From the Bhopal gas tragedy to Facebook and Bloomsbury, a history of corporate culpability

22 August 2020
The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, after a 2015 meeting at the social-media company’s California office. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed that Facebook has been allowing leaders and supporters of the BJP in India to post hateful content.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images
The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, after a 2015 meeting at the social-media company’s California office. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed that Facebook has been allowing leaders and supporters of the BJP in India to post hateful content.
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

What ties Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide when the Bhopal Gas Tragedy occurred, to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, and Nigel Newton, the CEO of Bloomsbury? It is the belief that they need not follow the same standards for their business in India that they do in Western democracies. The belief that, for profit, they can cut corners in what were earlier “the colonies,” and preach the liberalism that works for their consumers in the West. Whether Facebook collaborates with a populist autocrat to allow its platform to be used to instigate hate and violence, or a publisher like Bloomsbury decides to release a book that fosters a worldview that has already killed thousands over the past few decades, the ethical implications are much the same.

Bloomsbury has, virtually on the day of the launch planned by its authors, decided to withdraw a book that it was due to release in September. The book in question dealt with the violence that took place in northeast Delhi in February this year. Substantial evidence has emerged through reportage on the complicity of both politicians from India’s ruling party—the Bharatiya Janata Party—and the police in the violence that led to 53 deaths, of which at least 39 were were Muslims. Eyewitnesses have stated how Kapil Mishra, a BJP politician, instigated and participated in the violence against Muslims.

Yet, Bloomsbury edited and cleared a book which, in the words of one of its authors, blames the violence on “a Jehadi-Naxal lobby”—well-established code that the right-wing organisations have coined for those that oppose the ruling dispensation. The book has been authored by members of a “Group of Intellectuals and Academicians,” or GIA. Well before the book was ready, in March, the group had released a fact-finding report titled “Delhi Riots 2020: Report from Ground Zero.” At the time, one of the authors of the subsequent Bloomsbury title had made the same claim on Twitter, “Get entire report of GIA on Delhi riots here. Riots were not spontaneous but a pre planned conspiracy. Urban naxals & Jehadi network planned & executed them.” The report, which the authors presented to the union home ministry, has substantially been debunked.

The publishing house has withdrawn the book under false premises. Its statement claims that it decided to do so “in view of very recent events including a virtual pre-publication launch organised without our knowledge by the authors, with participation by parties of whom the Publishers would not have approved.” It adds: “Bloomsbury India strongly supports freedom of speech but also has a deep sense of responsibility towards society.”

A poster for the launch, which included Kapil Mishra. Since February, substantial evidence has emerged through reportage of Mishra's complicity in the Delhi violence. Bloomsbury stated that it was not hosting the launch and that its logo was used without permission.. A poster for the launch, which included Kapil Mishra. Since February, substantial evidence has emerged through reportage of Mishra's complicity in the Delhi violence. Bloomsbury stated that it was not hosting the launch and that its logo was used without permission..
A poster for the launch, which included Kapil Mishra. Since February, substantial evidence has emerged through reportage of Mishra's complicity in the Delhi violence. Bloomsbury stated that it was not hosting the launch and that its logo was used without permission.
Keywords: Delhi Violence Kapil Mishra Facebook Mark Zuckerberg Bhopal gas tragedy
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