Centre will not interfere in M.S. University affairs: Arjun

The Hindu

NEW DELHI: Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh on Tuesday said the M.S. University of Baroda in Vadodara had failed to provide a wholesome atmosphere to its students, adding that “what had happened wasn’t an unheard of occurrence in Gujarat.”

Replying to questions on the sidelines of a book launch function here, Mr. Singh said:

“It is a State university and we would not like to interfere in the freedom of expression which is a universal right.” Asked what steps would be taken in the wake of suspension of the college Dean, Mr. Singh said:

“The University Grants Commission has sought a report on the matter and we will see what needs to be done when something comes up.”

The HRD Minister, who along with CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury was present at the launch of the book “The Al Jazeera Decade”, said:

“Al-Jazeera in the last decade has become a major vehicle for understanding and interacting with the realities of the Arab world. No other media channel has triggered so much of debate and excited researchers’ scrutiny as this channel has done in the last decade.”

Mr. Singh added that the most important constituent of the spirit of the channel was its commitment to journalistic integrity, the core values of journalism and its long established traditions.

“It ensures that equal opportunity of expression is given to all opposing views and parties. The channel contributes to the building of a conscious, free and responsible public opinion.”

Also present at the launch were Deputy Managing Director of Al-Jazeera (English) Ibrahim Helal who said: “Our definition of news is a bit different; for us it is about something that someone somewhere does not want the world to know. Our news is not about propaganda. We believe that journalism is not about the opportunity to shine but to give voice to the voiceless.”

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Illiberal ethos

Business Standard / New Delhi May 16, 2007

The happenings at M S University of Vadodara over the last week have revealed how fragile some of the basic rights of citizens in the country are, and how compromised the institutional and official set-up has become in some places. A Bajrang Dal activist close to the BJP walked into the fine arts faculty of the well-known university in Gujarat and objected to an exhibition of works by a senior student, done as part of his course work, as it supposedly hurt the religious feelings of groups of people. Successively, the student was arrested, the exhibition closed down, the dean of the faculty suspended by the university for refusing to close down the exhibition (or, as another version has it, for trying to get the student released) and the student eventually released on bail after five long days. The vice-chancellor of the university, whose scholarly work closely follows the BJP’s credo, defended the actions by his office on the grounds that the student’s work had hurt the sentiments of a large section of society. What makes things worse is that M S University and its fine arts faculty are held in high esteem in the country.

This episode highlights the intolerance that is rife in the country and the damage done to civic life in general and academic institutions in particular, especially those whose raison d’être must be to foster the ability to think and express oneself freely. This does not happen in a vacuum, and reflects the degree to which academic and faculty autonomy has been compromised by putting in key places functionaries who are essentially political hangers-on. Further, the forces of law, far from coming to the rescue of the individual facing the wrath of such activism, side with the goons and throw the victim into jail!

It is easy to pick on Narendra Modi, the Gujarat chief minister, for fostering such a climate of intolerance in his state, but the problem is a much larger one as becomes obvious when looking at other such instances in the recent past. Deepa Mehta was prevented from making a film which in the minds of similar activists wrongly depicted the cultural history of the country; it was eventually shot in Sri Lanka and has been widely appreciated wherever it has been shown. M F Husain has been targeted for supposed disrespect shown to deities in his works of art, and faces court action. The list can go on. In Chhattisgarh, the head of the state’s civil liberties unit has just been thrown into jail, allegedly for complicity with Naxalites, but the real reason may well be that the administration did not like his focus on how the civil rights of ordinary villagers were being trampled on in the state’s fight against Maoists. In Madhya Pradesh, a professor died some months ago after he was roughed up by students said to be activists of the Sangh Parivar, and the culprits may get away scot free. Films and books are banned virtually at the drop of a hat, and cultural vigilantes routinely move against youngsters who display affection on Valentine’s Day. In the same category is the attack on a newspaper office in Madurai because a local politician did not like an opinion poll’s findings; three people died in the attack but the local police have taken no action.

In short, the Vadodara episode is a part of a much broader trend. Today the people on the attack are often from the Sangh Parivar because they have been emboldened by state support and the supineness of those who stand and watch. But others are involved too, like DMK activists in Madurai. And there have been periods when those on the warpath have been Marxists and Muslim conservatives because they felt they had political power on their side. What is generally missing in all this is the liberal ethos, which an open democracy should be expected to foster and which is the ultimate guarantor of civil liberties. In the long run the only bulwark against such assaults is the spread of good sense all round so that those who may err find themselves without support. In the short run everybody who cares must stand up and protest. A galaxy of well-known creative people has joined protests in Mumbai and Vadodara against the recent developments. Some leading academics have requested the President to intervene. The dean must be immediately reinstated, the case against the student dropped, and the battle to protect the freedom of expression joined whenever the need arises. Too much has already been allowed to happen without the culprits paying any price.

