The advertising industry in India boasts of some of the world’s best creative minds. It is not an industry that we can accuse of being unaware of the reality in India. When advertising of dubious nature shows up on the media, it is, therefore, roundly condemned.
At the end of 2011 and now, we have been witnessing a spate of promotional advertisement campaigns for corporate entities that specifically focus on tribal people and the yeoman service the corporations are doing for the uplift of the those people; Tatas earlier and now Vedanta. According to those who have been following developments in India over the last several years, 2011 is rated as one of the bloodiest years in the life of the tribal people in the country. There has been corporate encroachment into tribal communities and forestlands backed by state-sponsored repression and brutality.
All dissent from these areas has been painted with the red-terror brush and is sought to be silenced. Many areas are out of bounds for journalists and “outsiders”. Only the security forces, legalised Salwa Judums and corporate minions have free access to these places. So much so, native people have been evicted from their villages to make room for the agents of development. By all accounts circulating, the violence against the people has been shocking, and it was all done to accommodate exemplary captains of industry who wish to develop the nation.
In a two-part interview with Seema Mustafa, Mr. N C Saxena, National Advisory Council member and former member of Planning Commission, describes in detail the ground reality in places such as Niyamgiri. It is believed that with state collusion some 26 hectares of forestland has been encroached and built upon in the Niyamgiri area. Since 1990, 85.39 lakh tribal people are believed to have been displaced and 9.8 lakh hectares of forestland was alienated displacing people since 1980s.
According to Mr. Saxena, in some tribal pockets, the literacy level of women is between 1 and 5% after 60 years of Independence. Now the state has added insult to injury of the communities by selling them to the lowest bidder to exploit and plunder.
Very little debate has been allowed in the mainstream media on why the mining enterprise is suddenly the private property of corporations to exploit and profit from national wealth while brutalising the very people in whose name this is supposed to be happening.
Corporate entities further compound the absence of debate on this reality by buying the best of advertising talent to promote an idyllic image of themselves as messiahs of liberation and transformation for the tribal people, specially using images of children.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), in its website, defines an advertisement as “a paid-for communication, addressed to the public or a section of it, the purpose of which is to influence the opinions or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed”. However, advertising industry anywhere in the world does not like to see itself as ethically bankrupt. Therefore, ASCI also has evolved a code for self-regulation, the responsibility for observance of which “lies with all who commission, create, place or publish any advertisement, or assist in the creation or publishing of any advertisement”.
The very first statement of the code says: To ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by advertisements and to safeguard against misleading advertisements.
Both the Tata campaign and the Vedanta campaign, while being based on some reality, do not appear to justify the generalisation of a “benign corporation” that is the only hope of the displaced poor implied in the campaigns. Who displaced them? Why were they displaced? Will the corporations educate and fulfil the dreams of Binno without kicking her and her community out of their homes, livelihoods, and common lands?
The ads have much to account for as do the state and the corporations. Why are we supposed to be excited about the complete failure of the state in looking after people’s interests and why are we forced to depend on the 2% CSR (if that) of the mega corporations to dole out basic entitlements as favours at a huge inter-generational cost?
It is somewhat disheartening to see people such as Piyush Pandey, Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, and renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal associate themselves as jury with a film festival, Creating Happiness, (http://www.creatinghappiness.in/jury.html ), that Vedanta has launched.
Now, will the ad agencies and intellectual filmmakers assist the state also to make over its despotic image into “enlightened despotism” that is the only path towards health, wealth, and happiness of the poor in India? With intellectuals choosing to join them rather than to fight them, have we any choice other than to wait breathlessly for the next tranche of dreamy ads on the telly?