On May 5, 2022, a large group of protesters vandalized the faculty of fine arts and verbally assaulted personnel from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (MSU) over alleged controversial artwork depicting Hindu goddesses.
Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and other right-wing groups protested in response to images circulated of artwork that was displayed in preparation for students’ end-of-year exhibition. They claimed that the students displayed artwork that portrayed Hindu goddesses in objectionable ways.
Protesters reportedly threatened teaching personnel and attempted to force their way into the fine arts staff room. They were unsuccessful, but managed to break into the dean’s office where they vandalized furniture. Police then arrived on the scene to restore order.
MSU’s fine art dean stated that that the alleged artwork was not produced by his students and was no where to be found. Police also reported that they did not find the alleged artwork. Sources further suggest that the alleged artwork was planted and photographed for wider circulation. The university reportedly launched an inquiry into the matter.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by the intimidation of university personnel and acts of vandalism in response to alleged nonviolent academic and artistic activity — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party. State and university authorities should take steps to prevent and respond to such incidents, including by carrying out investigations and holding perpetrators responsible. Violent, coercive actions intended to restrict or retaliate against students’ artistic work undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)