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Thinking beyond criticism…..

By way of Neti Neti
Thinking beyond criticism…..

While I having resisted the temptation to interpret what is and what is not. A Few questions do arise from reading the posts over the period.

  • Religion and myths are intertwined in a constant cycle of reinterpretation in context of the present. So assuming myths and religion have been constant since antiquity is like assuming once belief in steady state theory being. No one stops you from believing in it, but evidence points the other way. Take instance of Brahma, the god of creation. His popularity as a god has seen lots of ups and downs since days of Rig-Veda. Buddha, on the other hand, around 8th century CE was assimilated into Hindu fold as Vishnu avatar which finally led to decline of Buddhism in India. Should one try to stop this cycle, suspending religion in social vacuum?
  • Artistic license is not a bastion of “artists” only. Also this freedom to reinterpret does exists within social sanctions. A bollywood song comes to my mind in this context, Rang barse bheege chunar wali, quite a beautiful song from Silsila. Nobody protests against this song considering, how blasphemes a line like ‘holi kheere Raghuveera’ is. For uninitiated Raghuveera is Ram who is ‘Maryada Porshuottam’, a strict follower of dharma and hence could not have indulged in frivolous things like playing holi which would require touching a woman other than his wife Sita. Who draws these lines on, what is social sanctioned and what is not?

And we blog for another day.

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Abandoned to the mob

Rekha Rodwittiya
The Indian Express

The Serbo-Croatian writer, Danilo Kis, said that art is the terrain where you are absolutely free and where you can explore all life’s beauties and life’s vices without being punished. This should be what we expect within a democratic society. However, in today’s India the freedom of expression is being systematically curtailed. Fundamentalist agencies have taken it upon themselves to become the moral custodians of cultural propriety.

The appalling invasion by BJP activists into the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Baroda during their internal examination evaluation of the art work of students, is unlawful and must be strongly condemned by all who value democracy. If we allow this atrocity to go un-protested we will be giving over our educational institutions to the dictates of conservative agendas and to those who desire to sabotage India’s pluralism.

I am an alumnus of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Baroda. It is at this art college that I was trained to experiment, challenge, dialogue, critique and learn through the diversity of attitudes explored. An art college must provide an environment that is unfettered by prejudice or bias. It is the educators and administrators of these educational institutions who must protect the neutrality and freedom of the students.

I would compare an educational institution to a family. It is the space where through nurturing by elders, one grows to become an informed and articulate individual. It is here where one should expect never to be betrayed nor abandoned. It is therefore outrageous that the authorities have chosen to side with the perpetrators of violence and oppression, instead of defending the unlawful arrest of Chandramohan Srilamantula, an MA student in the print making department.

What becomes farcical is the subsequent suspension of Dr Shivaji Panikkar, a renowned art historian who contributes immense value as a teacher in the Fine Arts Faculty. His contribution has impacted contemporary Indian art history. It is shameful that he has been treated so shabbily by the university authorities.

Be forewarned, when civil liberties are so blatantly trampled upon and the ranting of fundamentalists becomes the rule of law, then none of us are safe any more. Freedom is not a seven-letter word in a game of scrabble. It is a constitutional right that is and must be held sacred within a democratic nation and be upheld as the birthright of every citizen. We are fast heading towards a system where all the voices of dissent will be stifled. It is happening to someone else today. It may be your turn tomorrow.

The writer is an alumnus of MS University of Baroda

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Will they blow up Khajuraho?

Peter Ronald DeSouza
The Indian Express

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The essence of a free society is its ability to encourage dissent against all authority — political, academic, religious or cultural. On May 11, the television pictures from the University of Baroda showed us the face of tyranny. That Sangh Parivar goons who stormed and vandalised the exhibition of art work put up by a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the MS University at Baroda, could then speak with such confidence to television cameras is shocking. It tells us not just that they do not fear the wrath of the law, and that they believe censorship is acceptable in the service of a cause, but also that they are certain that their actions would meet with social approval. So did the Taliban.

There are five aspects of the episode that need our immediate attention. It should not be seen as an isolated incident, posing no challenge to our robust culture of freedom, but should instead be regarded as yet another example, together with the threats against M.F. Husain and Shilpa Shetty, of a growing fanaticism. The vandals seem emboldened by our collective inertia. As all vandals always are.

The first aspect, therefore, that should merit our attention is to recognise that the vandalism took place not just in the university but in the classroom or art studio. This is disturbing because a university is a sacred place where, according to convention, even the police do not enter unless permitted by the vice chancellor. In a university it is the classroom, or the art studio in this case, which is the sanctum sanctorum. Here even another teacher does not enter when a class is in progress, because it is the place where a teacher and her student together explore the universe of knowledge. This relationship of teacher and student is inviolable. Interference in the classroom, by another who has no legal basis to be there, is a violation of the freedom of the teacher and the student. If this is violated with impunity then that society is truly damned. Imagine interfering with Dronacharya.

