one must look into the larger picture of the structural violence of the Brahminical Fascist state and connect the dots to fight it.
PLF will host Kashmiri writer Shahnaz Bashir. Shahnaz will talk about the brutality by the Indian government in Kashmir and Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination. Jacinta Kerketta, whose verses will talk about the ‘bloodstained rivers’, Madua fields and Saranda forests in Jharkhand and of the people who have to pay the costs of ‘development’, will also be there to share her thoughts. One can meet Chhaya Koregaonkar from Maharashtra, talking of Savitribai Phule, of the daily lives of women, and intimate experiences of caste and gender oppression. Kutti Revathi will unabashedly talk about her body politics, the need to take control of narratives around women’s body, desire, sexuality.
One can hear Chandramohan S’s poetry engaging with Islamophobia, beef eating, and appropriation of Dalit literature. Raja Puniyani will talk about the Gorkhaland resistance movement, and Varavara Rao will talk about the culture emerging out of fascist repression, of the stories, songs, slogans created in Dandakaranya. PLF will have Hansda Sowvendra Sekhar telling stories of the Santhal community. Rinchin will be bringing in stories of the jhuggies in big cities where ragpickers live, the Adivasi farms in ravaged coal-rich Chattisgarh and the resistances of her brilliantly stubborn child protagonists who foreground the voices of those we refuse to see or choose not to see in children’s literature.
Also, there will be Arun Ferreira talking about art being created and etched in prisons. Iravi will be telling stories of queer desire, and Haripriya Soibam weaving narratives of women’s resistance to patriarchy within and outside Manipur. One will hear Rela cultural group from Bhopal with their songs of resistance, of protest, of hope that promises to expose Hindu fascism, resist consumerism and foreground cultural expressions of Dalit and tribal people and bring together various artistic and linguistic styles.
At PLF, one will also hear about the ‘outsiders’ to the ‘hallowed literary spheres’ blessed by the socioeconomically and politically powerful. One will hear about little magazines that have existed to provide a space for thoughts that the powerful don’t want or care to give space to. One will hear about literature written in languages that ‘don’t have a market’ as big as literature written in the more dominant languages. One will hear about Kamtapuri literature, little magazine discussing casteism or come across a critical look at the representation of Muslims in Bengali literature, from Ansaruddin, Nirmal Haldar, Afsar Ahamed, Dipak Kumar Roy and Kalyani Thakur Charal. Mahmoud Nawaja’a, an activist from Palestine with a long experience of campaigning for the Palestinian freedom struggle and the General Coordinator of the Palestinian National Committee for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, will also be attending, talking about resistance literature in Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
PLF intends to provide a space where literature plays its social role, taking an analytical and critical look at the social order. Corporate fests cannot be the only space for writers and literature-enthusiasts – and PLF intends to be an alternative space free from all corporate interferences. This literary festival is entirely publicly funded – there is absolutely no corporate funding.
Join People’s Literary Festival on March 24-25 at Sukanta Mancha, Kolkata, in resistance, in solidarity and in rage, to listen to this cacophony, to participate, question and together try to make sense of these times.