by Kavita Bhanot

Over the last few weeks, a growing number of writers and activist groups have been protesting the sponsorship of the upcoming London Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) by the notorious metals and mining company Vedanta. An open letter, calling for boycott of the festival by participating writers, has been signed by over a hundred writers, academics and activists and published on websites Round Table India and Foil Vedanta. The choice of sponsorship (which is not an anomaly in JLF’s history, previous sponsors include DSC Limited, Tata, Shell, Rio Tinto and Coca Cola), along with the festival’s response to the call for boycott, raises questions about whose ‘freedom of speech’ is prioritised over others, and about the legitimacy and relevance of the festival itself.

The Jaipur literary festival, set up in 2006, attracts thousands of guests every year to the Indian city of Jaipur, and is billed as the largest free literary festival in the world. Directed by writers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, the festival plays up its location, exoticising Jaipur as the colourful city of Maharajas, elephants, dance and music. The festival itself is held in a palace, musical performances are held in the evenings, and guests are given royal treatment, staying in luxury hotels, attending extravagant lunches, dinners and parties; ‘James Joyce meets Monsoon Wedding,’ is how Dalrymple described JLF in the Spectator. Read