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Baroda: Art student's work stirs up religious controversy
Binoy Valsan in Mumbai
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May 10, 2007 19:53 IST
Last Updated: May 10, 2007 23:42 IST

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu religious organisations have always been grumbling about the government's 'minority appeasement tactics' and 'special' privileges showered upon the minority vote bank across the country.

But a student artist in Baroda seems to have bridged the gap between VHP leaders and their Christian counterparts with his work, though not in a positive manner.

Chandra Mohan, a final year Master of Visual Arts student at The Maharaja Sayajirao University was arrested by Sayajiganj police from the university campus on Wednesday. He has been accused of hurting the religious sentiments of Christians and Hindus in the district.

Mohan -- who is originally from Andhra Pradesh -- has been placed under judicial custody at Baroda Central Prison until Friday afternoon, when his bail plea will come before the District Court.

The local Hindu and Christian religious brigades have rated his paintings of Shiv Linga, Goddess Durga and Jesus Christ as highly vulgar and objectionable. He has been booked under Section 153 (A) for promoting religious enmity and hurting religious sentiments with nefarious intentions like creating riots.

A group of VHP activists led by Niraj Jain, an advocate and a local VHP leader, barged into the university campus at around 3.30 pm on Wednesday, when the internal evaluation of the student works was being held. They allegedly manhandled Mohan and hurled abuses at the faculty members and other students.

They had tipped off the local police who were soon at the spot and took Mohan into custody, as he was 'a threat to the secular atmosphere of Baroda'.

"His paintings have hurt the religious sentiments of each and every person in Baroda. As I am speaking to you, a huge crowd has assembled outside the court to know what will become of his bail plea, which will be heard soon. There are 10 parish priests and a number of Christian religious leaders also here along with me. Baroda is known for it's cultural heritage and we will protect it any cost," said Niraj Jain, speaking to over the telephone.

Rev Immanuel Kant, the district superintendent of the Methodist Church who was also present at the court, said, "Our religion is all about forgiving but there is a limit. I have passed on the word to the Roman Catholic associations and the Parish Association also. Their representatives and 20 other pastors will be here soon. We are also planning to take out a protest rally in the city to voice our concern."

He also flayed Mohan for being 'a vulgar and insensitive person who dared to portray Lord Jesus in an extremely objectionable manner'.

Neeraj Jain repeatedly pointed out that there was no tension on campus as he had informed the police who acted quickly and took Mohan into custody.

"It was not at all an internal assessment or anything. In fact there were even reports about the exhibition in local papers. I just walked and pointed out the pictures to the police and that was it," reiterated Jain.

However Shivji Paniker, Dean (In-charge) of MS University had a different version to narrate to

"This group -- led by a local goonda -- barged into the campus at around 3.30 pm. They were very aggressive. They threatened us and abused us in very foul language. They also called police who came in and arrested our student. Now we are trying to file a counter FIR against them," said the Dean.

He also pointed out that cops are not supposed to enter a college campus unless called by the authorities. This matter in context was an internal one and was not concerned with any outsider, he added.

However when contacted, PC Thakur, Commissioner of Police, Baroda said the students and faculty members are not keen to press charges against Niraj Jain and others involved.

"They have not pressed for any charges against Niraj Jain. Nobody was manhandled. Mohan's works were extremely graphic and vulgar. In fact the Dean and other authorities were present when we did the panchnama," he added.

The CoP also added that police have been very cordial with Mohan and he has not been manhandled or badly treated in any manner.

When asked about police entering the campus, he said, "In certain special situations we need not wait for the college authorities' permission. We had received information that the situation could spiral out of control and turn violent on campus."

The college authorities stuck to their version and have promised to extend fullest support to their student. has received a copy of the petition signed by the students of MS University addressed to the commissioner, asking him to lodge a counter FIR against Niraj Jain for disrupting university examination procedure, trespassing MSU premises, public nuisance, physically manhandling Chandra Mohan, provoking the mob and attempting to destroy university property.

"This was entirely an evaluation process where there was no need for any outsider to be involved. Anyway, we have removed the paintings," said Shivji Panikar.

However some eyewitnesses disagreed and informed that Mohan was visibly shaken up and seemed to have been manhandled when they saw him at Sayajigunj police station.

"We got a tip-off about the obscene pictures and we just went in and took him into custody. Now the legal procedures are on," said DL Jhale, inspector, Sayajiganj police station.

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