Freedom gagged

Freedom gagged (New Indian Express)

This exhibition is not about raking-up the past or “creating communal disharmony”, it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike, knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. Aurangzeb’s shadow and legacy is very much present

O N the March 7, 2008, in Lalit Kala Academi, Chennai, Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took off the wall an exquisite miniature painting, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple (which has been razed six times) and threw it on the ground, shattering it. Then his men started removing all the paintings from the wall, further damaging many of them. On that day, the morale and the reputation of the Tamil Nadu police must have sunk to a new low : of bowing down to their master’s wishes and those of a few fanatics, of forsaking moral decency and all the qualities that a police officer should embody.

The previous day the Nawab of Arcot visited the exhibition and lashed out at FACT volunteers accusing them of “misrepresenting facts.” He was particularly enraged by two miniatures – the first depicted Aurangzeb’s army destroying the Somnath temple and the second showed the destruction of the Kesava Rai temple in Mathura. We are told that he has direct access to the CM’s office and that orders to the police to clamp down on exhibition came down from there. Otherwise, Mr Murali would not have dared to go so far, so brazenly.

Soon, the nawab sent a group of goons, allegedly from TMMK (Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam) and MNP (Manitha Neethi Paasarai) to pick up arguments with the volunteers, most of them elderly women from decent family backgrounds.

They came back again on 7th afternoon when I was there, screaming on, top of their voices in Tamil and in English that this exhibition was absolutely false and that unless it was closed immediately they would come back in force the next day (Friday) to break it down. I tried to reason with them, that these were all documents from Government archives, that I could explain everything to them, that we could even debate on TV, but they shouted even louder and got more threatening. When all these arguments were going on the police did not bother to come up.

(The hall is on the first floor.) Then the goons closeted them selves with Mr Murali, two other officers and Mr Palaniappan, the secretary of the LKA, in his office and when I barged in, Mr Murali told me he was closing down the exhibition. I decided to rush to the Commissioner’s office in Egmore to plead for a stay order.

But meanwhile Mr Murali swung into action: he terrorised the harmless ladies calling them ” stooges of a white dog,” threw two paintings on the ground and ordered his policemen to remove the rest. Then he arrested four volunteers (Mrs. Srarswathi, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, Mrs.

Malathi and Mr. B.R. Haran) and took them to the Thousand Lights police station. There ACP termed Mr. Francois as a “Foreign Terrorist” and threatened to book the volunteers “for helping and assisting him to incite communal violence in the otherwise peaceful Tamil Nadu.”

What was all the noise about? Lalit Kala Academi was showing an exhibition: “Aurangzeb as he was according to his own records.” This is an artistic exhibition on Aurangzeb, the great Mughal emperor using his own records and firmans (edicts), many of which are still preserved in Indian museums, such as the Bikaner archives.

Aurangzeb was truly a pious Muslim, copying the Koran himself, stitching Muslim skullcaps and enforcing strict laws, according to his own documents, which we were careful to show. How come Aurangzeb is such a hero with the Nawab of Arcot and his henchmen? Forget what he did to Hindus : reimposing the humiliating jiziya tax, forbidding them from riding horses, elephants or palanquins and ordering all temples destroyed (Among them the Krishna’s birth temple in Mathura, the rebuilt Somnath temple on the coast of Gujarat, the Vishnu temple replaced with the Alamgir mosque now overlooking Benares and the Treta-ka-Thakur temple in Ayodhya), he was also a monster to his own family, having his father poisoned, his two brothers killed, and imprisoning his own son.

This exhibition was sponsored by FACT, which I created in 2003, when I received at the hands of the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha the Natchiketa Award of Excellence in Journalism. With the Prize money, my Indian wife Namrita and myself mounted an exhibition on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits, four hundred thousand of them having become refugees in their own country.

This exhibition travelled around India and then in the world and was shown in Capitol Hill, Washington, in July 2005, leading to a bipartisan resolution on the Human Rights of the Kashmiri Pandits in the US Congress . Another exhibition on the persecution of Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Bangladesh was inaugurated in Mumbai on November 18, 2006. We have also a huge show on Shivaji ‘a Hero for Modern, India’ in Mumbai on March 12 in Ravindra Natya Mandir.

