Where do the artists in India stand in the current political scenario? Raising a question like this brings in the memories of that perennial question that has been asked at every juncture in history when the history itself confronted a political crisis similar to the one in India today. For the beginners, I should add that the political crisis in India is nothing but a religious as well as cultural crisis. To achieve nefarious political ends, dominant parties have been misinterpreting the religious and cultural complexion of our country since independence. What we see today under the leadership of the BJP leader Mr. Narendra Modi as the PM of India is nothing but the logical culmination of such perverted political moves. The difference between the former political regimes and the present one is this that the former ones always protected the citizens from large scale atrocities using the sincere or false shield of secularism and unfortunately, the present regime has turned against its own citizens who in fact look up to the state like the children do with their parents, for protection, care and love. One may cite a series of political and religious carnages that took place in the post independent India, including the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. Though I cannot say that it was not politically and religiously motivated and premeditated, I should find solace in the fact that this was a localized affair, contained within a few days by the intervention of the state. Unlike such incidents, today, we find large scale political killings not only of the political opponents but also of the religious opponents. To make matters worse, the political killings cannot be just reduced to the simple formula of the Hindu extremists killing the Muslims who do not abide by the dominant cultural and religious aspects of this country; it has gone to the level of killing anybody who would speak against intolerance and demand religious, political and cultural tolerance and insist on scientific reasoning and the prevalence of democratic principles.
(That's called sending a religious message across)
In short, we should say today our country is going through a phase of religious extremism which unfortunately is perpetrated by the majority religion of this country; Hinduism. This is a shameful thing to the Hindus in general, exactly the way the moderate Muslims feel about their extremist brethren in India as well as elsewhere in the world. We have to accept the fact that we are witnessing the rise of the Hindu Terrorism in our country. Though terrorism brings in mind all those things that have rocked the world into the abyss of inhumanity, including those public executions, fuming and gassing, this country has not reached those excessive levels of atrocities against the citizens. But indications are there that anytime from now it could happen here. The killing of rationalists like Dhabolkar, Pansare and Kalburgi and the lynching of several Dalits, lynching of Muslims for allegedly eating beef, and everything points towards one thing; the days of fascism are here. Mr.Modi’s world tour and his impressive presentations of a futuristic India before the world political and economic leaders however do not change the situation back home. Call it whatever or name it however that would cover up the inhumanity behind it, the fact remains the same. Fascism is here at our door steps. The central ministers and even the chief ministers in our country say that those people who want to eat beef could migrate to Pakistan. Those who do not want to abide by the dominant Hindu ways, they could leave the country. Where do we all go, in case we are not interested in the dominant Hindu ways, and yet we are proud being Hindus in our own ways?
(writers who have returned their Sahitya Akademi Awards and resigned from the board)
The answer has already been given by our writers and intellectuals. Despite all criticisms and contemptuous remarks, the writers have done a remarkable job by returning the Sahitya Akademi Award. I do not want to go into the details of it. But I am surprised by the fact that the art community is yet to wake up and respond to the situation. Not a single word of objection against the fascist tendencies has come out of the artists’ community yet. I am not discounting the fact that they are all ruthlessly single minded in pursuing success in the material world without heeding much to the political and social changes in our society. They do notice and understand, but somehow they do not want to speak up. Generally it is said that the visual artists are those people who would respond to anything through their works of art. They are not sloganeering activists, nor are they doing their art for spreading political awareness. They are the people who live in their own private world of existentialism and the existential moorings that supposedly carry the political nuances of their thinking, which should reflect in their works. But in my observation, I do not see any artist, even though the existential seclusion that they hold so high to protect the private properties, no longer hold much weight in terms of creating contemporary art, doing anything that would actually make even a local Panchayat member to sit up, think and report it to the authorities, saying that here are some colors of political critique that needs to be identified, discussed and if need be curbed. If such art happens anywhere in our country, then definitely I could say that artists are making political art.
(Paris Society by Max Beckmann)
Let me take the example of several German Expressionists who escaped the political wrath and at the same time sent their views across the art loving public including the intellectuals, writers, musicians, designers, architects and so on, by painting narratives that brought out several parables and plays which held strong political messages in a very covert manner. We even hail Banksy and Ai Wei Wei as our contemporary examples of anti-establishment artists. But none of the Indian artists seem to have seen the light. They think that criticising the present political regime from within the confines of the comforts given by the drawing rooms dimly lit and adequately spirited with political comments for munching would suffice and establish a climate for strong anti-establishment stance. But unfortunately, this does not work anymore. When people are killed in the name of religion and politics, when rationalists are hunted down for their scientific views, scientists are lampooned for their logical views, when writers are forced to commit literary suicide for writing the real reality related to religions, when people are killed for kissing, dressing, drinking and eating whatever they prefer to as the constitution of India assures them so, when writers return their prestigious awards forcing the Prime Minister out of silence, our artists cannot say that they are pursuing a course of pacifism by painting more and more Buddha images. It is high time that they speak up.