The second aspect of concern is the arrest of the student. His only crime was to create works of art that were objectionable to the vandals. Where in the Constitution is creating a work of art, which is to be judged by teachers in the fine arts faculty of a university, a crime? Where in the Constitution is it acceptable to keep an artist in jail for four days just because he has submitted his work for evaluation by his teachers? Are not the real violaters of the Constitution, the vandals and the police?

The third aspect is the suspension by the university of the acting dean of the faculty for permitting, against the vice-chancellor’s instructions, a protest exhibition by students mounted in response to the arrest — an exhibition of art erotica in the Indian tradition. If peaceful protest is proscribed in a university, and an exhibition of Indian art erotica banned, then are we not moving towards a society where Khajuraho and Konark may be blown up by mortars because they are considered objectionable, where the Kama Sutra will be banned because it is too explicit? The dean was right in ignoring the VC’s order. The VC was wrong to give such an order. He has no place in a university. In fact by his order he has earned a place among the vandals.

The fourth aspect is the role of the pro-VC, who along with the university engineer, personally removed the art exhibits and sealed the department. This is deplorable. It is indeed a sad day when a pro-VC, entrusted with the duty of protecting the university and nurturing the next generation of artists, acts as a member of the vandal brigade. How far have we fallen? The enemy of freedom now seems to be within us.

The fifth aspect concerns the actions of the police. This is the most alarming aspect. While one rotten university administration can be isolated and contained by a healthy society, and one faulty order reversed by a vigilant academic community, how does one deal with the lawless guardians of the law? Only the other custodians of the Constitution can stop the grim slide into what the former attorney general termed the talibanisation of the Indian mind.

The governor, as visitor of the university, must, in the strongest possible terms, reprimand and censure the vice chancellor and pro-vice chancellor. The governor must summon the director general of police and seek from him an explanation for the police action. The Supreme Court must do what it did in the case of the non-implementation of the ICDS scheme, and summon suo moto all the directors general of police, of all the states, and instruct them to curb such vandalism that is growing across the country. It is from the new frontiers which the artist scales that new ideas come. The artist must be protected. The artist must be honoured. We must do it for our own sake.

The writer is senior fellow, CSDS, Delhi

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Art attack: UGC asks MSU to clarify

By IANS

New Delhi, May 15 – The controversy over an arts student’s work that led to his arrest last week widened Tuesday as the University Grants Commission – asked the vice chancellor of Maharaja Sayajirao University – to explain why he has suspended the Fine Arts Faculty dean.

UGC chief S.K. Thorat sent a letter to MSU vice chancellor Manoj Soni seeking clarifications on the suspension of Shivaji Panikkar

The move came after Thorat met Human Resource Development minister Arjun Singh who had expressed concern over the development.

‘A letter has been sent to Soni asking him to clarify,’ the UGC chief told reporters.

Chandramohan, a final year arts student, was released on bail Monday, five days after he was arrested for alleged obscene portrayal of religious figures. His works, prepared as part of his studies and not meant for public exhibition, depicted several Hindu gods and goddesses as well as Jesus Christ in allegedly obscene postures.

Activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad -, the student wing of Gujarat’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party -, had last week barged into the MSU fine arts department – one of the well-known centres of India’s modern art – and vandalised the exhibits there.

While some Christian groups also protested the student’s works, his fellow students and faculty as well as several prominent artists who studied here came out in his support. MSU authorities later suspended Fine Arts Faculty dean Panikkar after he stood up in support of the student.

Concerned over the developments, a section of the MSU students urged the UGC to reinstate Panikkar, who was suspended after he opposed the ‘moral policing’.

‘We have received a letter Monday from the students about the developments,’ said Thorat.

‘This should not have happened at all,’ he said, adding that the issue could have been handled better.

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Clashes over art expo in Vadodara

The Hindu

Vadodara: Some clashes were reported here on Monday between supporters of the controversial art exhibition at Maharaja Sayajirao University here and right-wing activists, even as the student, Chandramohan, whose paintings drew flak from the Sangh Parivar, was released on bail.

Around 200 people, including human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi and filmmaker Madhushri Dutta and activists from Mumbai, took part in the protests outside the university. Ten persons were detained as the protesters blocked traffic.

Chandramohan, a student of the Fine Arts Faculty, who was arrested in the face of the Sangh Parivar protests for his negative portrayal of Hindu deities at the exhibition, was released from custody after he furnished a bond for Rs. 5,000. He spent five days in prison.

Joined by eminent people from the fine arts field in Vadodara, supporters of Chandramohan held placards that decried the role and interference of right-wing activists in the matter. — PTI

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