Wednesday, 16 May, 2007

Faked Cultural Encounters in Gujarat - Dilip Chitre

Faked Cultural Encounters in Gujarat

Dilip Chitre

We have heard of faked police encounters with alleged terrorists in Gujarat and elsewhere. Power vested in the police is abused in such cases and they act in contempt of the Constitution of India and sometimes violate even the (outdated) criminal procedure code and the (outmoded) Indian Penal Code designed by the British to deal with a subject people and not with citizens of a free country.

The case of art student Chandramohan of the M.S.University of Baroda falls in the category of faked cultural encounters of the sort ‘popularized’ by organizations such as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad who, in their zeal to for a Semitized Hindutva fundamentalizing and hegemonizing Indian culture and society, now invade university campuses, art galleries, film clubs, libraries, research centres and so on seemingly without impunity. Gujarat is supposedly Hindutva’s premier social and cultural laboratory setting a blazing example for the rest of India.

The Gujarat formula for faked cultural encounters is simple and would appeal to the latent reserves of power among culturally illiterate masses. Politicized student organizations (such as the ABVP) will provide them the lead in violent demonstrations of protest on the basis of ‘hurt sentiments’, an ailment that threatens to assume epidemic proportions because the virus for it seems to have been successfully developed in Hindutva’s laboratory.

It is a virus that selectively attacks all but fundamentalist Hindus. It was reportedly developed to eliminate ‘the three ‘M’s from Gujarat: the Muslims, the Mahatma, and the Macauleyans (meaning those educated since Macaulay introduced his Minute on Indian Education in 1835 according to modern Western ideas). Humanism, liberalism, rationalism, secularism, artistic expression, dissenting opinion, scientific research are some of the soft targets of this virus.

The Fine Arts Faculty of the M.S. University is only a symbolic target. But so was Babri Masjid. We are not discussing art or religion here. We are considering the right to pursue alternatives according to our own faith and beliefs. We are also expressing concern over coercion, suppression, and threats to public order and peace who threaten riots because their ‘sentiments are hurt’. We will soon become a republic governed by majority sentiment rather than legislative rationality and judicial wisdom, political far-sightedness and the guarantee of cultural freedom and plurality.

Will the Gujarat ‘laboratory’ succeed once again? For the sake of the Constitution of India and the future of the republic founded on it, one hopes the entire nation will condemn the perpetrators of such barbaric and fanatical interventions in the evolution of democracy in India and its autonomous institutions.

Let us turn to history to understand the gravity of the threat the ultra rightist fronts pose to our Constitution itself. On May 10, 1933 student groups in universities across Germany carried out book burnings to destroy works they considered ‘un-German’ in spirit. Six years later, Adolph Hitler invaded Poland and launched what became the Second World War.

What has commenced in Gujarat may spread to the rest of India if not checked in time. In the Chandramohan case, while the national media have reported the wide sympathy and support to the Fine Arts Faculty of the M.S.University, the victimised student and the Dean of the faculty, the Gujarati press has been either silent or has given only one-sided coverage of the entire sordid affair.

This silence is ominous. It is like Germany’s silence during the holocaust. Or, to take a historically and geographically closer example, it is like the silence of Afghanistan during the Taliban regime.

In this, the sixtieth year of our independence, is intolerance all that we have learnt to tolerate? Do we want to lock up our artists and writers for not conforming to the ideology of fanatics? Do we want hoodlums to enter our universities and dictate terms to the faculty and the students? Do we want public libraries and museums to be the next targets of organized vigilantes and vandals?


1 comment:

Charles Stroh said...

Colleagues in India,
In many ways incidents such as the recent brouhaha in Vadodara are positive, cleansing, and reassuring. While we are all appalled at the self-righteousness and arrogance of the intruders, we should, at the same time, recognize that they have done us a favor.

It reminds us that art can still disturb. It reminds us that we artists shouldn't be just gilding a lily and seeking a way to make a living. It reminds us that freedoms do not come without some struggle and that vigilence is the price we must pay to be free.

Now, this is not the pot calling the kettle black. We have our own problems here in the USA and I am not suggesting in any way that the events at MS University occurred because people were not vigilant.

But, while everything may seem dark and ominous right now, we might do well to remember that without this occasional repressive behavior, we might easily become complacent and too comfortable. These zealots and goondas do us a favor, actually. And, behind this dark cloud, there is sunshine and light.

These right wing religious/cultural bigots are everywhere. The specific political parties and individual politicians who stand to benefit from this repressive exercise are not unique to India. They go by different names in different places, but they are always individuals doing something "for a higher cause" or to "protect community standards" or "in response to people who have been hurt or offended" in some way. They are patriots who seek to keep the "diseased elements of culture from infecting the whole". "We must protect the children". And ... on and on ..... on and on.

Hang in there my artist friends. You have shown yourself to be a vocal and articulate community. I can only send my congratulations and positive thoughts to each of you.

Charles Stroh, Professor Emeritus,
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, Michigan USA