A lot of historical research and artistic efforts have gone into the making of this exhibition. It is also an effort to help a dying craft, of the painters of Rajasthan, that of miniature painting. Each original painting, which portrays a historically docu mented incident in the times of Aurangzeb, has been done in the original Mughal style and is signed and dated. Professor V. S. Bhatnagar of the Rajasthan University, Jaipur, has contributed the historical research part.

We are hiring a lawyer to file a case on FACT’s behalf on five counts:

1) Assistant Commissioner of Police K N Murali, took two of the paintings, which showed the destruction of the Somnath temple and threw them on the ground. I hear six more paintings have been damaged and we have no news of the exhibition as it has been sealed. It costs 8 lakhs to do (all original miniature paintings not counting my time).

2) We paid Lalit Kala Academi a lot of money and they cancelled the show.

3) The police took in a police van three innocent ladies to the police station after 6 p.m. which is illegal.

4) The police totally sided with the goons, closeting themselves in the manager’s office for one hour.

5) Mr Murali threatened the ladies repeatedly that they were ‘terrorists.’ 6) Lastly, we will file a case against Lalit Kala Academi for damage to our paintings, infringement upon our freedom of expression and we will demand that they reopen the exhibition in their premises so that the people of Chennai may have the opportunity to make their own judgment about it.

This exhibition is not about raking up the past or “creating communal disharmony,” it is about Indian children, Hindus and Muslims alike knowing their own past and making sure it does not happen again. For Aurangzeb’s shadow and legacy is still very much present in India.

It was there in Kashmir when all the Hindus were forced by terror to leave their homeland; it is there when Indian Muslims help plant bombs in Mumbai trains, Varanasi, or Delhi; it was there in Chennai when a few Muslim rowdies hold at ransom an entire state and its political apparatus. This is why we had that exhibition.

François Gautier is political correspondent in South Asia for ” Le Figaro” for eight years. He is now the editor in chief of Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde (

3 responses to “Freedom gagged

  1. Gautier, what is happening here is a microcosm of what is happening world wide. Non-Muslims are not acting like the dhimmis they are supposed to as far as Islamists are concerned. The Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) is trying to gag freedom of speech world wide, under the disguise of ““Combating Defamation of Religion.” However, other religions are not the real beneficiaries of this resolution and respect for religions is not the purpose of this resolution that the OIC is trying to pass in the UN.

    “…“Before, it was one resolution with no impact and no implementation,” said Felice Gaer, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal body that investigates abuses and proposes policies to advance freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “Now we are seeing a clear attempt by OIC countries to mainstream the concept and insert it into just about every other topic they can,” Miss Gaer said. “They are turning freedom of expression into restriction of expression.”

    European governments are also concerned. The European Centre for Law and Justice filed a brief with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in June warning that such anti-defamation resolutions “are in direct violation of international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and expression.”

    U.S. officials working on human rights said the resolutions are being used to justify harsh blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan and Afghanistan.

    The American and European governments warn that the resolution — which specifically mentions Islam but no other religions — is “an Orwellian text” that has been used to shut down free speech.

    The resolution “replaces the existing objective criterion of limitations on speech where there is an intent to incite hatred or violence against religious believers with a subjective criterion that considers whether the religion or its believers feel offended by the speech,” said the brief by the European Centre for Law and Justice. “In cases we’ve monitored, it’s minority religions — Christians, Baha’i, and non-conforming Muslims” — who are most at risk, Miss Gaer said. “People who want to interpret their religion differently than some of the more orthodox clerics would.”

    “This [language] destabilises the whole human rights system,” said Angela Wu, international law director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm in Washington. “It empowers the state rather than individual, and protects ideas rather than the person who holds them.”…” Entire article is here

    The country most pushing for this resolution is Pakistan.

  2. Gautier, I share with you also this article. It gives a bit of background history to OIC’s push for this resolution in the UN. What happened to you could only worsen and far more people all around the world will be affected. As it says below, truth ends up being no defense in such cases because the subjective perception of insult is what matters, and that is why what the OIC is doing is dangerous, and what happened to people like you is like a canary in a mine.

