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Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM
Counterview Desk 
In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act.
Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”.
While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela's Facebook page clearly suggests he is a political appointee. Calling himself "politician", he has proudly posted two photos with Narendra Modi and several other photographs of his active participation in BJP's political activities.

Text: 

We, the Alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts, would like to bring to your notice our condemnation of the violence committed by a mob on our Alma Mater. We also oppose the assault and rustication of one of our students and the lack of action taken against the individuals who violated our institution and assaulted a current student.
The events that took place on the 5th of May, 2022, are very disconcerting and a grave cause for concern. In particular:
  • The violent disruption of the examination process.
  • Assault on one of the current students of the Faculty.
  • Vandalism of public property, and an artwork by a student.
  • Physical and verbal threats to the gazetted officers of the faculty, students and other teaching staff.
According to Mr Hasmukh Vaghela's statements and those in the procession he led, these attacks were allegedly sparked by religious sentiments hurt by images allegedly produced as part of a student's examination work.
It is a fact well established in the public domain that the student in question was not a part of the outgoing batch. The images in question were presented as part of the confidential examination process conducted on the 1st of May, five days before the public display was to be conducted i.e. 6th of May. These were subsequently not accepted as part of the submission and hence immediately taken down. No such work was intended by any means for public display, as students and teachers have repeatedly attested.
Despite these facts, acts of violence, disruption, and vandalism were committed in broad daylight. These are criminal attacks against a public institution, its staff, and students.
All of these acts, especially the assault on one of the students, have been widely documented by the media, students present on campus, and supported by numerous eyewitness accounts.
We are immensely disheartened, aggrieved, and infuriated that this kind of violent disruption of the vital and prestigious public University's examination process, can happen in the first place. This kind of attack should be alarming for all of us who are concerned about the cultural fabric and the democratic ethos of our country; for art students, residents, and citizens of this country at large.
According to media reports, the university has only so far set up a fact-finding committee to investigate whether said artwork exists in the first place or not. It has from the get-go been extremely doubtful that these acts were a crime of passion, provoked by what Mr Hasmukh Vaghela and others have cited as ‘hurt sentiments’. As mentioned above, there was a gap of several days between the examination procedure and the display. The organised disruption was carried out one day before the opening of the event, which itself raises questions about whether this was indeed a conspiracy to attack and defame the institution and a media stunt used for the advancement of the political careers of the leaders.
The investigation committee on the other hand appears to be looking for individuals to accuse and punish in the student body or teaching staff, rather than focusing on investigating the unlawful disruption of the examination process. The very real matters of grave concern that we should be addressing have been apparently sidelined by these witch hunts.
We see it as our responsibility to stand in solidarity as ex-students and citizens, condemning the violence and these witch hunts against our respected teachers and fellow students. We demand that the matter is investigated thoroughly and immediate action is taken against the Syndicate Member Mr Hasmukh Vaghela and other co-conspirators in breach of the university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight. We also demand that the university take legal action against the leaders of the mob and the vandals, and take a stand against such abominable acts.
The safety of our educational institutions, their students, and staff is vital to the national and international repute of this city and the University. Citizens of Vadodara pride themselves on Vadodara being well known for its safety and its world-renowned educational institutions.
The Faculty of Fine Arts has contributed tremendously to the cultural fabric of the city. The annual display during which we open our doors to the general public so that we can make art more inclusive for all audiences, it being part of our annual contributions. Our faculty also hosts the Fine Arts Fair and Garba and is renowned the world over for having such a multi-dimensional model of arts education.
The Faculty of Fine Arts has the most internationally and nationally recognised practitioners and scholars, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardees to its credit, some of whom include K. G. Subramanyan, Jyoti Bhatt, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Dhruv Mistry, Ratan Parimoo, Vasudevan Akkitham, and Nasreen Mohamedi, to name but a few. This renowned educational institution, which attracts students from all over the country and the world to the city, enhances its cultural diversity, contributing significantly to its democratic ethos and its national and international repute.
