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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2966

Moral policing in Modi’s Gujarat

By Tukoji R.Pandit - Syndicate Features

In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat the quest for ‘Hindutva’ has taken two forms: overt or covert state-sponsored attacks on the minorities, and unbridled display of intolerance towards those deemed to be against the ‘ancient Hindu culture’. If the post-Godhra pogrom and the Vanzara-led ‘encounters’ are the horrifying symbols of the former, the officially backed campaign against Telugu speaking young final year Fine Arts (FA) student of Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara, formerly Baroda, represents the latter.

To be sure, there is a strong force in the country that questions the ‘firmans (fatwas?)’—of the ‘Hindutva’ force. Unfortunately, it is more often than not content with organising demonstrations before cameras and lecturing in TV studios. The Vadodara incident, for instance, has seen ‘protests’ by artists and academics, well covered by the media, but its echo does not seem to have travelled beyond the air-conditioned TV studios.

To come back to the student, Chandramohan, he was not only beaten by the self-appointed custodians of ‘ancient Hindu culture’, he had to cool his heels in jail for four days while those who had assaulted him in open disregard of the law of the land were showered ‘shabash’ by the Sangh Parivar-led moral police in Gujarat. Arts students in the state are expected to tailor their artistic instincts in accordance with the diktats of the moral vigilantes even if that sounds like fascism. Narendra Modi’s progressive Gujarat does not want artists with imagination or spirit of independence.

Chandramohan and his friends at the MS University must have been surprised when a prominent local BJP leader and VHP muscle men stormed into the campus where works of final year Fine Arts (FA) students were put up as required in the process of internal assessment. Chandramohan did some male nude paintings and that ‘hurt’ the sensibilities of the vigilantes.

The point is the students were not exhibiting their works in public. The BJP-VHP storm troopers had no business to vandalise them. A question that arises is why the Vice Chancellor allowed them to enter the campus and then let them batter the hapless students before allowing the police to pick up a dazed Chandramohan.

The answer is simple: the VC is one of the many key appointments made by chief minister Modi; the VC proved his Hindutva credentials further when he suspended the dean of the arts faculty, who not content with showing support for Chandramohan, had opposed his arrest too and, no doubt, thus further hurt the already aggrieved sentiments of the majority community.

Those in Vadodara whose personal collection of arts includes classical Indian paintings of figures without clothes must consider themselves lucky because they have so far escaped the purveying eyes of Parivar’s moral police.

It is understandable that the painters’ celebration of nudity does not find resonance with many. These are people who perhaps think that the murals at heritage sites like Ajanta and Ellora have nothing to do with the pristine ‘ancient Hindu culture’. Now Vadodara has shown the way to the vigilantes to decimate all heathen symbols of art in living rooms. It is to be seen whether the Modi government starts a scheme to reward those who smash maximum number of picture frames and the skulls of their owners.

If Modi does take ‘the mission’ seriously, he will not be in a position to enforce the ‘son of the soil’ policy because the eligible candidates will come from many other states, including neighbouring Maharashtra. The capital city of Maharashtra Mumbai, which is also India’s financial and business hub, has virtually forced one of its internationally known citizens, Maqbool Fida Husain, into exile. For nearly 20 years the moral brigade has been haunting him after he had done a series of paintings that showed a goddess without clothes.

The 90-plus Husain has become a special target of the bigoted brigade after the BJP rose to power at the Centre. God knows how many ‘obscenity’ cases have been slapped on him virtually all over the country. A court in Hardwar had issued orders that Husain’s property in Mumbai be confiscated because he had not appeared on summons. Luckily for Husain, the higher court stayed that order. That is only a very small relief for him. Because, besides the threat of having his property taken away he also faces danger to his life because of ‘fatwas’ from the ‘Hindu Taliban’.

It is not clear why actress Shilpa Shetty escaped the wrath of the moral brigade, which has, of course, decided to haul Hollywood actor and social activist Richard Gere over the coals for an ‘obscene’ act—that of kissing Miss Shetty on stage during a charity show on AIDs. Shetty’s luck has obviously nothing to do with her success at a recent reality show on a British TV channel because she and many other actresses and actors are on the moral brigade’s scanner and receive from time to time court summons from distant corners of the country to account for their ‘obscene’ acts on stage or screen.

The world has lately become acutely aware of the dangerous consequences of intolerance and religious bigotry. The effort even in some of the countries where these ills have been common for long is to embark on a course of ‘moderation’ so that they are not looked down upon as nations still stuck in the medieval era. Unfortunately, there are elements in India who are swimming against the tide and are bent upon destroying a culture and tradition of tolerance and accommodation that had been preserved for thousands of years.

- Syndicate Features -

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