Monday, May 14, 2007

The Baroda Incident

You've almost certainly heard about it already, but just in case - here's a link to zigzackly's post with links to news articles, blog posts and a schedule of protests that were, presumably, held today.

Also, a link to further developments here.

Enough has been said about the inherent fascism of these actions and the bitter irony of the fact that the hooligans involved are essentially protesting the very culture they claim to champion.

What I personally find frightening, though, is not that this can happen in what is supposedly a democratic society, or that those concerned can get away with it. What frightens me is their motive. The hooligans attacking the MSU Fine Arts faculty aren't, after all, motivated by any genuine moral outrage. They're motivated by a cynical calculation which tells them that attacking a group of artists in the name of tradition and culture will get them more support in the next elections.

They may, of course, be wrong about this. But assuming they're not, it frightens me to think that there are actually people out there who are MORE likely to vote for a party because its hoodlums attack students and act as if they're above the law. That people will vote for a party not out of self-interest (since it's hard to see how these voters could possibly benefit from this attack) but, presumably, out a sense of identification fueled by outrage over a work of art they've never even seen [1].

The incident at MSU is thus a failure of democracy in two ways. It is a failure of democracy because the executive failed to protect the rights of the individual and his / her freedom of expression. But if Niraj Jain and his cronies turn out to be right, then it's a failure of the electorate to recognize where its own best interest lies - its willingness to let trite nationalism or its own sense of disentitlement (because this isn't really about culture or religion, is it?) damage or destroy all that is positive or progressive in society. If actions like this help the BJP win the next election then those who vote for them will be like the basement dwellers who, outraged at their upstairs neighbors' place in the sun, bring down the roof on their own heads.

These incidents are also, of course, a reminder of just what the revival of India's past as envisioned by these self-styled champions of our culture amounts to. It is not the resurrection of our artistic and intellectual traditions they are after; rather it is a return to feudal parochialism, to a medieval pre-democratic society where artists and intellectuals are mistreated, originality and creativity punished, debate and free speech suppressed and dogmatism and prejudice rule the day. A stagnant, airless world where brute violence is the basis of power and those capable of it sit above the law, doling out whatever punishment their whims dictate. A society where the only way to ensure your personal safety is to stay silent and adhere to whatever ignorant tenets the rulers choose to lay down. A return, in short, to the middle ages. This is the 'culture' these people champion. These are the 'traditions' they hope to impose on us.

[1] Which reminds me, does anyone know how / where one can get hold of a picture of the supposedly offensive paintings. I'm curious. Plus I can think of few more effective ways to protest this kind of activity than by displaying the supposedly offensive image as widely as possible.

UPDATE: Some links to the 'offensive' works here, here and here (thanks to those who e-mailed me) - not particularly clear, though.


Anonymous said...

Hi- you can see a pic of the so-called offensive painting here.

Anonymous said...

the funny thing is- mr neeraj is a Jain, the painting is seemingly some kind of crucifixion - both only vaguely connected to the so-called hinduism that these hooligans claim to protect.

also see this

Szerelem said...

The whole thing is just so mind bogglingly stupid and ridiculous that I would be tempted to laught at it if it weren't so scary.

Seriously, WTF! So what does or does not qualify as "hinduism" or "hindu culture" is decided by some random bunch of hooligans? It's depressing. Btw, the warrant for M.F. Husain is still out isn't it? He'll be arrested if he ever comes back as well.

At this rate I really wouldn't be surprised if people went about destroying and defacing temples with erotic art.

Gah. The whole thing makes me mad.

sb said...

well said., in fact, has some pretty good other posts interpreting Chandra Mohan's work.

Anonymous said...

If only some one would have explained as to what was "offenssive"the things would have been clearer.At the same time it is better to understand that 'freedom of expression'is not an un-fettered one.One cannot offend the religious sentiment of others.One wishes if only the pictures which are shown here were close-up one's.Yesterday some viewer who had seen the pictures tried to explain as to why there was such a hue and cry. About the cross he said it was a picture of Jesus on crusifixion with his penis out with oozing of semen drops falling into the bowl of urinal/lavatory below and semen drops becoming fishes in the water of the bowl.
About the other naked picture of Kali/Durga she was shown to be giving birth to two infants while pulling out the head of one.
If this description is true is it not being highly offenssive?
Is it the 'feedom of expression'?

