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What Are The 'True' Facts?

Full text of the "Response to Vice Chancellor Mr. Soni's Report on the 'True' Facts - A Brief Report on the Recent Incidences at the MSU, Baroda 09 May 2007 -- 11 May 2007"

What Are The 'True' Facts?
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The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda is amongst the top Universities in the country with very high global repute. The Faculty of Fine Arts is amongst its very best Faculties and is one of the top ranking institutions world-wide in the field of Fine Arts.

University Claim: On 9 May 2007, the citizens of Vadodara lodged their strong protest at the Faculty of Fine Arts, of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The protest was against an exhibition displaying a number of artworks deeply hurting the sentiments of Faith and decency of the society at large.

Response: The University claims that it took all its actions based on a strong protest that the 'citizens of Vadodara' had lodged. These so-called citizens have not been identified by the University authorities at any point. Where were their protests lodged? If with the University, why did the University authorities not communicate this to the authorities at the Faculty of Fine Arts? If not, the question is why were the University authorities not present when serious police action was being undertaken and examinations at the Faculty were being disrupted by these ‘citizens’. This was in spite of repeated phone calls made by the then i/c Dean. He was helplessly trying to apprise the University authorities of the situation when these so called ‘citizens’ were abusing staff and students of the Faculty, pushing them and manhandling the student.

University Claim: It is noteworthy that during his telephonic conversation with the Vice Chancellor over this incidence of protest, the then in-charge Dean Professor S. K. Panniker (who is currently suspended from the University Services) also termed these works of art as "objectionable".

Response: This statement is misleading. Professor Shivaji K. Panikkar said that the issue is not whether the art work is objectionable or not; rather the issue is about a student of the University being arrested on the basis of his examination work without prior information given to the University or Faculty authorities. There are legitimate ways to lodge one’s objections and if it is overlooked by the concerned authorities (University/ Faculty) only then the question of lodging a complaint to the police or making a protest arises. Further, it is a shame that a person of a Vice Chancellor’s stature should try to misrepresent a part of the remark made over a telephonic conversation and try implicate or even insinuate that Professor Shivaji K Panikkar is also among those who found the art works "objectionable".

University Claim: The protest was verbal and peaceful. The citizens had come to the Faculty of Fine Arts having read a news item in the Times of India dated 07 May 2007 and Gujarati daily Sandes dated 09 May 2007. These news items mentioned that the Works of Art created by the students of the Faculty as a part of their Annual Examination were open for public display on the 9th May 2007. Such public display has been a tradition. In fact, one of the teachers of the Faculty had sent messages through SMS inviting people to the display at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Thus, the claim in the media that the display was not open for public is untrue.

Response: Why are the University authorities saying that the display of examination work by students at the Faculty is a public exhibition? It is actually curious that the University authorities are now suddenly trying to designate the long standing examination procedures as a public exhibition. In its long history, the practical examination of the students in the Faculty has always culminated in a presentation of art works through display procedures. It is not an organized public exhibition. The Press information about the presentation of works was not issued by the Faculty/University. There are no invitations, no inauguration or any press note.

How does a private SMS which could be sent by people in their private capacity constitute evidence that the presentation of works at the Faculty of Fine Arts was a ‘public exhibition’?

University Claim: These citizens noticed that some of the works of Art displayed at the Faculty were highly deplorable.

One of the so-called work of Art was a huge Christian Cross where Lord Jesus Christ was shown with his penis out on the Cross, his palms and feet hanging from the two sides and the bottom of the Cross, respectively. Semen was shown as dropping out of his penis into a real toilet commode placed beneath the Cross. The toilet contained fishes.

Another very large sized painting showed a woman in nude posture. A baby was shown as attempting to come out of the vagina of the women. The picture depicted the women trying to attack the baby with a Trishul. The painting had the words "DURGA MATA" written at the bottom.

Similarly, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu were also depicted in a highly derogatory manner in other so-called works of Art.

Response: The above descriptions of the works are repugnant and visually illiterate. It proves that a naïve verbal description of a work of art is inadequate to its understanding. It is appalling that the University authorities would indulge in such paraphrasing of works of art and would offer such crude and obscene readings of the images concerned. Regarding the image of a suffering Jesus on the Cross, the work is not figurative but symbolic. It can be interpreted to mean several things: one among them could be that the suffering of Christ on the cross has led his body to a condition of utter dissolution, turning Him into a fleshless state symbolized by water (fluids of the body). As His body drains into a receptacle (a modern commode), it takes its form as new life of elementary creatures (fish). In fact, the theme of water flowing out from the body of Christ after his crucifixion by those who disapproved of his ideas is mentioned in the Bible and is a revered part of the story that is read out in churches all over the world at the remembrance of his death that takes place each year on Good Friday. Also the themes of suffering, sacrifice and regeneration are key themes in most world philosophies and religions. Nothing could be more atrocious than the reading made by the University authorities of the water dripping from the cross as ‘semen’.

