Category Archives: Freedom of Expression

Kya aap White ribbon mein shraddha aur imaan rakhte hain?

Do you have faith in the White ribbon?

White Ribbon


Feminist, blogger and activist Anasuya Sengupta, in an essay called ‘Fundamentalisms of the Progressive wrote,

‘One of our campaigns was to wear a white ribbon for peace (the White Ribbon Campaign for Peace, India) – we used it both as a symbol and as a talking point, to begin conversations about violence of all kinds, including what we call ‘communalism’ in India (the rousing of hatred against particular communities). Initially, some of our friends scoffed at us, and wondered what an insignificant white ribbon could do, to change attitudes and animosities.

But the interesting thing was that there were so many people – both young and not so young – who were unable to be political in the same way as they saw ‘activists’; they felt this meant standing at street corners with banners, or going on rallies, or shouting slogans against the government. They found this too ‘political’ (in their understanding of the term), and yet they were deeply disturbed at the kinds of violence being perpetrated in the name of religion.

So for these people, wearing a ribbon was the beginning of a series of conversations they had with others, which began other processes of change, at least in terms of breaking the silence around violence.

And because it was something everyone could do – and have conversations at whatever level of politics and ideology each was comfortable with – it wasn’t intimidating in any way, and yet gave a sense of belonging to a community against violence, and speaking up for peace.’


Do you believe in pluralism and justice?

Are you Secular, liberal, free thinking?

Do you believe that all religion has in its essence ways of leading a soulful, integrated and fulfilled life?

Do you believe that religious extremism has done us no good?

Say No to religious bigotry.

White Ribbon

Wear a White Ribbon today.

How tight are your boundaries?

‘God is not a square .God is Cross.’, ‘Parmeshvar ke sirf chaar kone nahin hain’.

14th August 2007.

A performance as part of the workshop, ‘To draw a Line’, a marathon dedicated to Nasreen Mohammedi and Bhupen Khakkar at the Faculty of Fine Art, MS University, Baroda.


It isn’t so hard to find inspiration in Baroda. The past few months have been tight with debate, dissent and its dissolution.

This was a performance that surfaced at Vivan Sundaram’s strategic reclamation of democratic art space at the eve of the 6oth year of Indian Independence.

A confluence of diverse notions of poesis , this performance, is for me an assertion of my body, as a Muslim woman with all its markedness, within the parameters of institution, nation and godhead.The effort is to shoulder the project of embracing, recasting and reclaiming all of them.

Enveloping my insider/outsider position within each fractal of this moment and space, between stretching and slouching, this work spans the betrayal and anger of God, woman, man (as exemplified by Christ) and democracy in today’s Gujarat.

This work comes from a self that is moving within a cube, one set by the trauma, gravity and despondency of the aftermath of genocide, both on one community and other communities. Emerging from the paradigm set by this workshop, the performance is a siege of the mundane normalcy of the university space to articulate voices far beyond its (current) scope: the shadow-lines of rape mapped on the tryst of exploited women’s bodies starting to realise ‘freedom’.

In terms of type-scape and struggle with form therefore, the self morphs itself into varying positions to grapple with movement. And the release is , in this case in breaking the cube, and ironically, in an act of prayer after.

The workshop was dedicated to Nasreen Mohammedi and Bhupen Khakkar , artists who enriched and nurtured this institution and Indian art, each with their own trajectories of identity.

And as art historian Santosh reiterated again, for each one of us, it’s about time someone drew a line.

So, says the macrocosm, God is not a Square. Stop being so linear.

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*Special Thanks to Vivan Sundaram.

*Photos and video are in the pipeline.

Freedom of Expression

From among the opinions that were not given audience.

This was a response I wrote to the following conversation between Arnab Chaterjee and Inder Salim, about a post by Arnab Chaterjee about the public, the personal and the private on the Sarai Reader List. It was rejected because the mail ‘had a suspicious header’.


I don’t know if you will excuse my saying so in public, but I think that your work is brutally brutally(brutally, brutally) insensitive and inert.

It takes a lot of indifference to make a comment like this. But I hope you will think about it.

And the reasons why I refrain from being polite are

It does’nt take a fascist to change the world. It takes a realist. In adopting a stern ideological position you want to be heard. I have things to say. And I cannot wait until fortune(whatever that is) drops my way. It means that from where you are, you want, desperately to articulate what you feel.

It only takes an extremely masculine, privileged position to be as insensitive and culturally sterile as your research is.

While for some the personal, public, and private may be constructs that the likes of Habermas figured out, for some it’s a loss. Of an entire history.

While for some all that is going on needs to be looked at through the eyes of (who, why?) theorists, for some people like me (and this is personal), it’s a complete lacoona of understanding about how to participate. So when the debates are played out on some abstract notion of Freedom of Expression (what?), for some other people it’s the freedom to breathe that is at stake. The freedom to be.To imagine.

And terrorism.

Tell you what I think terrorism is, terrorism is not being allowed to behave how you want to.

Not being allowed to articulate your view point. I think terrorism is when you’re expected to conform to everyone’s ideas.

Terrorism is stifling difference. Terrorism is when you want to scream but are stifled because you are’nt allowed to stand out in everyone’s confused pot pourri of consumption. That’s what terrorism is.

Terrorism is expecting everyone to listen when you talk, when you dole out judgments.

Being excluded.

Terrorism is expecting someone to subscribe to what your idea of radical or modern or noteworthy.

I refuse to participate.

I refuse to comment.

I don’t want to have anything to do with your public sphere.

Go on, ask me why I’m so despondent.

