Artistic freedom yes, but not with Aurangzeb : Kanchan Gupta (Pioneer daily)

9 03 2008


Artistic freedom yes, but not with Aurangzeb
DAILY PIONEER

Artistic freedom in increasingly ‘secular’ India has come to mean the right to denigrate Jesus Christ and Goddess Shakti, as was done by a callow student of the fine arts faculty of Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda last year. But permission to exhibit exquisite miniatures and firmans related to Aurangzeb has been denied, because 15 Muslims and a bogus nawab have demanded so.

French journalist Francois Gautier’s Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism (FACT) has painstakingly — and at great expense — put together a collection of 40 miniatures and firmans that tell the story of Aurangzeb’s rule. The exhibition is called Aurangzeb as he was according to Mughal records. “We have taken care to present all facets of Aurangzeb, including his piety,” says Gautier.

The collection was first exhibited to critical acclaim at the Habitat Centre in New Delhi. It next travelled to Pune where one lakh people visited the show. It was equally well received in Bangalore where the popular Gallery G hosted the exhibition. FACT then decided to take the collection to Chennai where it was supposed to be exhibited at the Lalit Kala Akademi from March 3 to 9.

The exhibition was inaugurated by N Vittal, former Chief Vigilance Commissioner, and B Raman, security expert and former R&AW official, March 3 at 5 pm. Some 100 people attended the inauguration. Since March 4, a continuous stream of people came to see the exhibits.

On March 5, a group of 15 Muslims (Gautier says “they were no more than six”) affiliated to the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, Manitha Neethi Paasarai and other Muslim organisations, entered the exhibition hall and confronted FACT volunteers who were present there. Raising their voice, they rubbished the show and alleged that it did not portray the right image of ‘their’ Aurangzeb.

“They threatened they wouldn’t allow the show to go on, that they would send hundreds of protesters after Friday prayers from a nearby mosque,” says Gautier. The organisers lodged a complaint with the local police station and the next day policemen were posted at Lalit Kala Akademi.

Meanwhile, RM Palaniappan, manager of Lalit Kala Akademi, rattled by the protest by 15 men, asked FACT to pack up and leave. He panicked after Assistant Commissioner of Police KN Murali visited the exhibition hall, had a cursory look at the miniatures and firmans (written in Persian and hence unintelligible to him), worked himself into a rage and shouted at the organisers, lacing his diatribe with expletives, before stomping off, threatening to return.

On March 6, Prince of Arcot Nawab Mohammed Abdul Ali made a surprise visit to the exhibition at 3 pm. After spending some time looking at the miniatures and the firmans, he lashed out at FACT volunteers and accused them of “misrepresenting facts”. He was particularly enraged by two miniatures — the first depicted Aurangzeb’s army destroying the Somnath temple and the second showed the destruction of the Kesava Rai temple in Mathura.

He insisted that the paintings amounted to “fabrication and distortion of history” and that Aurangzeb had never done anything to harm the Hindus. He demanded that the exhibition be immediately shut down and said he would take up the issue with “higher authorities” in the State Government. Later, the ‘Prince of Arcot’ issued a Press statement, claiming, “the exhibition seemed to dwell only on Aurangazeb’s alleged misdeeds and not a word about his munificent contribution. The exhibition would only promote enmity between various groups.”

By Thursday, March 7, “higher authorities” in Tamil Nadu Government had issued instructions to the police to shut down the exhibition. Murali, along with his men, stormed into the exhibition hall on Thursday evening and began taking down the paintings. “He was looking for the paintings showing the destruction of Somnath and Kesava Rai temples. He threw them to the floor,” said a FACT volunteer.

The police say they acted after receiving “three complaints that the show would disturb communal harmony”. They wanted the exhibition to be shut down immediately as the next day was Friday. The police also forcibly took into custody three FACT volunteers — Saraswathi (65), D Vijayalakshmi (62) and Malathi (47) — although women cannot be detained after sunset in police stations. They were not allowed to contact their families.

The hall has been sealed and FACT has no idea about the fate of the paintings and other exhibits, including the priceless firmans. “I am told some of the paintings have been damaged beyond repair. This is shocking, especially because what we have witnessed is vandalism by the police,” says Gautier.

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