Tuesday, 15 May, 2007

Artists cheer Chandramohan’s release from Vadodara jail

Prominent personalities from various walks of life had voiced their protest against ‘suppression of free thought’

Express News Service

Mumbai, May 14: IT was a protest that turned into a celebration, when news of young artist Chandramohan Srilamantula’s release from a jail in Vadodara reverberated across Mumbai’s cultural circuit. The citizens who had gathered outside Jehangir Art Gallery on Tuesday marked the occasion with applause and cheer.

However, though the mood was jubilant, those gathered outside the gallery, along with the Free Chandramohan Committee, made it a point to emphasise that the struggle for freedom of expression was not quite over.
“Our task is not over. We still have to protect the rights of academic institutes to nurture free expression and thought and secure Dean Shivji Panikkar’s reassignment to his post,” said art-critic Ranjit Haskote.

Earlier, on May 9, members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, led by local BJP leader Niraj Jain, stormed into the campus of Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University in Vadodara and abused and attacked Srilamantula claiming that they found his work obscene and offensive to religious sentiments.

The whole incident evoked strong reactions everywhere. In Mumbai, two hundred people including prominent personalities from various walks of life like artist Tyeb Mehta, Jehangir Sabavala, gallery owner and art champion Kekoo Gandhy, art-critic Ranjit Hoskote, filmmaker Chitra Palekar, danseuse Jhelum Paranjepae, actresses Konkona Sen and Ayesha Dharkar, playwright Pratap Singh and several others gathered at the Jehangir Art Gallery with banners that read ‘Down with Moral Policing’ and ‘Defend our Cultural Freedom’.

“Incidents like these are not isolated and concern all of us since it's something to do with violation of our civil liberties,” said art-critic Hoskote. Dharkar pointed out that it was disappointing that Pro Vice Chancellor of the Maharaja Sayajirao University rusticated the Dean.

Painter MF Hussain too sent his message via fax from London. He sent a painting that depicted the fall of democracy and the oppression of free thought. Theatre person Nadira Babbar said, “MF Hussain has not been able to see the play Pencil Se Brush Tak which we dedicated to him because he is unable to return home. We should be ashamed at the way we have given in to fundamentalist forces. It is time to raise our voices,” she said.

Paranjepae added: “Even Indian classical dance derives its mudras from Indian’s erotic sculptures. Are we going to ban that next?”

1 comment:

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