Sunday 20 May 2007

From Rabindra Bharati University

Dear Friends,
What has occured in Baroda is indeed deplorable and I wholeheartedly support every effort being made to register protest against the incident.

However, while the Baroda incident has reached unprecedented proportions, incidents of curbing artistic freedom and expression in academic institutions elsewhere in India are not unknown. I, personally, as a teaching member of the Faculty of Visual Arts, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata have been witness to a similar occurence.
Roughly a couple of years ago, a young sculptor, Debanjan Ray was executing a project on a Lalit Kala grant at our Faculty under the then Dean, Prof. Partha Pratim Deb. As a part of his project, he was taking plaster moulds of live nude models, some of whom happened to be students of the faculty, in the faculty premises with the knowledge and permission of some members of the faculty. At the Dean's behest and Debanjan's request, my artist-colleague, Chhatrapati Dutta was requested to make a video recording of the project in-process.

In due course, a parent of one of Debanjan's student-model's made a complaint to the university authorities saying that his son had been unwittingly coerced into modeling nude for Debanjan's project and that a video was also made of the process, and that, according to him, the whole was immoral, obscene and impermissible. The parent, incidentally, also happens to be Principal of the Indian Art College, Kolkata that is affiliated to our university.

Consequently, the university instituted an enquiry commission, reports were published, Debanjan withdrew his project from the Faculty and completed it elsewhere, the Dean finished his term and refused a second extension, a second enquiry was instituted and concluded against Chhatrapati, and consequently he too has resigned. The results of the second enquiry commission have not been made known, nor has the university responded in any way to Chhatrapati's resignation, even though it has been months now. All there is is an eerie silence.

To our shame, I have to add here that, in fear of persecution, we as a faculty have failed to protest against the manner in which our colleagues, artists, and art practice have been victimised by the authorities. We have been completely silent despite being subjected to unacceptable moral policing, driven by both personal and political agenda. Questions have been raised about whether or not such practice is within the prescribed curriculum, whether or not the Dean is the final authority on granting permission in such matters, what is immoral/obscene in art practice, etc - all of it has gone unaddressed and remained enmeshed in bureaucratic red tape.

M.F. Husain, Chandramohan, Chhatrapati, and I'm sure countless others are victims of a frightening wave of bigotry and moral policing that is threatening to engulf art education and thereby, art practice in India - it cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. As an artist and, even more so as an academic, I raise my voice in protest against it.

Dr. Paula Sengupta
Sr. Lecturer
Dept. of Graphics (Printmaking)
Faculty of Visual Arts
Rabindra Bharati University
Kolkata