Wednesday 16 May 2007

From Hyderabad

Statement

Condemning the arrest of Chandramohan, art student, on 9th May 2007 and the suspension of Shivaji Panikkar, Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts on 10th May 2007 at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda.

Issued by Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies
And Vidyasagar’s Art Centre, Hyderabad

Released at a protest meeting supported by Shrishti Art Gallery, Hyderabad
On Sunday, 13th May 2007

Background:

On 9th of May, the final year display assessment of artwork by students of the fine arts faculty of MS University Baroda was interrupted. Niraj Jain, a VHP activist, stormed into the faculty building accompanied by the media and followed by the police. One young student Chandramohan was manhandled because his pictures allegedly offended religious sensibilities, and was whisked away by the police without an FIR or a warrant. No permission was taken from the in-charge Dean, Dr. Shivaji Panikkar or the Vice-Chancellor of the University. Even though the Dean informed the Vice-Chancellor and other authorities of the events taking place on campus, no help or sympathy was forthcoming.
As Niraj Jain and his associates roamed freely across the campus threatening staff and students alike, the police ACP, T. R. Parmar ordered that the offending five works be taken down and sealed
Chandramohan was produced at court at about 10:30 a.m. on the 10th May, along with a representative of the student body posting bail, and a PUCL lawyer. A large contingent of VHP-related or associated activists were also present, who jostled and intimidated him. They effectively stalled the proceedings. The judge asked him to be removed to the Baroda Central Jail, where he has been lodged ever since. His bail plea will be heard on Monday, 14th May.
Students and staff submitted a memorandum to the Vice-Chancellor asking, a) that the University must file an FIR against Niraj Jain for disrupting the exams; b) that all legal help must be extended to the student in custody. Instead of responding to these demands the Vice-Chancellor wanted an unconditional apology from the staff and the students of the Faculty of Fine Arts to the public, for offending their sentiments.
It was decided by the students that an exhibition dealing with the long history of Erotica in both Indian and Western art would be put up in order to educate the press and the public. Many came and visited the exhibition. At around 4:00 p.m the Deputy Registrar issued a verbal request that the exhibition be closed down, which the Dean refused to accede to, as it was a peaceful protest by the students drawing material from the academic curriculum. A written order followed and was received by the Dean and Faculty members, but the exhibition continued. The Pro Vice Chancellor then arrived at the venue, accompanied by some members of the Syndicate of the University. They requested Dr Panikkar to close down the exhibition and then ordered him to do so. When the Dean would not comply they had the exhibition locked.
The argument put forward by the Dean was that the students had invoked the help of the University authorities a number of times. So far as no help had been extended to them. How could he, as the Dean, be sure that the authorities’ actions were for the good of the University? The Dean reiterated that he would stand by the students and staff. The authorities sealed the exhibition and the Regional Documentation Center.
A suspension order was pasted on the Dean’s Residence door at 10:00 p.m. No reason has been given for his suspension. As per the local media, the Dean of Management Faculty, professor Maheshwari, has been given charge of the Fine Arts Faculty. Teachers have gone on mass casual leave in protest of the University’s decision.
This sequence of events shows clearly the highhanded conduct of the authorities, the police and the state machinery. Protesting against this is important in the context of the recent attacks on film, art and literary works. Our stand is not that art should be removed from the sphere of politics. We only contend that terror should not be deployed in lieu of politics. For several reasons:

What are the issues at stake here?
1. The space of the university: The University is a space that is designed to help students grow and mature in their thought and conduct through debate, criticism and discussion. Thus, the institution is expected to provide guardianship and custodial responsibility to the student in most positive ways imaginable. The failure of the university administration to provide this environment of critical support is a serious collapse of an educational institution’s primary objective. More, the manner in which the student has been abandoned by the administration demonstrates a deplorable failure to perform its duty.
2. The university’s responsibility: The current administration of MS University, Baroda has failed to maintain the customary high standards of the institution, which has had a history of being a prime mover in the development of modern Indian art since the freedom movement. The Vice Chancellor of the university represents the ideals of the institution. Previous Vice Chancellors such as Hansa Mehta and Bhikhu Parekh have been legendary for their vision, liberal thinking and progressive stances towards art. The current regime represents an abysmal decline from these past standards. The in-charge Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty, Dr. Shivaji Panikkar represents a diminishing trend of administrative integrity and commitment to education in India.
3. Legal questions: The entry of the VHP operatives, the arbitrariness of the police actions and the conduct of the administration raise serious legal problems. What gives a group of outsiders the right to enter the university premises without the permission of the administration? How can a party functionary act as the moral police deciding to terminate an exhibition? Under what authority does the police enter an educational premises unbidden, and how can they whisk a student away without an arrest warrant? How was the display of artwork that had been exhibited for assessment equated to a public exhibition?
4. Excesses of state machinery: The behavior of the state machinery in this case is puzzling in its excess. Why is a boy, who has probably barely crossed 20 years of age, and is in any case a student--by definition not yet a fully developed intellect—first manhandled, then unceremoniously whisked away by the police and then detained in state custody for not less than five days? Is there some measure or wisdom in the state’s eagerness to punish this child? The dismaying conclusion here is that the student is nothing more than an excuse for other agendas.
5. The student and his potential: It is important to look at the student in his special nature. Chandramohan, a fine arts student, is the son of a carpenter. It is truly remarkable that the Baroda fine arts faculty is able to teach and nurture students who come from such underprivileged backgrounds in an elite academic and cultural tradition of fine art. Chandramohan represents the best potential for democratic functioning of our institutions of education – he holds out the hope for a more egalitarian future of our caste-ridden society. The state machinery and the university administration have in one fell swoop forced him to submit to an incarceration that will mark his memory for life. To what purpose is such terror inflicted on such tender life?
6. Terror or politics? It is not our contention that art should be insulated from political pressures. Art has always questioned and been confronted by political pressures over several centuries. We welcome political argument, debate, criticism and yes, even uncompromising denunciation. Our protest is that politics cannot be replaced by terror. Terror annuls the difficult gains democratic politics makes painfully over decades. Terror moves us on to the easy downhill track of modern authoritarian despotism.

Demands:
1. We demand the immediate release and unconditional withdrawal of cases against Chandramohan.
2. We demand that the suspension order against the Dean be revoked immediately.

Signed/-
A. Suneetha
Coordinator,

Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies
And
Rasna Bhushan,
curator,

Vidyasagar’s Art Centre

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