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Art for a cause! Whose?

Francois Gautier is here with his latest works. This time, he focuses on Kashmiri Pandits. Will the show at India Habitat Centre help in resolving the age-old issue? Or will it reopen old wounds? GAYATRI SINHA speaks to the French artis t whose heart bleeds for Pandits but whose eyes overlook a lot else... .

THERE IS no solution to Kashmir. Neither Pakistan nor India will relinquish their claim. This appearance of normalcy that you see now is temporary and will be destroyed with the first bomb. There has been a radicalisation of the Kashmiri youth. This statement comes from Francois Gautier who sounds like a man with a mission. A former political correspondent for Le Figaro and now Ouest France, in India, he has launched the Foundation Against Continuing Terrorism - FACT - with the potentially controversial exhibition `Terror Unleashed: An Exhibition on Kashmir' at India Habitat Centre that remains on view till this coming Wednesday. As a photo-document presented in the unlikely context of an art gallery, `Terror Unleashed' draws attention to the plight of Kashmiri Pandits, since the terrorist activities began in 1989.

According to Gautier's figures: four lakh Kashmiri Pandits have been forced to flee their homeland. 70,000 even today live in refugee camps in Delhi and Jammu without redressal of their needs. He speaks of the vandalisation of scores of Hindu temples and attacks on over 900 institutions that include schools and hospitals.

He writes, "Kashmir was known as Sharda Peeth - the abode of learning. Now the Pandits, the original inhabitants have been forced to flee. 5000 years of civilisation at stake". The purpose of this rhetoric is to carry this exhibition to different world capitals. Gautier, who was recently awarded the Nachiketa award for Journalism by the Prime Minister, plans to take this exhibition to Washington DC, since the Americans have also suffered terrorism. He also plans to take it to the U.N. headquarters in New York, the U.N. Human Rights Commission headquarters in Geneva and to Paris, the seat of UNESCO. His idea is to make a strong pitch for the terrorist plan to "exterminate Hindus". The exhibition comprises images of mutilated bodies, wailing women, destroyed temples. It also contains statistics of the number of terrorist attacks on Kashmiris and Pakistani designs to destroy a literary, aesthetic tradition that was the cradle of Kashmir Shaivism and which bed intellectual path breakers such as Kalhan, Kshemendra and Abhinavgupta. Terrorist activity, as he describes it, is a deliberate ploy to destroy 5000 years of Hindu Kashmiri culture.

This is Gautier's first in a series of proactive exhibitions on India, the next will be on the North-East.

Francois Gautier came to India at the age of 19, and spent the next eight years at the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry and claims to be greatly influenced by Sri Aurobindo, whom he quotes as saying prophetically in 1940. "In Kashmir the Hindus had all the monopoly. Now if the Muslim demands are acceded to, the Hindus will be wiped out again". His essential proposition is that Kashmiri Pandits are being ignored because they are numerically too small to constitute a vote bank. Self described as pro-Hindu, he believes he is the only western journalist other than Mark Tully to report fairly on India. Thus, he quotes French academic studies on India as being caste obsessed and of the western media printing stories of catastrophe in India, "if you do not fall in line, you are not published" he says.

This exhibition comes at a time when tourists have flocked to Kashmir in unprecedented numbers, and when prayers have been offered at the Khir Bhavani temple after 12 years. In this context, the heightened rhetoric raises some important questions. Its location in an art gallery, for a diffuse audience that it seeks to inform and awaken, can provoke rather than resolve a pressing issue. What of moderate Hindu and Muslim opinion that seeks genuine resolution of the Kashmir issue? Can a flagrant display of violence aid in a restoration of civil liberties in Kashmir? What of the broader picture, of atrocities undertaken in the name of law and order? Agreeing as one does, that the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits is acute, that Kashmiri culture has suffered under the rule of the gun, how can an organisation like FACT effect genuine change? Alternatively, should not this exhibition have been mounted at the time of the Nachiketa award to draw the political attention of the plight of the Pandits? Can the problems of displacement be resolved through volatile public opinion? Or is the need in Kashmir for sustained good governance?

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