In the context of the second work described by the University authorities, it might be pertinent to note that images of naked birth-giving goddesses are entirely part of Indian religious iconography (Ref: Gopinatha Rao, Hindu Iconography; 3 vols). Here, in this painting, the courageous Goddess Durga is enacting the crime of foeticide (a practice routinely followed in patriarchal societies) in order to call attention to the horror and violence of the act that amounts to murder in the very womb. The overwhelming motif underwriting this piece of work is that of birth and death. Here the Devi is seen giving birth not to a baby child as the untrained eyes of the University authorities claim but she is actually giving birth to a fully grown man and is attempting to kill him in the process. The anger of the goddess is obviously directed against men as she safeguards the processes of fertility. We know that the killing of the girl child has become a rampant practice in our time to an extent that we are daily confronted with governmental campaigns to ‘save the girl child’. It is therefore quite possible to locate these artworks in the conditions of our present times. There are innumerable instances where, when confronted with the crisis in a society, artists have often recalled traditional iconographic representations to offer critiques of evil practices in their present society.

In the iconographical vocabulary of Indian art traditions, the Durga image is available in multiple forms, ranging from the benign to more wild forms. It is just that our eyes are used to seeing the pleasant forms of the goddess. The Vice Chancellor’s reading shows that there is a massive loss of memory of her wilder forms. In fact, in our religious literatures such as the Devi Mahatmya, Chandi Purana and Shiva Purana, the Goddess Durga is described in most ferocious terms, often without clothes, killing demons, drinking their blood and wearing the heads of the demons as garlands. There is an enormous archive of visual as well as textual material representing the sexual union of Shiva and Shakti. Apart from these widely known brahminical forms of Durga, there are numerous forms of the Goddess in various names and forms in folk and tribal traditions where the Goddess is worshiped in her most fierce form. The graphic work by the student draws its visual vocabulary from such
a rich repertoire of visual and textual traditions and practices in India. It draws elements from a long tradition of Durga iconographies in order to express the rage of the mother goddess over all who in our time commit the heinous crime of female foeticide.

Here, we are not arguing that the readings that we offer are the only possible readings. We only want to point out that works of art by virtue of their special character allow multiple interpretations and is a matter for discussion. Why are the University authorities quick to endorse the reading of these art works as proposed by right wing ideologues? If these are the citizens on whose behalf the University takes a stand, what about all the citizens who would like to see alternative readings of these art works? The University should be a place allowing for contestation and debates over meaning and frameworks of seeing.

University claim: The media had already arrived by this time and were witnessing and recording / photographing the events that followed.

Response: The speed with which the police and the media arrived just after Mr. Niraj Jain’s intrusion into the display site shows that the whole incident was well orchestrated and preplanned to get maximum political mileage out of such an unfortunate act. In fact, the media was called by Niraj Jain and his associates.

University Claim: When the group of citizens led by Mr. Niraj Jain, as per his letter, protested and requested the student who had created these so-called works of Art to remove these objectionable works of Art from public display, the student refused to do so.

Response: There was no question of any request or legitimate protest; they came with the police and media, without Faculty or University permission and disrupted examination proceedings for cheap political mileage. They stormed into the examination hall shouting slogans, using abusive language and pushed and pulled the students around. They manhandled Mr. Chandramohan and his friend who was helping him in the display process. With the help of police, both of them were taken away. They were then detained in police custody. Later, due to strong student protest they released the other boy (Mr. Venkat Rao of Andhra Pradesh). These events have been extensively covered by both local and national media.

University Claim: Again the group of citizens requested Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty to intervene and get those objectionable works of art removed from public display. Professor Panniker refused to do so.

Response: Mr. Niraj Jain and associates did not ‘request’ Professor Shivaji Panikkar, to take down the work; rather they threatened and abused him and other staff members with dire consequences. This can be corroborated by media footage which clearly shows Professor Shivaji Panikkar being pushed around by Niraj Jain. They did not give Professor Shivaji Panikkar a chance to inquire into the matter or consult with the Head of the Graphics Department or any other Faculty member. All this happened after the student was whisked away by the police at the behest of Mr. Niraj Jain.

University Claim: The protest was entirely peaceful and verbal. No damage was caused to the property of the University. No injury whatsoever was caused to any person.

