Saturday, May 19, 2007

The VC's Statement

Did I err in instinctively taking the side of the artists against the BJP activists? Isn't it true that BJP supporters are also citizens, and in Gujarat, a majority that democratically elected their government to power? If I stand for liberal and enlightened values, can I look down upon a person of faith - who may well believe, also, in blasphemy?

This is what the Vice-Chancellor of MSU, Dr Manoj Soni, had to say about the recent events in the Fine Arts faculty. I am posting his message, unedited:

The Maharaja Sayajirao Universiy 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.

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.

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”.

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 Sandesh 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.

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 Visnhu were also depicted in a highly derogatory manner in other so-called works of Art.

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

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. 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

The then Faculty in-charge Dean, unfortunately, did not heed these requests. Regrettably, adding fuel to the fire, he made such offending public statements, which further hurt and flared up the common citizens’ feelings demanding strong action. In one such statements printed by the media, for instance, Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, is quoted as saying that the Faculty of Fine Arts is like his personal bedroom and therefore, he is free to do whatever he desires there! Thus, the protest of the citizens of the city grew manifolds. Consequently, there was a huge public outcry from a cross section of society including the students of the University, demanding strong action in the matter.

As if this was not enough, in sheer defiance of the University officials requests and even executive orders, on 11th May 2007, once again, the then in-charge Dean, organized an exhibition in the evening displaying nude paintings in the name of and Indian culture!

Since this unwarranted act of the then in-charge Dean could have sparked large-scale social disharmony and caused disruption, the University Authority deputed two Deputy Registrars and one Assistant Registrar for requesting the in-charge Dean Prof. Panniker, for not organizing the said exhibition. When these officials reached the Faculty and spoke to the then in-charge Dean, he refused point blank to stop the display and reacted that he was not required to take permission of anybody including University Authority for doing anything in the Faculty.

Upon this, the Authority deputed Registrar-in-charge with a written order directing the in-charge Dean to close the display. After acknowledging the letter of the Registrar-in-charge after a lot of dilly-dallying, Prof. Panniker adamantly continued on his stand of not closing the display and said he would keep the display open throughout the night and disobey the University authority’s lawful orders.

In spite of such disobedient behaviour of the then in-charge Dean, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor S. M. Joshi, along with the Senate and Syndicate members and leading citizens of the city went personally to the Faculty premises and repeatedly requested the in-charge Dean to close the display. Even then, the then in-charge Dean remained adamant and refused to heed the requests / orders of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

The Faculty of Fine Arts is an integral part of the prestigious The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, known for its substantial contribution in placing Gujarat & Baroda on international cultural scene, and as such cannot be left solely on the whims & wishes of any one individual.

In the event of the adamant refusal of the then in-charge Dean to heed the repeated requests from the University officials and his blatant refusal to obey lawful orders of the University officials and that too in such grave matter of hurting the sentiments of decency and societal harmony, the University had no other option but to suspend the in-charge Dean, Prof. S. K. Panniker from the University services for three months with immediate effect under the rules of the University.

The university authority has constituted a committee headed by Professor Syed Maswood, Dean Faculty of Law, with clear terms of reference for investigating entire matter in detail, identify all person/s responsible for this incidence, and recommend appropriate action under rules of the University.

The Chancellor of the University, Her Excellency Dr. Mrunalini Devi Puar, has publicly condemned such exhibition depicting divine personalities in derogatory manner.

In addition to a very large number of social organizations and common people, the leading citizens including Maharaja Ranjitsingh Gaekwad, Padmashri Sitanshu Mehta, Renowned Painter Shri Gulam Mohmmed Sheikh, Professor Dhruv Mistry, renowned Sculptor, Noted Poet Madhav Ramanuj and several distinguished personalities have issued public statements condemning the exhibition of objectionable works of Art that caused deep hurt to the sentiments of Faith of a very large society.

Steps Taken to Restore Normalcy

01. The Security, particularly in the Faculty of Fine Arts, has been enhanced right from 09 May 2007. The Security personnel are ensuring that only those students and Members of the University fraternity are allowed entry inside the Faculty Campus who hold valid identity card or authentic identity document. Due care is also taken not to put genuine visitors to any inconvenience. The campus is totally peaceful.

02. The Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Professor Deepak Kannal is on leave and is currently in the U.S.A. on an academic assignment. He has been requested to pre-pone his return to India and is likely to resume his duties at the earliest possible.

03. Since during the absence of the regular Dean, none of the senior members of the Faculty was willing to take the charge of the Faculty, Professor G. C. Maheshwari, Dean Fculty of Management Studies has been appointed as the Officer on Special Duty in-charge of the Faculty of Fine Arts till the Dean Professor Deepak Kannal resumes his duties.

04. The results of the examinations of the Department of Museology, one of the six departments of the Faculty of Fine Arts, is declared. All the possible steps are being taken as to the conduct of the examination and the declaration of the results at the earliest possible.
05. A committee of the following members is constituted on 12 May 2007 to investigate about:
(i) the incidence that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts on 09 May 2007 and subsequent developments related to it, and
(ii) the role, conduct and behaviour of Professor S. K. Panikkar, the then in-charge Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts with regard to the above referred incidence and frame charges against him.

01. Professor Syed Maswood, Dean, Faculty of Law, Convener
02. Dr. Prakash Shah, (M.D.), Syndicate Member, Member
03. Shri Mukundbhai Shah, Syndicate Member Member
04. Advocate Shri Rajendra Trivedi, Senate Member Member

The Convener is authorized to co-opt any other member(s) or invite artists for consultation.
The Committee is requested to submit its report at the earliest possible.
The Terms of Reference of the Committee will be as follows:
01 To ascertain the facts and evidences about the incidence that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts on 09 May 2007 and subsequent developments related to it.
02 To examine the role, conduct and behaviour of Professor S. K. Panikker, In-Charge Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts with regard to the above referred incidence.
03 To identify person(s) responsible for the incidence and subsequent developments related to it, and recommend appropriate action(s) with regard to those responsible.


‘Chapter XLIX’ (Page No. 341 of the Handbook of the MSU) states as under:

During the hours fixed for his duties, he shall devote himself diligently to his work, AND GIVE FULL CO-OPERATION IN ALL UNIVERSITY WORK.

No. 5

No. 6
HE SHALL SEE THAT THE UNIVERSITY PROPERTY, ARTICLES, APPARATUS, MONEY ETC. IN HIS CHARGE ARE USED WITH REASONABLE CARE, and proper precautions are taken against any possible damage to them or loss to the University.

No. 9

No. 13
Unless generally or specially empowered in this behalf, he shall not communicate directly to outside persons or associations or to the press any documents or information which has come into his possession in the course of his duties or has been prepared or collected by him in the course of these duties, whether from official sources or otherwise.


Here is the other side of the story:

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