Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
I suppose many of you would be familiar with the recent events in Baroda. An internal evaluation of students is on at the Fine Arts Faculty in Baroda. A BJP leader named Neeraj Jain storms in with a bunch of gundas. He has a problem with some paintings by a student named Chandramohan that use religious imagery. Jain and his gundas beat up Chandramohan, and abuse faculty members and students. Things are getting out of hand when the police arrive. They will surely arrest Jain and put an end to this, you would think.
But no, they arrest the painter, for his art is the crime under the Indian Penal Code, not the hooliganism showed by Jain and his cohorts. Chandramohan is whisked off to jail. Five days later, as I type these words, he is still behind bars.
The artist community obviously rises up, and organises an exhibition documenting erotica in Indian and Western art. It is a peaceful way of showing their protest. The pro-vice-chancellor of the university arrives and demands that the exhibition be terminated. The dean of the faculty, Dr Shivaji Panikkar, takes a stand and refuses to do so. He is suspended. As I type these words, he is in hiding, worried about what the ruffians could do to him.
The matter is being followed at Art Concerns, who have a detailed chronology of events up here. Do also read what Ranjit Hoskote, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Johny ML have to say, as well as this piece by Abhijeet Tamhane. Peter Griffin has more links here, as well as details of a public protest I intend to be part of in Mumbai.
My feelings on this will be known to regular readers of India Uncut, and have been laid out in pieces like “Don’t Insult Pasta” and “Fighting Against Censorship”, as well as many posts (such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) It is ludicrous that giving offence is a crime in India, and shameful that the Indian Penal Code actually enables this suppression of free speech, and empowers oppression. For Chandramohan the artist to be in jail for five days (so far) and for Neeraj Jain the gunda to walk free is a slap on the face of all those who think that our nation respects and protects individual freedom.
No doubt some readers will be upset that I used the word “Fascism” in the headline to this post. Well, I hesitated before doing so, wondering if such a strong word was advisable. Then I went to the Wikipedia entry on Fascism, and came across this excellent definition by Robert Paxton (from this book):
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
The Wikipedia article then quotes Paxton as summing up the essence of Fascism thus:
1. a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions; 2. belief one’s group is the victim, justifying any action without legal or moral limits; 3. need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts; 4. right of the chosen people to dominate others without legal or moral restraint; 5. fear of foreign `contamination.
All this sounds immensely familiar to me. And so I shall end by quoting the end of Ranjit Hoskote’s fine piece:
It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.
What happens next? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the country destroying temple murals, breaking down monuments, and burning manuscripts and folios?
Also, isn’t a Hindu then entitled to say that his religious feelings are offended by Hindutva? Huh?
Update: Chandramohan has got bail, but I am informed that things are still tense in Baroda. The protest there has been called off, but is very much on in Mumbai at least.
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