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Right-Wing Activists Protest Jaipur Art Summit, Attacking Artist Radha Binod Sharma

Mohammad Hamza Khan reports in the Indian Express that members of two right-wing groups in India came to the Jaipur Art Summit, a five-day festival in Jaipur City, Rajasthan, last Thursday to protest a polyptych on display that shows four women topless. The London-based painter Radha Binod Sharma, who made the piece, was injured and intimidated in an attack led by the protesters, according to a volunteer at the summit.

The attackers were from Lal Shakti, a women’s organization, and Rashtriya Hindu Ekta Manch (RHEM), whose leader, Pandit Vijay Shankar Pandey, was arrested by authorities shortly after the incident. The leader of Lal Shakti, Hemlata Sharma, is wanted by police but has been identified as “absconding.” Accompanied by men who warned the artist not to retaliate, she pushed the artist and injured his wrist and leg as he attempted to stop her from removing his painting from the wall. A volunteer named Navneet, who was in the gallery at the time, said Hemlata had inquired about the artist: “We thought she had some genuine queries, so we called the artist,” he said.

A ccording to another volunteer, Tanvi, as soon as the artist arrived, Hemlata shouted “What sort of a painting is this?” “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. Sharma then took the painting to the police station. Authorities later returned the work, which was damaged in the tussle, according to the summit’s organizers. A video of the encounter can be seen on India Today.

The founder and director of the summit, Shailendra Bhatt, said of the incident: “A few women, accompanied by some men, came in a vehicle . . . Some purported media persons 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.”

Before the police declared her as wanted for arrest, Hemlata Sharma told reporters gathered at the summit that her actions are justified because the work is obscene and that “we do not need artists like this—vulgarity is not a form of art.” She also stated: “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.” Artists and organizers at the summit say that this attack infringes on freedom of expression, and the event has been assigned a security detail by the police. Sharma declared, “This is very sad. Artists cannot work like this . . . I do beauty. I do humanity. The painting is not obscene or vulgar.”