Saturday, May 26, 2007

INDIA'S SHAME : Indian Express : Will they blow up Khajuraho?

Peter Ronald DeSouza

Posted online: Tuesday, May 15, 2007 at 0000 hrs

A society that fails to protect its freedoms will be denuded of its life force. The vandalism at MS University in Baroda is yet another portent
The essence of a free society is its ability to encourage dissent against all authority — political, academic, religious or cultural. On May 11, the television pictures from the University of Baroda showed us the face of tyranny. That Sangh Parivar goons who stormed and vandalised the exhibition of art work put up by a student at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the MS University at Baroda, could then speak with such confidence to television cameras is shocking. It tells us not just that they do not fear the wrath of the law, and that they believe censorship is acceptable in the service of a cause, but also that they are certain that their actions would meet with social approval. So did the Taliban.

There are five aspects of the episode that need our immediate attention. It should not be seen as an isolated incident, posing no challenge to our robust culture of freedom, but should instead be regarded as yet another example, together with the threats against M.F. Husain and Shilpa Shetty, of a growing fanaticism. The vandals seem emboldened by our collective inertia. As all vandals always are.

The first aspect, therefore, that should merit our attention is to recognise that the vandalism took place not just in the university but in the classroom or art studio. This is disturbing because a university is a sacred place where, according to convention, even the police do not enter unless permitted by the vice chancellor. In a university it is the classroom, or the art studio in this case, which is the sanctum sanctorum. Here even another teacher does not enter when a class is in progress, because it is the place where a teacher and her student together explore the universe of knowledge. This relationship of teacher and student is inviolable. Interference in the classroom, by another who has no legal basis to be there, is a violation of the freedom of the teacher and the student. If this is violated with impunity then that society is truly damned. Imagine interfering with Dronacharya.

The second aspect of concern is the arrest of the student. His only crime was to create works of art that were objectionable to the vandals. Where in the Constitution is creating a work of art, which is to be judged by teachers in the fine arts faculty of a university, a crime? Where in the Constitution is it acceptable to keep an artist in jail for four days just because he has submitted his work for evaluation by his teachers? Are not the real violaters of the Constitution, the vandals and the police?

The third aspect is the suspension by the university of the acting dean of the faculty for permitting, against the vice-chancellor’s instructions, a protest exhibition by students mounted in response to the arrest — an exhibition of art erotica in the Indian tradition. If peaceful protest is proscribed in a university, and an exhibition of Indian art erotica banned, then are we not moving towards a society where Khajuraho and Konark may be blown up by mortars because they are considered objectionable, where the Kama Sutra will be banned because it is too explicit? The dean was right in ignoring the VC’s order. The VC was wrong to give such an order. He has no place in a university. In fact by his order he has earned a place among the vandals.

The fourth aspect is the role of the pro-VC, who along with the university engineer, personally removed the art exhibits and sealed the department. This is deplorable. It is indeed a sad day when a pro-VC, entrusted with the duty of protecting the university and nurturing the next generation of artists, acts as a member of the vandal brigade. How far have we fallen? The enemy of freedom now seems to be within us.

The fifth aspect concerns the actions of the police. This is the most alarming aspect. While one rotten university administration can be isolated and contained by a healthy society, and one faulty order reversed by a vigilant academic community, how does one deal with the lawless guardians of the law? Only the other custodians of the Constitution can stop the grim slide into what the former attorney general termed the talibanisation of the Indian mind.

The governor, as visitor of the university, must, in the strongest possible terms, reprimand and censure the vice chancellor and pro-vice chancellor. The governor must summon the director general of police and seek from him an explanation for the police action. The Supreme Court must do what it did in the case of the non-implementation of the ICDS scheme, and summon suo moto all the directors general of police, of all the states, and instruct them to curb such vandalism that is growing across the country. It is from the new frontiers which the artist scales that new ideas come. The artist must be protected. The artist must be honoured. We must do it for our own sake.

The writer is senior fellow, CSDS, Delhi

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