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Fundamentalists target artists

India: Baroda’s fine art school under seige

A press release by Gujarat’s humans rights and women’s rights groups

Monday 14 May 2007


Date: 12 May 2007


The Fine Arts Faculty of M.S. University, Vadodara is one of the best institutions of its kind in the country. It has maintained high academic standards and has rightly earned an impressive reputation both nationally and internationally. Apart from the Baroda School of Art which originated in this Faculty, it has also nurtured some of India‚s most acclaimed artists.

Today, the Faculty is under siege by obscurantist forces that claim to work in the name of religion. Since 9 May 2007, the students and teachers of the Fine Arts Faculty, Vadodara have been the target of the wrath of religious fundamentalists.

We, the undersigned, condemn the recent attempts by religious fundamentalist forces to gag the freedom of expression and the blatant violation of democratic rights at this prestigious Faculty. We further condemn the connivance of the University authorities with these forces. It is clear that the authorities have acted at the behest of these political forces, rather than in the interests of the students and teachers of the Faculty.

As has been reported in the media, BJP leader Neeraj Jain and his group illegally entered the campus on 9th May 2007 and vitiated the atmosphere in the Faculty, where students had put up their works on display, as part of their examination procedure. These works were to be assessed by external examiners.

However, that was not to be. Neeraj Jain and his accomplices barged into the campus on the pretext that some graphic prints and paintings by a student, Chandra Mohan, were offensive to their religious sentiments. So saying they mouthed abuse and threatened the students and teachers with dire consequences.

At their behest, the police entered the campus illegally, without seeking permission from the Dean or from other University officials, as is the rule. Chandra Mohan, the student-artist was arrested without a warrant or due procedure. This is in flagrant disregard of the Mr. D. K. Basu guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, which stipulate that the arrestee has to be informed about both the complainant and the nature of the complaint.

Subsequently, the University authorities have displayed complete complicity with the perpetrators of this unfortunate event. Far from initiating any action against them, as demanded by the students and the teachers or making any efforts to secure the release of the student, the University authorities turned on them. It is unconscionable that the University authorities asked the acting Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty, Dr. Shivji Panikkar, to issue a statement that was tantamount to an apology for displaying such works. It is deplorable that subsequently, the authorities ordered him to shut down an exhibition organized by the students where they displayed erotic art in traditional and Indian Art. It is shocking that upon Dr. Panikkar‚s refusal to do so, Senate members and the pro Vice Chancellor were directly involved in sealing the archives and confiscating the objects on display.

We condemn the suspension orders against the Acting Dean, Dr. Shivji Panikkar. It clearly compromises the autonomy of the University and the authorities seem to be handing over the reins of the University to outside elements whose main aim is to create fear and terror in the minds of the students and teachers of the entire University.

We strongly uphold the right of every citizen to express his or her opinions on any matter. However, this cannot take the form of coercion, intimidation, and interference in the functioning of an autonomous and democratic institution like the Fine Arts Faculty.

We strongly condemn the actions of Neeraj Jain and his associates, as well as the police. We express shock and dismay at the role played by the University authorities, which is equal to abdication of their primary responsibilities that is defending the students and teachers and the integrity of each Faculty within the University.

We demand:

1. Unconditional and immediate release of the student Chandra Mohan
2. A complaint be registered against Neeraj Jain by the University authorities
3. Immediate withdrawal of the suspension orders against Dr. Shivji Panikkar

Dr. J. S. Bandukwala, Bina Srinivasan, Maya Valecha, Chinu Srinivasan, Tapan Dasgupta, Ashok Gupta, Renu Khanna, Rohit Prajapati (PUCL, Vadodara)

Nimisha Desai (Olakh - feminist group)

Maya Sharma (Vikalp - women‚s group)

Trupti Shah, Deepali Ghalani (Sahiyar, Stree Sangathan)