Anonymous said...

I have a painting on my foyer visible from the street of a women from kujraho..topless and wearing just a cloth around her waist.. that is my freedom of expression, she sure does look god like , so if i’m living in vadodra is it justifyable for Mr jain to come after me? BTW - i’m a religious hindu women, but also know that what may be obscene to you may not be to be. and in such cases all you have to do is turn away..

simba said...


Once a reputed centre of tertiary education with countless number of alumni from all faculties strewn across the world, is now a pariah. It is on the verge of being disowned not only by the UGC, but shunned by past students and teachers who are shocked and shamed at the latest debacle unfolding globally, unfortunately for university administrators, across the internet. It is bad enough to witness the academic demise of one’s alma mater over the last two decades, but watching political fanaticism mocking the very tenets of democracy, of which all Indians are supposedly proud of, is positively blood curdling.

The university is an institution, which needs to be properly administered and protected by those empowered to do so, including the Vice Chancellor, Syndicate/Senate Members, etc. Instead we are witnessing a debacle where the highest authority turns on his institute, sanctioning the violation of free expression and education on the flimsy excuse of immorality, that too in a land steeped and proud of its heritage such as Khajurao, Kama Sutra and the likes. Vibrant Gujarat indeed!!! The Mahatma and Sardar Patel would most certainly cringe wherever they in their heavenly abodes in their own state. Vibrant Gujarat indeed!!! The question begs to be asked whether the institute should shelter and tolerate these people. Therein lies the root of evil that has been plaguing MSU over the last few decades. Instead of a focus on academic excellence, mediocrity in all spheres has ruled the roost. Academic excellence dipped, national grants disappeared, dependence on the state government increased, thus allowing any ruling party to exert extraordinary influence on the university’s governance, including the appointment of vice chancellors of their choice, irrespective of their credentials and standing, and most importantly their ability to enhance the organisation’s stature. We have a situation where syndicate/senate members are either political stooges or have been muzzled to rubber-stamp critical decisions that could undermine the university’s credibility and standing. There used to be a time when academic luminaries were syndicate/senate members, but not any more, as political inclination is a preferable prerequisite.

More disturbing is the rise in religious political fanaticism in what should be the tranquil surroundings of a flourishing university. Ishwar, Allah, Ram, does it really matter where education is concerned. One suspects that there is something more sinister rather than immorality that meets the eye about the current fracas.

Students, teachers, deans of faculties, syndicate/senate members, the PVC and VC are all party for the above debacle which represents some of the murkiest depths an educational organization can dip to. MSU is now a laughing stock. One used to take pride in being a MSU degree holder. Not any more, thanks to a crescendo of mediocrity, breeding acceptance of all that is anathema to true democracy, freedom of expression and education. The manner in which this incident has unfolded reminds us of the Taleban in Afghanistan. Are we fostering and encouraging our own “talebans’ who run amuck protecting the society’s ‘morals’, while flagrantly thumbing their noses at fundamental societal rights and law? If this is so, are we encouraging a ‘superior race’ (shades of Nazism) who are irreproachable and not answerable to common law and societal norms. The last time one looked, India was the largest democracy in the world, where extreme freedom was experienced by its citizens. Is urinating publicly, or ogling and leering at women, or burning females for dowry, or annihilating small villages by upper castes, or desecrating shrines from any religion acceptable either socially or legally? No, is the obvious answer, but do we adhere to the norms for these issues, No is the answer again. Do the ‘moral’ police who played out the political farce at the Fine Arts Faculty crack down on this? No is the answer, as most, probably quite a few of them, would be culprits. What gives a certain section of the society, with a definite political bent, the God given right to decide on behalf of the masses, on what is right or wrong? How can the judicial system also be part of this farce? We boast of exponential fiscal growth, but in reality we live in the dark ages socially, morally and legally. Shame on both levels of Government- State as well as Central, on remaining aloof and allow this erosion of moral fibre. One can attribute this to a shocking decline in the quality of our educational systems, where it seems that the best is reserved for only those who can afford it. Education is meant for all, especially those who deserve it, and not meant to be an elitist means of progressing in life.

