Tag Archives: Freedom of Expression

Dharm ke thekedaar: On the events in Baroda.

Saffron

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,
Gujarat?

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.

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