Response: The protest by Niraj Jain was neither peaceful nor merely verbal. Even a cursory look at the media coverage and footage would prove the contrary. The question is how the University authorities can make the blatant claim that the so called protest was ‘entirely’ peaceful and verbal when an enquiry into the incident is pending and the report awaited. We are therefore compelled to conclude from such declarations that the University authorities have already exonerated Mr. Niraj Jain and his associates thus preempting the enquiry in their favor.

University Claim: On the request of the then in-charge Dean, the University officials arranged for police reinforcement with a request to provide necessary protection. The police promptly arrived at the venue.

Response: This is incorrect chronology. The police had already arrested student Chandramohan by then. During this arrest, the police neither took permission from authorities at the Faculty or at the main University. Professor Shivaji Pannikar had kept the University authorities informed of the developments telephonically, and the decision to call in the police was taken by the University authorities, as they claim. Even though the Dean had informed the Vice Chancellor and other authorities of the events taking place on campus, no help was forthcoming from their side. None of the higher authorities visited the Faculty. The University authorities (i/c Registrar MM Beedkar) came to the Faculty 5 hours after the incident had taken place, only to oversee the sealing process of the ‘objectionable’ art works. The University authorities had been apprised of this by the i/c Dean. During all this time, Mr. Niraj Jain was playing a terror game with the traumatized faculty staff and student fraternity without any hindrance. There was no attempt by the University authorities to protect staff and students from the offensive language and violent behavior of Mr. Niraj Jain and associates.

University Claim: After a very long and consistent persuasion, those objectionable works of art were removed and placed in a room, which was locked and sealed by the police on the basis of a complaint filed by Mr. Niraj Jain and in concurrence with the provision of relevant Law.

Response: The police ACP, T. R. Parmar ordered that the offending five works be taken down and sealed. This was communicated to the Vice Chancellor. Indeed, there were discussions between the police and the i/c Dean, but this concerned the modalities of sealing and the safety of the works. Even after the police arrived and ordered the removal of the ‘offensive’ pictures Niraj Jain and his associates roamed freely in the campus threatening staff and students alike threatening to tear down the works and vandalize them. The in-charge Registrar, Mr. Beedekar arrived only towards the end of the sealing process.

University Claim: None of the so-called works of art was damaged in any manner.

Response: The works have been dismantled from frames and roughly rolled.

University Claim: On the basis of a police complaint filed by Shri Niraj Jain in his individual capacity as a citizen, the student – Mr. Chandra Mohan, who had created those objectionable works of Art was arrested by police under relevant legal provisions. The University authorities deputed an official to provide all the possible help to the student.

Response: Police did not ask permission to enter the campus from either Faculty or University authorities. As PVC had informed Faculty members on an earlier occasion, even police cannot enter the University campus without permission. This violation of rules by the police as well as the consistent refusal of the University authorities to file FIR against Niraj Jain for unlawful entry and disruption of examinations suggests collusion. With regard to the student, NO help whatsoever has been provided to him by the University.

University Claim: Subsequently, the University received a high number of representations and memoranda from several organizations, groups, individuals of high repute and common people from a cross section of society strongly urging the University officials to intervene and disallow the exhibition of such works of art that deeply hurt and offend the sentiments of Faith of various communities.

Response: If so, why didn’t the University authorities communicate this to the Faculty and ask for a report which is the prescribed procedure? It may also be noted that prior to the unlawful intrusion into the university premise and the disruption of the smooth functioning of the examination by Mr. Niraj Jain and his violent associates, Professor Shivaji Panikkar who was the i/c Dean had no inkling about complaints made about any part of the examination display. If the authorities were in possession of such information, earlier to the i/c Dean as it has been clearly stated in the report, not informing the Dean is a criminal negligence on the part of the University authorities.

University Claim: Thus, with a view to respect the sentiments of Faith of very large communities, as well as honoring the University’s social sensitivity and responsibility, the University officials including the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor requested Professor S. K. Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty several times to wind-up the exhibition.

Response: There was no need to give a verbal order to close down the examination display, [the ‘exhibition’ according to University authorities]. It was already closed down by the students themselves who were now busy writing complaints and pleas to the police and university authorities. Since Niraj Jain had arrived with the media who had covered the entire episode, news had spread across Baroda and the country. There were concerned calls from all over the country but not a word of concern by the University about the students who were being terrorized by the goons who the VC calls respectable citizens.

University Claim: Since the exhibition had already hurt the sentiments of Faith of very large societies, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty was also requested to issue a statement expressing at least regret and apology over such unintentional consequence of the exhibition. During such meetings of the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor with Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean, his colleagues were also present.

Response: The i/c Dean was called to the University office the next Day (10 May) where he was asked to tender a public apology.

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