Citizens of Baroda, students and teachers of MSU, show some spine and courage and stand up for all that is fair, truthful, legal and most importantly, what is necessary to reverse this downward vortex of destruction the organization is speeding through. March through the streets, express your feelings to the VC, syndicate/senate members, harangue the State Education Minister and Chief Minister, clog the internet and daily press. Remember, state elections are approaching and in 1974, MSU students were at the forefront of overthrowing the then state government. We are a proud state and have been prosperous too, but this needs to be bolstered by a robust educational system. While MSU is in the news, other universities in Gujarat will certainly have their own horror stories to tell. Mediocrity is like a delicate exotic fruit, one does pay dearly for scarcity. Why should Gujarat put up with mediocrity, as it breeds all sorts of evils.

From: P Patel- A concerned past graduate of MSU who is ashamed of his academic legacy

I had sent my earlier blog to the Vice Chancellor of MSU, and what do I get in response, a stock standard reply prepared for one and sundry (see below).

A Brief Report on the Recent Incidences At the MSU, Baroda
09May 2007 – 11 May 2007
The Maharaja Sayajirao Universiy of Baroda is amongst the top Universities in the country with very high global repute. The Faculty of Fine Arts is amongst its very best Faculties and is one of the top ranking institutions world-wide in the field of Fine Arts.
On 9 May 2007, the citizens of Vadodara lodged their strong protest at the Faculty of Fine Arts, of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The protest was against an exhibition displaying a number of artworks deeply hurting the sentiments of Faith and decency of the society at large.
It is noteworthy that during his telephonic conversation with the Vice-Chancellor over this incidence of protest, the then in-charge Dean Professor S. K. Panniker (who is currently suspended from the University Services) also termed these works of art as “objectionable”.
The protest was verbal and peaceful. The citizens had come to the Faculty of Fine Arts having read a news item in the Times of India dated 07 May 2007 and Gujarati daily Sandes dated 09 May 2007. These news items mentioned that the Works of Art created by the students of the Faculty as a part of their Annual Examination were open for public display on the 9th May 2007. Such public display has been a tradition. In fact, one of the teachers of the Faculty had sent messages through SMS inviting people to the display at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Thus, the claim in the media that the display was not open for public is untrue.
These citizens noticed that some of the works of Art displayed at the Faculty were highly deplorable.
One of the so-called work of Art was a huge Christian Cross where Lord Jesus Christ was shown with his penis out on the Cross, his palms and feet hanging from the two sides and the bottom of the Cross, respectively. Semen was shown as dropping out of his penis into a real toilet commode placed beneath the Cross. The toilet contained fishes.
Another very large sized painting showed a woman in nude posture. A baby was shown as attempting to come out of the vagina of the women. The picture depicted the women trying to attack the baby with a Trishul. The painting had the words “DURGA MATA” written at the bottom.
Similarly Lord Shiva and Lord Visnhu were also depicted in a highly derogatory manner in other so-called works of Art.
The media had already arrived by this time and were witnessing and recording / photographing the events that followed.
When the group of citizens led by Mr. Niraj Jain, as per his letter, protested and requested the student who had created these so-called works of Art to remove these objectionable works of Art from public display, the student refused to do so. Again the group of citizens requested Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty to intervene and get those objectionable works of art removed from public display. Professor Panniker refused to do so.
The protest was entirely peaceful and verbal. No damage was caused to the property of the University. No injury whatsoever was caused to any person.
On the request of the then in-charge Dean, the University officials arranged for police reinforcement with a request to provide necessary protection. The police promptly arrived at the venue. After a very long and consistent persuasion, those objectionable works of art were removed and placed in a room, which was locked and sealed by the police on the basis of a complaint filed by Mr. Niraj Jain and in concurrence with the provision of relevant Law. None of the so-called works of art was damaged in any manner.
On the basis of a police complaint filed by Shri Niraj Jain in his individual capacity as a citizen, the student – Mr. Chandra Mohan, who had created those objectionable works of Art was arrested by police under relevant legal provisions. The University authorities deputed an official to provide all the possible help to the student.
Subsequently, the University received a high number of representations and memoranda from several organizations, groups, individuals of high repute and common people from a cross section of society strongly urging the University officials to intervene and disallow the exhibition of such works of art that deeply hurt and offend the sentiments of Faith of various communities.
Thus, with a view to respect the sentiments of Faith of very large communities, as well as honoring the University’s social sensitivity and responsibility, the University officials including the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor requested Professor S. K. Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty several times to wind-up the exhibition.
Since the exhibition had already hurt the sentiments of Faith of very large societies, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty was also requested to issue a statement expressing at least regret and apology over such unintentional consequence of the exhibition. During such meetings of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor with Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean, his colleagues were also present.
