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Questions raised over Shell sponsorship of Jaipur Literature Festival

Jaipur, January 24, 2011: Vaiju Naravane

The Hindu SET FOR PARADE: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur meet the folk artists who will be participating in the Republic Day Parade, In New Delhi on Monday. Photo: S. Subramanium
Should companies like Shell or Rio Tinto, with a bad reputation for environmental pollution, the violation of workers’ rights and collusion with brutal dictatorships such as that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile or Sani Abacha in Nigeria, be considered acceptable as sponsors by those who run the Jaipur Literature Festival?


The question takes on great poignancy since the conclusion of the festival coincides, almost to the day, with hearings in the Dutch parliament on the alleged involvement of the Royal Dutch Shell company in the execution of Nigerian playwright, human rights activist and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was put to death with eight others after a hurried military trial in November 1995.

At his trial, Ken Saro Wiwa pointed a finger at Shell for what it had done to his people and his country: “We all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is here on trial…there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war that the Company has waged in the Delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the Company’s dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.”

Asked about her feelings on what was still going on in the Niger Delta where Shell’s anti-environmental activities have played havoc with the region’s ecosystems, noted Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adicie, who won the Orange Prize for her book on the Biafran War, told The Hindu: “I think it’s horrific, what’s going on in the Niger Delta as do most Nigerians. I think that the multinational oil companies are in collusion with the Nigerian government and I think that in some way we still have not exhibited the political will to make a difference in the Niger Delta. And it’s possible and it’s doable but it just hasn’t been done because the political will is just not there. I am hoping it will change with the elections that are coming up in April. But I do not know.”


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