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Baroda Protest

Living in an Usurped Domain

Kolkata, the abode of intellectuals and artists found one of the strongest protest meetings on 14th May. Oindrilla Maity captures the spirit of the Kolkatan Artists’ protest against the Baroda incident.  

Cultural activists of West Bengal are appalled and outraged. Despite an afternoon torrential downpour, the art-world in West Bengal launched a protest meeting against moral policing on art at the MS University, Baroda, which disrupted the ongoing examination and evaluation of students’ works. At 4 pm in the evening, artists, critics, art historians and students gathered at the Academy of Fine Arts on 14th May, voicing against the assault on a secular stream such as art is.

The protesters carried in their hands placards that read captions such as: ‘Stop assaults on Art’; ‘Art is secular, refrain from saffronising Art’, and many more. The protest in the city is held simultaneously with meetings of the same kind in Delhi, Mumbai, and Baroda as well as in Shantiniketan in West Bengal, where the artist teachers and students from Kala Bhavana – the Visual Arts Faculty – took part in the protest meet. In Kolkata, eminent artists Jogen Chowdhury, Suvaprasanna Bhattacharya, Samir Aich, Abhijit Gupta, Chhatrapati Dutta and members of Khoj Kolkata took the lead.

Art Historian Tapati Guha Thakurta , who addressed the meetng here today, spoke on the necessity of providing art education to the lay public and added that ‘…the nude is an integral part of our culture.’ In this context she mentioned Hussain’s renditions of the Hindu icons in their nude forms. True, vandalisms of such kind in the form of assaults on art are a new national morality that has dawned in India of late. Art critic and scholar Pranab Ranjan Ray while speaking in the meeting said that it was ‘against public morality.’

Art critic Kishore Chatterjee stated that ‘the practice of art iss private’ and hence, an assault on it by politically appointed brigands who are claimers of religious purity is terrible and we should vehemently be protesting it. A petition addressed to the Prime Minister of India, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the Ministry of Culture singed by all those who were present at the meeting will be sent tomorrow.

The opening paragraph of the petition reads: ‘We, the cultural activists of West Bengal are shocked and feel horrified at yet another round of brutal suppression of constitutionally guaranteed right to (self-) expression and democratic practice of autonomy and of academic institutions by religious bigots trying to dictate the terms of public morality with unabashed state support.’ Such vandalism ‘in the name of religious sanctity’ reminds one of the ‘Taliban mould’. Interventions of such kind curtail our freedom of thought and free expressions. The petition therefore appeals to punishing the vandals and withdrawal of a forged case against the ‘offending’ student and his release and the withdrawal of the suppression order against the Dean, Prof. Shivaji Panikkar and ask the V.C. to apologize for acting as ‘a slave of the forces of darkness’. Two letters to the Editor of The Telegraph (May 15) written by Prof. Gulammohammed Sheikh from Baroda , and a second one written by Partha Chatterjee , Sukanto Chaudhuri and 47 others from the Centre for Studies  in Social Sciences , Calcutta, Jadavpur University and the IIM, state such heckling of students and teachers as amounting to ‘a gross violation of the academic life and autonomy of a university and is to be strongly condemned’.


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