The then Faculty in-charge Dean, unfortunately, did not heed these requests. Regrettably, adding fuel to the fire, he made such offending public statements, which further hurt and flared up the common citizens’ feelings demanding strong action. In one such statements printed by the media, for instance, Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, is quoted as saying that the Faculty of Fine Arts is like his personal bedroom and therefore, he is free to do whatever he desires there! Thus, the protest of the citizens of the city grew manifolds. Consequently, there was a huge public outcry from a cross section of society including the students of the University, demanding strong action in the matter.
As if this was not enough, in sheer defiance of the University officials requests and even executive orders, on 11th May 2007, once again, the then in-charge Dean, organized an exhibition in the evening displaying nude paintings in the name of and Indian culture!
Since this unwarranted act of the then in-charge Dean could have sparked large-scale social disharmony and caused disruption, the University Authority deputed two Deputy Registrars and one Assistant Registrar for requesting the in-charge Dean Prof. Panniker, for not organizing the said exhibition. When these officials reached the Faculty and spoke to the then in-charge Dean, he refused point blank to stop the display and reacted that he was not required to take permission of anybody including University Authority for doing anything in the Faculty.
Upon this, the Authority deputed Registrar-in-charge with a written order directing the in-charge Dean to close the display. After acknowledging the letter of the Registrar-in-charge after a lot of dilly-dallying, Prof. Panniker adamantly continued on his stand of not closing the display and said he would keep the display open throughout the night and disobey the University authority’s lawful orders.
In spite of such disobedient behaviour of the then in-charge Dean, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor S. M. Joshi, along with the Senate and Syndicate members and leading citizens of the city went personally to the Faculty premises and repeatedly requested the in-charge Dean to close the display. Even then, the then in-charge Dean remained adamant and refused to heed the requests / orders of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
The Faculty of Fine Arts is an integral part of the prestigious The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, known for its substantial contribution in placing Gujarat & Baroda on international cultural scene, and as such cannot be left solely on the whims & wishes of any one individual.
In the event of the adamant refusal of the then in-charge Dean to heed the repeated requests from the University officials and his blatant refusal to obey lawful orders of the University officials and that too in such grave matter of hurting the sentiments of decency and societal harmony, the University had no other option but to suspend the in-charge Dean, Prof. S. K. Panniker from the University services for three months with immediate effect under the rules of the University.
The university authority has constituted a committee headed by Professor Syed Maswood, Dean Faculty of Law, with clear terms of reference for investigating entire matter in detail, identify all person/s responsible for this incidence, and recommend appropriate action under rules of the University.
The Chancellor of the University, Her Excellency Dr. Mrunalini Devi Puar, has publicly condemned such exhibition depicting divine personalities in derogatory manner.
In addition to a very large number of social organizations and common people, the leading citizens including Maharaja Ranjitsingh Gaekwad, Padmashri Sitanshu Mehta, Renowned Painter Shri Gulam Mohmmed Sheikh, Professor Dhruv Mistry, renowned Sculptor, Noted Poet Madhav Ramanuj and several distinguished personalities have issued public statements condemning the exhibition of objectionable works of Art that caused deep hurt to the sentiments of Faith of a very large society.
Steps Taken to Restore Normalcy
01. The Security, particularly in the Faculty of Fine Arts, has been enhanced right from 09 May 2007. The Security personnel are ensuring that only those students and Members of the University fraternity are allowed entry inside the Faculty Campus who hold valid identity card or authentic identity document. Due care is also taken not to put genuine visitors to any inconvenience. The campus is totally peaceful.
02. The Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Professor Deepak Kannal is on leave and is currently in the U.S.A. on an academic assignment. He has been requested to pre-pone his return to India and is likely to resume his duties at the earliest possible.
03. Since during the absence of the regular Dean, none of the senior members of the Faculty was willing to take the charge of the Faculty, Professor G. C. Maheshwari, Dean Fculty of Management Studies has been appointed as the Officer on Special Duty in-charge of the Faculty of Fine Arts till the Dean Professor Deepak Kannal resumes his duties.
04. The results of the examinations of the Department of Museology, one of the six departments of the Faculty of Fine Arts, is declared. All the possible steps are being taken as to the conduct of the examination and the declaration of the results at the earliest possible.
05. A committee of the following members is constituted on 12 May 2007 to investigate about:
the incidence that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts on 09 May 2007 and subsequent developments related to it, and
the role, conduct and behaviour of Professor S. K. Panikkar, the then in-charge Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts with regard to the above referred incidence and frame charges against him.
01. Professor Syed Maswood, Dean, Faculty of Law, Convener
02. Dr. Prakash Shah, (M.D.), Syndicate Member, Member
03. Shri Mukundbhai Shah, Syndicate Member Member
04. Advocate Shri Rajendra Trivedi, Senate Member Member
The Convener is authorized to co-opt any other member(s) or invite artists for consultation.
The Committee is requested to submit its report at the earliest possible.
The Terms of Reference of the Committee will be as follows:
To ascertain the facts and evidences about the incidence that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts on 09 May 2007 and subsequent developments related to it.
To examine the role, conduct and behaviour of Professor S. K. Panikker, In-Charge Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts with regard to the above referred incidence.
To identify person(s) responsible for the incidence and subsequent developments related to it, and recommend appropriate action(s) with regard to those responsible.