Post Script 2: And what I think is a response, one that will take me a while(or a practice) to counter is here. I have always thought Kushwant Singh to be a deplorably bad joker on matters concerning women.Try reading ‘The Company of Women’. No further comments.

I don’t feel like a part of this anymore.On ChandraMohan’s arrest

I don’t feel like I’m a part of this anymore.

Here’s why

“The visuals included a Christ like image on the cross and his private parts being exposed and a few nude drawings of a few ‘deity’ like figurines.”

“He responded by saying if MF Hussain did it then so can I. That I think did him in.”

-from Amitabh Kumar’s writings called Barodascape on the Sarai Reader List. .

The Art History department as a response to the arrest of a student over his print put up images of erotica existent in the art of the subcontinent. There is no erotica in any tradition that employs any image remotely close to depictions of Christ. Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) led a life alone.

I would be offended with an image like that. I donot hold dear the image of Crucifixion, but this sort of depiction defiles the regard I have for a prophet of God.

The justification he put forth was, however interesting. MF Hussain’s depictions of women and goddesses have always ignited controversy. He paints them naked, clothed, however he wishes. Some could be interpreted sexually but by no means are the Indian goddesses devoid of sexuality. Sexuality is an integral part of the cult of any Goddess.

The argument on behalf of the offender has been freedom of expression and purity of intention, but on grounds of artistic responsibility, I find the young student lackadaisical.

*written as a post script to Whose Morality?, on the events following the arrest of an art student over a print he displayed as part of his exam work at the Faculty of Fine Art, M S University, Vadodara.

Alternate and supportive points of view here

Partha Chatterjee on Matters of Art .com

Dr. Ram Puniyani on his site,

Satyanand Mohan, Baroda based artist on art

Dharm ke thekedaar: On the events in Baroda.


Whose morality are you guarding?

I just got into Baroda and am writing this off handedly after hearing about the events at my ex-institution, the Faculty of Fine Art where I’ve been a student for a year. More importantly as someone who considers the city of
Baroda a place of work and much more.

What I’ve heard is amusing, alarming and taking its time to sink in. That as a woman and one of an identity that’s not Hindu, what I’ve been feeling and going through for so long has surfaced, that the undercurrents have shown themselves.

I would have said all this in more provocative language but I chose to restrain myself because I want to be able to say things clearly. Because my mind is equipped with an automatic censor that restricts every turn of phrase that could let out any evidence of sexuality. Because I want to be fair and true and because I’m working out of this harrowed,frustrated,carved tiny niche a language that will appease all of Us. Especially men. You guys are the first audience. It’s your appreciative twinkle of the eye I imagine as I write this. The rest of Us comes later, after I dealt with and stifled and commodified myself for You.

Sorry my fellow women folk, but we haven’t got any say in this. If that painting had objectionable content then no one is asking any of us for our opinion. No one will want to know if your or my religious sentiments are harmed.

So why should we participate in this debate? Why should I when my religion in its essence is iconoclastic, which often results in its adherents resorting to acts like the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas or in some cases destroying idols support this cause?

Being an Iconoclast means that the image itself has no value. But working with the visual medium I have to deal with representation and its other, non representation. I cannot however let interpreters judge for me what representation is best.

I could face a similar persecution tomorrow from Islamic adherents for any photograph or video I make. And the way to go is definitely not to anull each other’s claims to faith or religious and social practice as unfit or inadequate [I would term then as bigoted and not well aware of reason, and of the world outside, and they would call me an outsider and heretic].No one can or must mould her or himself to fit within the purview of a faith or religion, the process must be more open and nurturing for both the stream of belief or theism and the individual. But dialogue is not possible when one does not hurl labels at the other. It’s important to adopt them, even for yourself when you are entering a dialogic realm.

Moral or immoral are seperate but there must be a reasoning from each side as to why the other is so. For which you need to hear and see both sides. So that both the ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ may benefit from each other.

This means that the image of Godess Saraswati is in the same boat as Bibi Mariam(May Allah’s blessings be with her) if you consider them as aniconic and ahistorical visual signs. But each representation carries meaning in its context and if I as an artist create an image that offends a certain group of people in their current context then I should think about whether or not the image I used offends the idea of divinity that is associated with that image for a group of people. But people created images and will continue to do so, it’s just the cultural context that is going to change. The war is then one of view-points and sensibilities.

The just way to go is for all people to judge individually and collectively how best they want to represent and be represented, if at all, within a collective conscience. And this judgement in the Indian context, if we believe in such a thing as a collective democratic and not irreligious but secular state has to be that of a well represented collective of sensibilities and stand-points.

In this case however, the images in question were not meant for public display and were made by a student, still under training. If the people who saw it were offended then they should have held the institution in question for the training that it imparts, after the process of evaluation. But sadly enough, the rule here is that of fascist sentiment.

So, when a censor in the name of religion (whose?) lands up at a college of art and demands that a young student be taken to custody, be declared a criminal for offending sentiments (whose?) and the acting Dean, of the institution(whose?) is suspended from duty for carrying out what seems to me a brave act, then I wonder, really, WHOSE state is this?

What is going on,

How long are we going to take this lying down and let an unjust and biased and bigoted polity decide for us what is permissible? Whether a work of culture is moral or immoral is the work of all of Us to decide.

And until you can get a fair ruling from each gender, each religion, and each age group do not consider that God (to me neither male nor female) is only yours to invoke and protect.

And lastly, Hinduism is not some pristine construct that is only your legacy. I am a Muslim but I draw from its culture as someone born living and thriving here. And I grieve for the loss of its tolerance. For the loss of tolerance in OUR culture.