Correspondence: On-Line Petition - Attack on M. S. University (India) Autonomy
16 May 2007
We write this letter to request you to sign a petition to the Governor of Gujarat condemning the recent events at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. A group of people with affiliations to Hindu supremacist groups barged into the Fine Arts campus, disrupted the examination and abused and threatened students and faculty members. A student was arrested for offending religious sentiments, and the Dean of the Faculty was suspended. Such attempts to stifle by force the rights to free speech and expression of individuals, and to impose on society in general the narrow perceptions of certain sections regarding what is permissible and what is not, constitute a serious threat to political, intellectual, and artistic freedoms in India. These attacks are especially worrisome since it points to a nexus between members of the Hindu nationalist BJP, who carried out the attack, the police, and the top levels of the University administration including its Vice Chancellor Manoj Soni.
The petition is available at http://www.petitiononline.com/MSUAUTO/
The details of the incident are as follows. On 9th May 2007, students of the Fine Arts Faculty had put up their installations around the Faculty campus as part of their annual internal examination/display. The Fine Arts Faculty is one of the best-known institutions within the M. S. University. The Faculty has also nurtured many renowned artists and it is here that the famous Baroda School of Art developed.
That afternoon, Vadodara-based BJP leader Niraj Jain (accused for the 2002 Gujarat carnage by Concerned Citizens Tribunal - Gujarat), stormed into the Faculty premises, accompanied by local police and some accomplices. They manhandled Chandramohan, a final year MA student (and recipient of the Gujarat Lalit Kala Academy Award, 2005-06) who had put up some graphic prints. They accused him of offending their religious sentiments, saying that he had portrayed the goddess Durga in an obscene way. Dr. Shivji Panikkar, the Dean in charge, was also threatened with dire consequences by Niraj Jain and his cohorts.
Subsequently, Chandramohan was arrested and charged under sections 153A, 114, and 295 of the Indian Penal Code for "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc, committing acts prejudicial to the harmony of the public”. His examination works – which had been put up only for the sole purpose of the final examinationwere apparently "offensive" to public religious sentiments.
Since no citizen can be charged with Section 153 without the sanction of the State or Central government, and since in this case no sanction was sought, this was in effect an illegal detention.
The police also refused to register a complaint against Niraj Jain when students, teachers and other organizations like PUCL approached them.
On May 10, at Chandramohan's bail hearing, alongwith the VHP and BJP crowds, at least 40 priests from the Methodist Church had also joined the cacophony of voices against Chandra Mohan.
In the meantime, the University authorities not only refused to support the students and the staff but insisted that Professor Shivaji Panikkar, Dean in charge of the Faculty (as well as author and editor of Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures, 1997; Twentieth-Century Indian Sculpture, 2002; Towards a New Art History: Studies in Indian Art, 2003 among others), apologize to the BJP.
On the next day, May 11, the students and staff, denied any other form of protest, put up an exhibition focusing on the long history of erotic imagery in both Indian and Western art. In response, the Deputy Registrar issued a verbal request, followed by a written order, that the exhibition be closed down. Dr. Panikkar refused to comply as it was a decision by the students and this was their way of lodging a peaceful protest. Later in the day, the Pro Vice Chancellor, along with some members of the Syndicate arrived at the Faculty and locked up the exhibition. The same night, at 10 p.m. a suspension order was pasted on the door of Dr. Panikkar's residence. He has been suspended for three months, not only from Deanship, but also as the Head of the Art History Department. No reasons were given for the suspension.
Chandra Mohan was released on 14th May 2007. The suspension order against Dr. Panikkar continues, and fearing attacks and arrest, he has been forced to go underground.
Over the last few days, art historians, critics, activists, artists and art lovers have launched a nation-wide protest against the Gujarat government's latest act of fascism. On 14 th May 2007, over 1000 artists from all over the country gathered at the Faculty to protest against the suspension of the Dean, the role of the University authorities, the police, Niraj Jain and the political forces he represents. Despite intimidation and abuse from some Hindu supremacist activists, the meeting conducted its protest successfully. That apart, artists in other cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Guwahati also held protest meetings The battle is being fought on many levels – emails, blogs, protest meetings, legal proceedings, petitions, press releases, and signature campaigns.
We urge you to go through this petition,
sign it, and also forward this email widely. In addition, you could also
send letters of protest to some of the officials whose names and addresses
are provided at the end of this letter.
For Association of Academics and Citizens for University Autonomy
Officials to whom letters of protest could be sent:
The President of India
People's Union for Civil Liberties