    …Pakistan and the other nations that have banded together in the Organization of the Islamic Conference have been leading a remarkably successful campaign through the United Nations to enshrine in international law prohibitions against “defamation of religions,” particularly Islam. Their aim is to empower governments around the world to punish anyone who commits the “heinous act” of defaming Islam. Critics say it is an attempt to globalize laws against blasphemy that exist in some Muslim countries — and that the movement has already succeeded in suppressing open discussion in international forums of issues such as female genital mutilation, honour killings and gay rights.

    The campaign gives a new global context in which to view Levant’s ordeal and other recent attempts to censor or punish Canadian commentators, publishers and cartoonists. Human rights cases were brought against this magazine for the October 2006 publication of an excerpt of a book by Mark Steyn that, the complainants alleged, “subjected Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt.” David Harris, a former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, was sued for remarks he made on the Ottawa radio station CFRA linking a Canadian Islamic group to a controversial American organization. And in May, a Nova Scotia Islamic group filed complaints with Halifax police and the province’s human rights commission against the Halifax Chronicle-Herald for a cartoon it considered a hate crime.

    Pakistan brought the first “defamation of religions” resolution to the UN Human Rights Council in 1999 — before the attacks of 9/11 and a resulting “backlash” against Muslims. That first resolution was entitled “Defamation of Islam.” That title was later changed to include all religions, although the texts of all subsequent resolutions have continued to single out Islam. The resolutions have passed the UN Human Rights Council every year since the first was introduced.
    The trend has rights advocates worried for numerous reasons, beginning with the language used. If the notion of “defaming” a religion sounds a little unfamiliar, that’s because it is a major departure from the traditional understanding of what defamation means. Defamation laws traditionally protect individual people from being materially harmed by the dissemination of falsehoods. But “defamation of religions” is not about protecting individual believers from damage to their reputations caused by false statements — but rather about protecting a religion, or some interpretation of it, or the feelings of the followers. While a traditional defence in a defamation lawsuit is that the accused was merely telling the truth, religions by definition present competing claims on the truth, and one person’s religious truth is easily another’s apostasy. “Truth” is no defence in such cases. The subjective perception of insult is what matters, and what puts the whole approach on a collision course with the human rights regime — especially in countries with an official state religion.

    …In a written brief, Wu said that the resolutions seek to mimic the kinds of anti-blasphemy laws that exist in countries such as Pakistan. The UN resolutions “operate as international anti-blasphemy laws and provide international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, which in practice empower ruling majorities against weak minorities and dissenters,” her brief states. Pakistan’s penal code includes a section that states that defiling Islam or its prophets is deserving of the death penalty; that defiling, damaging or desecrating the Quran will be punished with life imprisonment; and insulting another’s religious feelings can be punished with 10 years in prison. A 2006 report from the U.S. State Department on international religious freedom stated that such anti-blasphemy laws “are often used to intimidate reform-minded Muslims, sectarian opponents, and religious minorities, or to settle personal scores.”
    …A broad interpretation of defamation, Ligabo further wrote, “has more often than not been used by governments as a means to restrict criticism and silent [sic] dissent. Furthermore, as regional human rights courts have already recognized, the right to freedom of expression is applicable not only to comfortable, inoffensive or politically correct opinions, but also to ideas that ‘offend, shock and disturb.’ The constant confrontation of ideas, even controversial ones, is a stepping stone to vibrant democratic societies.” Ligabo added that limits on hate speech were put into international agreements in order to prevent war propaganda and incitement of national, racial or religious hatred. They were “not designed to protect belief systems from external or internal criticism.”…
    …The religious defamation laws urged by the resolutions rely on subjective emotional reactions and are therefore easy to abuse. “We don’t want a jurisprudence of hurt feelings,” said Wu. Levant calls the anti-defamation campaign a “soft jihad” — an attempt to advance Islamic law around the world, not through violence but through Western legal channels. “If an army came to our shores saying give up equal rights for women and your freedom of speech, we would defend ourselves,” Levant told Maclean’s after the briefing. “But when lawyers and lobbyists come, we are confused.””

    The whole article is longer and can be found here:


    I came across this exhibit of yours I believe. There is no way you can understand why Hindus were treated this way unless you read books like this: “Dictionry of Islam” by Thomas Patrick Hughes

    And Bernard Lewis’s book “The Multipl Identities of the Middle Est”

    Look up dhimmi and dar-ul-harb and dar-ul-islam for starters.

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