An attack such as this is nothing but an attack on this country and its democratic ethos.
These being serious criminal offences, we also urge our representatives at University Senate, Mr Bipin Patel and Mr. Praful Gohil, Dean Mr. Jayaram Poduval, Senate member and Vice Dean, Mr Kashyap Parikh, Student Dean Mrs Ambika Patel, and the Heads of the Departments to address our concerns by issuing statements regarding the unlawful interruption and attempted interference of the examination process, unjust expulsion of the student Kundan Yadav. We duly recommend an inquiry into the same.
There has been an absence of any investigation into the attack on our institution so far. Also, no action against the person who has assaulted the student on camera in broad daylight, right inside the institutional campus, during an ongoing examination process. It raises further questions.
The organised disruption was carried out one day before the opening of the event, which raises questions about whether this was a conspiracy
Does this demonstrate sheer negligence and lack of concern for the safety of the students, a failure on the part of our representatives to adequately represent the faculty and students?
In addition, there also seem to be multiple reasons to believe that these acts were premeditated, and as the artwork in question was never meant for public viewing, there may be a larger issue at play with which we are not privy to. We are extremely disconcerted that there has been no investigation on these matters.
  • How did Mr Hasmukh Vaghela manage to lead this violent procession into the campus with impunity? Is this kind of conduct acceptable on the part of a syndicate member of this University?
  • What were the real reasons behind an act of this kind, in what context and with what real agenda were these images circulated?
Since our Dean, several senior teachers, department heads, and a student have been physically assaulted and explicitly threatened with more violence by members of this procession, we believe it is now our responsibility as students, staff, alumni, and citizens to stand in solidarity.
This educational institution where we all studied has been a space for learning valuable lessons about our social responsibility as artists and citizens.
It is a place where not only students are allowed to make mistakes as well as learn from them, but also a place where students learn to think deeply, critically and from multiple perspectives about the role of images in our society. It is here that we learn about how we as image-makers can exercise our role with sensitivity and responsibility.
In this institution, our learning takes place through critical discourse and exposure to people and cultural practices from all over the country and the world, which we owe to the diversity of the teaching staff as well as the student body as well as to being given the space to express ourselves first and then receiving critical feedback on our work. This is how learning takes place, and this is what education is as a process.
It seems absurd to even imagine that anyone could find the images of the artwork that were circulated offensive enough to commit such great crimes in the name of any religion or religious sentiments. There is a profound irony reflected in the fact that the members of the mob claimed to be more outraged about images of female deities than the issues the images were trying to represent. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. An average of 88 rape cases are reported each day in our country, and a crime against a woman is committed every three minutes. (See the National Crime Records Bureau's annual report) (NCRB). These are real concerns faced by flesh and blood women of this country who have been survivors/victims of and/or are living under the constant threat of sexual violence.
The right to education is enshrined in our constitution as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We believe that the student Kundan Yadav's right to education has been violated by the decision taken by a syndicate of which people like Mr Hasmukh Vaghela and their supporters are still sitting members, despite having breached the University Code of Conduct and the law in broad daylight. We condemn this decision, demand that it gets revoked, and stand in solidarity with him.
If the investigation by the fact-finding committee has been thorough, and due cause has been found for the rustication of said student of which we are not aware at this time, we demand a copy of the reports be disclosed.
We believe that the acts of violence committed by Mr Hasmukh Vaghela and the members of the mob he led will not be tolerated. We strongly recommend that the authorities take immediate action as required by law against the members and leaders of the mob, and hold an investigation into the real matter conducted by an independent body in which there are elected representatives from the student body of the faculty as well as alumni. We also urge you to provide assurance of security to the campus as to prevent further harm and ensure that the academic affairs at Faculty including the display be resumed immediately.
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Click here to sign the statement

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