Billboard in Chennai Credit: Sharad Haksar
London (July 12, 2005): The Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a subsidiary
of the Atlanta based Coca-Cola company, has threatened Mr. Sharad Haksar, one
of India's celebrated photographers, with a lawsuit.
Mr. Haksar, a leading international photographer and winner of the 2005 Cannes
Silver Lion, has placed a large billboard in one of Chennai's busiest areas
- one of India's largest cities - with his own "work (which) is solely
an expression of creativity."
The billboard features the ubiquitous red Coca-Cola wall painting, commonly
found across India. Directly preceding the Coca-Cola ad, and part of the billboard,
is a dry water hand-pump, with empty vessels waiting to be filled up with water
- a common scene in India, particularly in Chennai.
On July 11, 2005, the law firm of Daniel & Gladys, who represent Coca-Cola's
Indian subsidiary, sent a letter to Mr. Haksar threatening him with serious
legal actions unless the billboard was replaced 'unconditionally and immediately'.
Coca-Cola would seek Indian Rupees 2 million (US$ 45,000) for "incalculable
damage to the goodwill and reputation" of Coca-Cola, and also sought an
'unconditional apology in writing'.
Mr. Haksar said, "I have no intentions of issuing any apology. Because
I have not committed anything wrong. If Coke pursues this legal course, my lawyers
shall take appropriate counter action."
Mr. Haksar's billboard highlights the severe water shortages being experienced
by communities that live around Coca-Cola's bottling plants across India. A
community close to Chennai, in Gangaikondan, has already held large protests
- protesting against an upcoming Coca-Cola plant. In the neighboring state of
Kerala, in the village of Plachimada, Coca-Cola has been unable to open its
bottling facility for the last 16 months - because the community will not allow
Coca-Cola is in serious trouble in India. A massive rural movement has emerged
to hold the company accountable for creating water shortages and polluting the
remaining water and soil.
"We appreciate Mr. Haksar's efforts and we condemn Coca-Cola's attempts
to silence a public discourse on the issues," said Amit Srivastava of the
international campaigning organization, India Resource Center. The campaign
continues to receive tremendous public support internationally and has put the
Coca-Cola company on the defensive.
The recently held Live - 8 concerts pulled out with negotiations with Coca-Cola
over sponsorships because of public opposition, spearheaded by the India Resource
Center. Coca-Cola was also banned from the Make Poverty History March as a result,
on July 2, 2005, a march of close to 300,000 people in Edinburgh in Scotland.
Mr. Haksar's work can be viewed at www.sharadhaksar.com