Freedom gagged

Freedom gagged (New Indian Express)
This exhibition is not about raking-up the past or "creating communal disharmony", it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike, knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. Aurangzeb's shadow and legacy is very much present
BY FRANCOIS GAUTIER


O N the March 7, 2008, in Lalit Kala Academi, Chennai, Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took off the wall an exquisite miniature painting, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple (which has been razed six times) and threw it on the ground, shattering it. Then his men started removing all the paintings from the wall, further damaging many of them. On that day, the morale and the reputation of the Tamil Nadu police must have sunk to a new low : of bowing down to their master's wishes and those of a few fanatics, of forsaking moral decency and all the qualities that a police officer should embody.

The previous day the Nawab of Arcot visited the exhibition and lashed out at FACT volunteers accusing 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. We are told that he has direct access to the CM's office and that orders to the police to clamp down on exhibition came down from there. Otherwise, Mr Murali would not have dared to go so far, so brazenly.

Soon, the nawab sent a group of goons, allegedly from TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) and MNP (Manitha Neethi Paasarai) to pick up arguments with the volunteers, most of them elderly women from decent family backgrounds.

They came back again on 7th afternoon when I was there, screaming on, top of their voices in Tamil and in English that this exhibition was absolutely false and that unless it was closed immediately they would come back in force the next day (Friday) to break it down. I tried to reason with them, that these were all documents from Government archives, that I could explain everything to them, that we could even debate on TV, but they shouted even louder and got more threatening. When all these arguments were going on the police did not bother to come up.

(The hall is on the first floor.) Then the goons closeted them selves with Mr Murali, two other officers and Mr Palaniappan, the secretary of the LKA, in his office and when I barged in, Mr Murali told me he was closing down the exhibition. I decided to rush to the Commissioner's office in Egmore to plead for a stay order.

But meanwhile Mr Murali swung into action: he terrorised the harmless ladies calling them " stooges of a white dog," threw two paintings on the ground and ordered his policemen to remove the rest. Then he arrested four volunteers (Mrs. Srarswathi, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, Mrs.

Malathi and Mr. B.R. Haran) and took them to the Thousand Lights police station. There ACP termed Mr. Francois as a "Foreign Terrorist" and threatened to book the volunteers "for helping and assisting him to incite communal violence in the otherwise peaceful Tamil Nadu."

What was all the noise about? Lalit Kala Academi was showing an exhibition: "Aurangzeb as he was according to his own records." This is an artistic exhibition on Aurangzeb, the great Mughal emperor using his own records and firmans (edicts), many of which are still preserved in Indian museums, such as the Bikaner archives.

Aurangzeb was truly a pious Muslim, copying the Koran himself, stitching Muslim skullcaps and enforcing strict laws, according to his own documents, which we were careful to show. How come Aurangzeb is such a hero with the Nawab of Arcot and his henchmen? Forget what he did to Hindus : reimposing the humiliating jiziya tax, forbidding them from riding horses, elephants or palanquins and ordering all temples destroyed (Among them the Krishna's birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya), he was also a monster to his own family, having his father poisoned, his two brothers killed, and imprisoning his own son.

This exhibition was sponsored by FACT, which I created in 2003, when I received at the hands of the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha the Natchiketa Award of Excellence in Journalism. With the Prize money, my Indian wife Namrita and myself mounted an exhibition on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, four hundred thousand of them having become refugees in their own country.

This exhibition travelled around India and then in the world and was shown in Capitol Hill, Washington, in July 2005, leading to a bipartisan resolution on the Human Rights of the Kashmiri Pandits in the US Congress . Another exhibition on the persecution of Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh was inaugurated in Mumbai on November 18, 2006. We have also a huge show on Shivaji ‘a Hero for Modern, India' in Mumbai on March 12 in Ravindra Natya Mandir.

A lot of historical research and artistic efforts have gone into the making of this exhibition. It is also an effort to help a dying craft, of the painters of Rajasthan, that of miniature painting. Each original painting, which portrays a historically docu mented incident in the times of Aurangzeb, has been done in the original Mughal style and is signed and dated. Professor V. S. Bhatnagar of the Rajasthan University, Jaipur, has contributed the historical research part.

We are hiring a lawyer to file a case on FACT's behalf on five counts:

1) Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took two of the paintings, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple and threw them on the ground. I hear six more paintings have been damaged and we have no news of the exhibition as it has been sealed. It costs 8 lakhs to do (all original miniature paintings not counting my time).

2) We paid Lalit Kala Academi a lot of money and they cancelled the show.

3) The police took in a police van three innocent ladies to the police station after 6 p.m. which is illegal.

4) The police totally sided with the goons, closeting themselves in the manager's office for one hour.

5) Mr Murali threatened the ladies repeatedly that they were ‘terrorists.' 6) Lastly, we will file a case against Lalit Kala Academi for damage to our paintings, infringement upon our freedom of expression and we will demand that they reopen the exhibition in their premises so that the people of Chennai may have the opportunity to make their own judgment about it.

This exhibition is not about raking up the past or "creating communal disharmony," it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. For Aurangzeb's shadow and legacy is still very much present in India.

It was there in Kashmir when all the Hindus were forced by terror to leave their homeland; it is there when Indian Muslims help plant bombs in Mumbai trains, Varanasi, or Delhi; it was there in Chennai when a few Muslim rowdies hold at ransom an entire state and its political apparatus. This is why we had that exhibition.

François Gautier is political correspondent in South Asia for " Le Figaro" for eight years. He is now the editor in chief of Paris-based La Revue de l'Inde (lesbelleslettres.com)

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