A student from one of India’s best known universities for fine arts prepared to spend his second night in a police lock up after right-wing activists who vandalised his work on Wednesday mobbed the local court to which he had been brought, and stalled bail proceedings on Thursday.
Chandramohan (23), a final-year student at Vadodara’s Maharaja Sayajirao University’s department of fine arts, has been charged with “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion”.
The arrest followed a complaint filed by a local lawyer Niraj Jain, saying he found some of the paintings put up at a department exhibition “derogatory” to Vishnu, Durga and Jesus Christ. The artist’s teachers have denied the accusation.
The exhibition was not for public viewing. But soon after the complaint was made, activists from the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) attacked the exhibition as well.
The paintings of Chandramohan’s on display had been made to fulfil final examination requirements for his postgraduate degree in visual arts.
“His lawyer was not allowed to speak in the courtroom by the VHP and BJP activists who continued hooting and shouting,” acting dean Shivaji Panikkar told the Hindustan Times.
He added that the university authorities wanted the faculty to issue a statement regretting the "wrong" depictions in Chandramohan's paintings. What was wrong with them was not specified.
"We have refused to issue the statement of regret," Panikkar said. "Instead, they (the VHP and BJP activists) should regret having vandalised the fine arts faculty."
The Vadodara incident is being widely condemned by artists of the city and from Mumbai. Angry MS University students were planning protests. Artists and gallery owners drafted a letter to the governor of Gujarat that said: "We see the case against Chandramohan not only as a gross miscarriage of justice… We strongly condemn attempts on the part of communal political outfits to unnecessarily politicise issues connected with artistic expression."
"Surely government and people have better things to do?" said Phiroza Godrej, author and Mumbai art historian. Artist Laxman Shrestha said: "Such actions will only prove detrimental for India's cultural future."
Vadodara nuclear physicist professor J.S. Bandukwala, whose house was burnt in the 2002 Gujarat riots, said: "If such attacks on freedom of expression continue, it will scare away good artists from the MSU fine arts faculty, renowned all over the world."
This is not the first time the police and administration have sided with Gujarat's BJP-VHP combine. Last year, after an unofficial ban on actor Aamir Khan's film Fanaa, a club in Surat was vandalised by Bajrang Dal activists after it screened the movie for its members. The club did not complain and there were no arrests. Instead, the police charged the club authorities for illegally screening the film.
Other attacks on art shows and beauty pageants during the BJP's decade in power in Gujarat have not entered police records because no complaints were registered.
(With Gitanjali Dang and Priyanka Sinha n Mumbai)