MEMBERS OF Lal Shakti, a women’s organisation, and Rashtriya Hindu Ekta Manch (RHEM), a local outfit, stormed the Jaipur Art Summit (JAS) on Thursday afternoon, allegedly vandalised a painting and misbehaved with artist Radha Binod Sharma. Claiming that the painting was “obscene”, they took it to the local police station where they filed a complaint.
While Pandit Vijay Shankar Pandey, state general secretary of RHEM, was later arrested under Section 151 of the CrPC, police said Lal Shakti leader Hemlata Sharma was “absconding”.
“A few women, accompanied by some men, came in a vehicle… Some purported mediapersons who had cameras with them arrived separately… They went to the basement where the painting was displayed. It was all pre-planned and happened very quickly,” said Shailendra Bhatt, founder director of the JAS which is in its fourth year.
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A volunteer, Navneet, who was in the gallery at the time of the incident, said Hemlata inquired about the artist. “We thought she had some genuine queries, so we called the artist,” he said.
“But as soon as Radha Binod Sharma came, the woman shouted, ‘kya hai ye painting (what sort of a painting is this),” said another volunteer, Tanvi. “She pulled down the painting… and pushed the artist when he tried to stop her. The men who were with her warned the artist not to touch her,” said Tanvi.
Speaking to The Indian Express before she was declared “absconding”, Hemlata said, “Our objection was that a (semi) nude painting had been displayed. When questioned, the artist replied that it is ‘art’ and ‘nature’. I asked why it has to be portrayed through nude women. He said it is his freedom of expression, so I told him it is my freedom of expression to take it down. I had to take it down myself since he refused to do so.”
Stating that her organisation works against “the injustices we see in society,” she said, “I knew that even if it was taken down, it would be displayed again. So I had to take it to the police station.”
Speaking to The Indian Express before his arrest, Pandey said, “I read about some obscene paintings being displayed at the JAS. So I went there today… I saw Hemlataji, so I joined her. When the artist misbehaved with her, I got angry and warned him. She was right… the painting was vulgar.”
In the melee, the artist reportedly suffered minor injuries on his wrist and leg. “It happened so fast. Painting is your heart, it is your baby. It took me three months to make that painting, but they damaged it. It was plain dacoity,” he said.
“This is very sad. Artists cannot work like this. I do beauty. I do humanity. The painting is not obscene or vulgar. It is titled ‘Anubhav’, and was displayed in Ahmedabad earlier, but nobody objected,” he said. Born in Tripura, Radha Binod Sharma, 52, moved to London about 18 years ago.
“If somebody had any objection, they could have spoken to the artist or the organisers first. We could have showed them a different perspective, but they indulged in abhadrata (indecency) and vandalism,” said Bhatt.
“Based on the video footage, we arrested Pandey… We are on the lookout for Hemlata, who is absconding. What was done was illegal and unacceptable. We have assured security to the organisers,” said DCP, Jaipur East, Kunwar Rashtradeep.
“We have asked the organisers to submit a detailed complaint, following which we will take action. I went to the summit and assured each delegate, both foreigners and Indians, of their safety and security,” he said.
On Wednesday, the first day of the summit, organisers had to take down an installation following objections.
Last year too, the summit had run into controversy over a plastic cow installation, which was suspended in air. It was later brought down and the artists were taken to the police station. However, following Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s intervention, two policemen, including the SHO, were shunted out and the police commissioner extended an apology to the artists.