(Prime Minister Narendra Modi)
It is so surprising to feel the silence of the artists, art historians, art critics, art writers, art curators, art organizers, art consultants, art collectors and art gallerists and so on than to feel the silence maintained by the Prime Minister of this country. The former Prime Minster did not speak because there was Sonia Gandhi’s high command breathing down his neck. This time Prime Minister Mr.Narendra Modi does not speak up because the fundamentalists in the guise of Rashtreeya Svayam Sevaks (RSS) breathing down on his neck. A Prime Minister who still functions on the plank of development renders the country useless by forcing it back to a neat 2000 years in history when human beings were trying to figure out a decent life in river banks and in forests. How could he turn this country into a digital country as promised and as proclaimed, if he does not take care of the negative working of the right wing Hindu fundamentalists? More than the protests of the political parties in India, the protests generated by the writers forced the Prime Minister open his mouth and make a statement in the lines of secular fabric of this country. Why our artists did not or do not do this? Our artists are also the recipients of various sammans, prizes, awards, and the Padma awards. Why don’t they give it back and intensify the protest against the religious fundamentalism and the growing fascism in this country? Senior artists who wear their secularism on their sleeves, like Vivan Sundaram, Gita Kapur, Paresh Maity, Anjolie Ela Menon and so on do not come out and return the awards, or at least take some steps towards it so that the country speak about the artists protesting against the present regime? Why?
(Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya)
The artists, I believe, should be the flag bearers of humanity therefore their philosophy should be humanism which is inclusive of all isms in the world and also inclusive of all the creatures of the earth. An artist cannot be outside any of these. When they are not out, they are definitely in. If they are in, why cannot they speak up from within? Their voice is the voice of humanity. Their voice is the voice of the creatures that cannot speak up. Their voice is the voice of the trees and birds. Their voice is the voice of the dispossessed. Their voice is the voice of the land and agriculture. Their voice is the voice of the tillers and factory workers. Their voice is the voice of the working class and the middle class. Their voice is the voice of all five elements. Their voice is the voice of reality and truth. Their voice is the voice of all those great men and women who walked on this earth. Their voice is the voice of the Titans who had fought against the cruel beasts. Their voice is the voice of gods that come and play with the human beings and do not rule them from up. Their voice is the voice of reason that reverberates from the temples, churches, mosques and the universities. Their voice is the voice of the villages and of the cities. Their voice is the voice of conscience and if their voice is not of the philosophy of humanism, their voice cannot be anything but a muted cry turned towards oneself inside their graves and pyres.
(Make in India campaign )
The latest is that in February 2016, in the city of Mumbai, the government of India is planning to have a major exhibition based on the theme of ‘Make in India’. The government has called for an open meeting with the artists, gallerists, curators and the other art movers and shakers. Apparently, one cannot object such moves of the government when the center decides that the state should be a partner in such projects. Hence, the project is not just art alone. It is a combination of science, technology, commerce, art and everything. For a week in Mumbai the ‘Make in India’ festival will happen in 2016 February. I do not think that it is a wrong move. It has a lot to do with the commerce and industry of our country. This contributes to the economy of our country. But my question is to the artists and those people who are involved in the art scene, Are you for this project or not? Will you participate in this project? This is a moment of choice. The country is facing a crisis. In Mumbai Ghulam Ali, the singer was stopped, in Mumbai eating of meat was stopped, in Mumbai they objected the expansion of the BDL Museum, in Mumbai they blackened the face of the peacenik Sudheendra Kulkarni, in Mumbai they object Biharis and UPites from getting taxi jobs unless they learn Marathi. It is in Mumbai that you are asked by the government to create works of art for ‘Make in India’. In the process of slow saffronisation of the art and culture establishments of India, the NGMA in Mumbai has also become a part now. The meeting is to be held there in the NGMA. The chairperson of the NGMA, Pheroza Godrej is expected to participate in it. Are you going to be a part of it? Your decision is going to decide your political stance. And that is going to decide your humanity.