Manas Dasgupta

He was arriving for a painting show

AHMEDABAD: The Sangh Parivar’s “moral police” on Friday attacked the former acting dean of the fine arts faculty of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Vadodara, Shivaji Panikkar.

Mr. Panikkar, who was the acting dean and is still leading an agitation by the university students fighting for their right to freedom of expression, was here to inaugurate a painting exhibition. It was organised by the Delhi-based voluntary organisation, Anhad, on the themes of communal harmony and unity in diversity. The paintings are a collection from school students from all over the country and a selected few are on display here.

As soon as Mr. Panikkar arrived at the venue, about 30 Parivar activists armed with lathis and stones attacked his car and damaged it. Both the driver and Mr. Panikkar received lathi blows.

They escaped serious injuries as the driver sped on the advice of Anhad convener Shabnam Hashmi.

Ms. Hashmi later said a few people had come on Thursday to enquire about the exhibition. But she now realised their intentions when she saw them among the attackers.

Mr. Panikkar lodged a complaint with the Navrangpura police against his unidentified assailants.

While there was no apparent motive for the attack, the reason could be Mr. Panikkar was leading the agitation against a local BJP leader, Niraj Jain, who led a crowd of Parivar activists to ransack the faculty a couple of months ago for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus.

The mob was objecting to some paintings by a final year student depicting some Hindu gods and goddesses.

On Mr. Jain’s complaint, Vice-Chancellor Manoj Soni suspended Mr. Panikkar and locked the Fine Arts Department just before the summer vacation.

After the University reopened last month, the students resumed their agitation. Some of them led by Mr. Panikkar have threatened to go on indefinite fast demanding action against Mr. Jain and his supporters.

The issue was brought to the notice of the Prime Minister by several leading artistes and others.

The Ahmedabad incident sparked immediate protest by students in the Vadodara University, where they were holding a sit-in dharna against the Vice-Chancellor’s “inaction” against Mr. Jain.

The students demanded the University authorities to take immediate steps against the Parivar activists.

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