The issue is of blatant disregard of the sanctity of a university and the ability of the saffron brigade to waltz in anywhere waving the 'Hindutva' flag. What gives these people the right to act as the moral police? Has the State Government given them extraordinary powers, or are they the self proclaimed saviours of the society? There is an increasing concern that we might be heading towards a state of social anarchy akin to Afghanistan, where religious fanaticism obliterated common decency, freedom and any form of expression. What is the difference between the Taleban and the saffron brigade? Nothing is the plain answer. Why do the saffron brigade then instigate racial violence? A case of dichotomous philosophy maybe!!!!

It is a pity to see young minds being polluted by such garbage, instead of chanelling their energies in abosrbing knowledge and bettering themselves. We need bright young minds to fuel not only Gujarat's growth, but that of the nation.

Anirudh said...

Nice piece. But tell me of the "ways to protest" which you've thought up.

Anonymous said...

Why not the close-up of the picture?
Can one see what was really felt to offensive?
A simple cross does not become offensive.But it does become when you show the close-up. The real details of the painting has already been published in this very blog by "Simba" and P Patel while reporting the incident in details. It weas a clever ruse to show a long-shot of a Cross without any details!
What was the need to show the penis of Jesus with Semen oozing out into the Lavatory Commode below and it turning into fish?
Similarly a Naked Durga giving birth and in the process her piercing the baby with her Trishul?Why show such dis-respect to religious sentiment of others?
Besides now it also proved that it was not a private show for students and teachers but a regular public exhibition annouced much in advance in local news-papers!
In such a situation what was the fault of the VC to appehend trouble and to avoid that asking the Dean to close it down?
Can the Dean dis-obey the orders of his superiour?
All in all it appears to be a case of fishing in troubled waters in a Modi-State trying to bring about a "Modi"fication in the State by fair or foul means!

Falstaff said...

anonymous 1 and -A: Thanks for the links.

szerelem: Yes, my sentiments exactly.

sb: Thanks for the cite.

anonymous 2: "One cannot offend the religious sentiments of others"

Why can't one? And more to the point (since one manifestly can) why shouldn't one?

anonymous 3: Thanks

simba: Errr...thanks. Next time, perhaps, something more concise?

anirudh: On the whole I think actively displaying the 'offensive' paintings is the most promising. I also think we should be looking to persecute people abetting Mr. Jain - the police officers who made the arrest, the university officials who supported him.

anonymous 4?: "What was the need" is an irrelevant question. The whole point of freedom is that people don't have to justify their right not to be oppressed or victimised. Whether or not the painting has artistic merit is irrelevant - artists should be free to paint what they like. And as I say above, why shouldn't religious sensibilities be offended?

Also, just out of curiosity, what's so offensive about the painting you describe? What exactly do you think is offensive? The fact that Jesus had a penis? Semen? Lavatories? Fishes? I think the painting is boring and somewhat trite, but I fail to see anything insulting in it.