Art gallery in Ahmedabad attacked: Are Pakistani artists no longer welcome in India?

Published: August 30, 2013
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The attack on the art gallery exhibiting Pakistani art in India shows how the fascist aggressors are rampant in their activities to derail the two countries' relations. DESIGN: EMA ANIS/FILES

Radical Hindu right groups – like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal – are known for their hooliganism and rabid communalism. It is therefore not surprising that they vandalise paintings and other works of art as well as burn literature when they find them not subscribing to their taste and political ideology. The recent attack on the art gallery in Ahmedabad, where the exhibition of a Pakistani artist’s paintings were on display, is the latest in their long list of criminality. 

What is surprising, however, is the silence of the mainstream and liberal India. Apart from normal reports in newspapers, no prominent face came out to condemn the criminality of the thugs; no one expressed anger over the blatant violation of the liberal space which this country claims to be proud of.

The Express Tribune, Pakistan, writes that one of India’s prominent artists today, Anjolie Ela Menon, was not even aware that such an incident had taken place.

The Hindu fascist groups’ main target was not the paintings but the artworks of Pakistani artists. The main reason cited by Bajrang Dal for the aggression is the recent border tension where five Indian soldiers were reportedly killed by the Pakistani Army. No one knows what actually transpired at the Line of Control (LoC) but the hysteria built around that issue has drowned all the saner voices.

Media, particularly electronic media, played a great role in this jingoism and provided fodder to the groups like VHP and others who targeted Pakistani artists’ works.

Artists are not prisoners of a nation and cannot be defined in terms of their nationality. They are the voice of humanity and, therefore, attacks on any work of art deserve the strongest condemnation.

But the silence on the part of the otherwise loud media is awe-stirring.

Why did the proponents of free press, and the so-called protagonists of righteousness, fail to take up this issue of the attack on the paintings of the Pakistani artists? What stopped them?

With this silence, the media, which appears to act unbiased, has exposed its narrow character. It demonstrated its smaller vision and where it stands vis-a-vis peace and normalisation in the subcontinent.

Had an incident like this taken place with the works of an Indian artist in any place in Pakistan, the nationalist media in India would have broken all records. They would not have left any stone unturned in damning Islamabad for harbouring radical elements and not acting against them.

The Express Tribune quotes Lahore-based artist RM Naeem – whose paintings were destroyed in the attack as saying,

“Why will India show a bad face to the world? They are cashing in on ‘Incredible India’. It is our media that is unchecked.”

The paper also quotes the veteran Pakistani artist Shakil Saigol saying that

“They [Indians] proclaim to uphold art in high esteem. But there has been no strong criticism of the vandalism. It should have been vociferously condemned”.

The media acts as a mirror for the society and when the mirror starts lying then the society begins to live in a false sense of pride.

The media in India constantly feeds the story of ‘a Pakistan which is terrorist-infected and where religious fundamentalism is the order of the day’ but it hardly highlights a burgeoning and progressive civil society. The emergence of a newly vibrant youth, which abides by liberal values, supports the dynamism of democracy and is as progressive in outlook and habits as any other parts of the world, is never portrayed in any news regarding Pakistan. As a result, the Indians develop a sense of superiority and look down upon its neighbour which is geographically smaller in size and grappling with an existential crisis.

The by-product of this indoctrination is the general apathy towards what happened in Amdavad Ni Gufa in Gujarat. The incident got such little attention in the media that even otherwise enlightened citizens remained uninformed about the happening.

Art connects and politics divide. The best hope of bringing the two neighbours together is the ‘people to people’ contact, exchange of ideas between them and if this route is hindered the real victims would be the people of the entire subcontinent.

A section of the vocal media and intelligentsia assume a nationalistic overtone and, in return, harm the large cause of normalcy in the region.

No matter how much you try to hide the hard reality of modern India, it is a truth that fringe radical Hindu voices have managed to infiltrate the liberal space and they are posing a greater danger to the secular and progressive India.

Just couple of days before the incident in Ahmedabad, a discussion in Pune organised by Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and Yugpath, an NGO, got disrupted by the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), the student wing of the Hindu right wing, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). The ABVP physically assaulted five students because they were holding the seminar in memory of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a proponent of rational beliefs in the society who was killed recently by some right wing Hindu organisation for his fight against superstition.

Kafila, a progressive website promoting disparate and alternative voices on contemporary issues writes that,

“The attacks on Amdavad ni Gufa in Ahmedabad and the cancellation of Sanjay Kak’s film at Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Pune, are recent examples of mindless violence by right-wing fascist groups. It is critical to challenge the growing impunity with which fascist groups are intolerant of artists, thinkers, students and other individuals who are either opposed or not inclined to their politics.”

The question is, can the silence of the media and a section of intelligentsia, on the issues of fascist aggression and intrusions into the liberal, space help the cause of the larger India?

We know the consequences of silence in Kashmir. The media and the established intelligentsia behave like an extended arm to the political establishment. They assume nationalist overtones and forget to engage with people at the ground, what they fail to understand and highlight is the grievances of the people and as a result, the state remains alienated and misunderstood in most parts of India.

Our silence cost us MF Hussain, one of the greatest painters India has ever produced. He spent the last year of his life in exile, away from his muse and motherland.

The more we give concession to the fringe Hindu fascist elements, the more the country loses its identity and character. Pakistan understands what it means to remain silent if fringe religious fanatics try to create trouble in the society. India’s economic expansion cannot be successful and its democratic dynamism cannot be sustainable in the long run if its liberal space keeps on shrinking.

sanjay.kumar

Sanjay Kumar

The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (twitter.com/destinydefier).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.