To home page

Annual Display in Baroda »


Annual Display in Shantiniketan »



Baroda Protest

Neeraj Jain with the 'objectionable work'
Click on the image to zoom

Holy Cross and the Story of a Urinal

Perhaps the title of this report does not match with what is written here. However, once you finish reading this report by Abhijeet Tamhane, you would brush up your art history to know why it has a title like this. Abhijeet reports from ground zero, Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda.

None of us, some 250 people inside the Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA) campus, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, was there on some invitation. We perfectly knew we were here inside the examination halls and any concerned authority had not solicited a public presence here.

Nor was the 'moral battalion' that consisted of a handful local Vishwa Hindu Parishad / Bharatiya Janta Party activists as well as some 'Gujarat Police', were expected here.

Yet, the Moral Battalion was different from the rest of us.  We saw the display of works by students of Final year as part of their examination, and we were here as well-wishers. The moral battalion, however, was surely here to obstruct the examination display, and to subjugate the Faculty of Fine Arts under the ‘Modi-fied’ politics that justified a pogrom.

The trouble was first evident at about 3.35 pm on Wednasday, May 9th, 2007; when one Neeraj Jain, a lawyer by profession whose white car boasted that he was an 'advocate' and whose white clothes amplified it, entered the campus. A havildar from the Baroda City Police accompanied this man with a 'Kesariya Tikka' on his forehead (enough to declare him a proud Hindu). Neeraj Jain went straight to the Printmaking Department of the FFA, where a 23-year old MVA (Masters of Visual Arts) student, Chandramohan had chosen to display his examination work. While objecting to one of Chandramohan's works, Neeraj Jain had a short-but- heated exchange of words with the art-student. Neeraj Jain then slapped Chandramohan and made him leave the display hall. Neeraj and his accomplices took Chandramohan downstairs, then out of the Printmaking Department Building and ultimately out of the Faculty Campus.

A group of people with still and video cameras, mike-booms with logos of local TV Channels and a Hindi channel 'Aaj Tak', were standing in front of Neeraj Jain by 3.45 p.m. and before they asked him any questions, Neeraj Jain was happily informing them of the 'very peaceful operation' that he did to save public life. The brief that these reporters got from Neeraj Jain was, ' A student has willfully molested a cross… this act of disrupting public life should not go unpunished'.

As the TV 'byte' was over, Neeraj Jain chose to go to his men and say, ' now arrest the Dean… who has given a permission to hang these obscene works? Do they teach this here?' He also complemented his men by saying : this is perhaps the very first time that we have not actually broken anything, nor have caused any loss of property… we have this as our plus-point. So, we continue to say we will not break or vandalise anything, but will go ahead with our fight against this obscene exhibition.

The oratorial skills that Neeraj Jain showed at the campus were quintessentially marked by his being 'in-charge of the situation', and eventually, of the campus that belonged to a State-run academic institution. By the same time, an unnamed terror (it is very hard to name this kind of terror in Gujarat, or you end up with a constitutional functionary's name!) had its spell over the campus, and as a measure of safety, all the halls (that contained the works of art for the examination display) were closed and locked. Confusion prevailed, and the situation, at least, had to be understood first! Every well-wisher of the FFA present at the campus then, waited eagerly for some collective decision.

By this time, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) T. R. Parmar also appeared on the scene. Neeraj, who ruled the roost, talked to Parmar as if he were instructing something. The demands of arresting the Acting Dean Dr.Shivji Panikkar (in the absence of the Dean, Deepak Kannal) and confiscating the work objected to, were made by Neeraj Jain again, and the ACP seemed to be trying to comply. Physically, it was impossible to move the huge cross-shaped work, but the Police, under the able guidance of the ACP, were ready with an empty van.

The reporters and cameramen 'needed some visuals' for the story. Some of them had photographed Neeraj Jain manhandling Chandramohan, but they seemed to know these images would only ire the powers-that-be in Gujarat. They wanted to photograph the 'objectionable work'. For this, Neeraj Jain was helpful to the media! He decided to take a press-tour of sorts, inside the department. This BJP man made his intentions clear to the ACP. The latter hesitatingly said yes, and said to the media, “you will go there only for two minutes… not more than that”. Interestingly, this was the ONLY sentence that this in-charge of Police Stations under this zone of Baroda spoke directly to the media persons.

The press-party, led by (who else other than) Neeraj Jain, went inside. Once in, Neeraj also objected to some other works by Chandramohan, and yet other works by 'some other student' displayed at a different hall in the same building. The tour lasted for five minutes, and the ACP, who accompanied Neeraj Jain, did not object. After coming out, Neeraj Jain offered to entertain the media… 'Come for a cup of tea' he said, and barring some three or four mediapersons who rejected the offer politely, Neeraj Jain left the campus with the reporters and cameramen.

The din in the campus seemed to be over, but everybody knew this is not a single incident… the 'encounter- murder' of artistic expression has just happened, only to mark a beginning of an 'operation' that would repress the advocates of cultural freedom. The repressive forces would be happy only when they see an all-pervading success and subjugation of their perceived enemy.

The peace-loving artists, art students and some teachers at the faculty had a meeting which took stock of the situation. The meeting made known to everybody that Chandramohan's arrest was against the legal procedures. The police did not even have a proper warrant, nor did they contact any authority of the Faculty. This meeting was not enough, everybody knew, and the students and well-wishers wanted Chandramohan's detention to end. Somebody suggested that one can go in front of the concerned police station, and this suggestion was upheld by many. A draft of a complaint against Neeraj Jain's attempts to disrupt the campus was read out to everybody who signed it.

Apparently, this draft complaint was almost neglected by the police. They refused to register it as a First Information Report (FIR) of an unlawful act, but kept it only as an 'application', with a condition that it is written in Gujarati, the State language.

The voluntary gathering of students in front of the Police Station also had a support from some civil rights activists. They tried to mediate, but had little success. Venkat, a friend of Chandramohan whose name did not even appear in the so-called FIR filed by Neeraj Jain, was 'freed' by the police, while everybody in the gathering did not understand, why in the first place did the police detain Venkat! Then, it was known that Venkat was a person who had helped Chandramohan with some technical specificities of the so-called 'objectionable' work of art.

“Chandramohan has to be given a bail. We have to follow the legal procedures. So boys and girls, please do not wait here. You can expect your friend (Chandramohan) to be freed when we take him to court tomorrow (on Thursday), and anyways, we are not troubling him… nobody has beaten Chandramohan”… these stunning words came from the Assistant Commissioner of Police, T. R. Parmar. Everybody chose to believe him… for more than one hour before this, some 200 students were sitting in front of the police station. They returned their dwellings, not knowing that Chandramohan's detention would last longer and longer.



Home About us Contact