The exhibit that led to a controversy over an artwork involving Goddesses was made to “create awareness for respecting women like Goddesses”, a former first-year Masters student of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Vadodara’s MS University has told the Vadodara police in his statement .
Kundan Kumar Mahato, the former student of Masters of Visual Arts from the Sculpture department, had surrendered before the Sayajigunj police station on June 4, after a local court rejected his anticipatory bail. His statement was recorded as part of the questioning undertaken by the police in the case.
He was debarred from MS University on May 13 following the controversy over an artwork involving cutouts from newspaper clippings reporting crimes against women.
The 22-year-old whose father is a daily wage laborer in his village in Muzzafarpur, Bihar, was released on bail Wednesday by an order of the Principal District Judge MR Mengdey. Mahato told the police that his artworks were not meant for public display but were part of his evaluation held on May 2. “On May 2, there was an internal evaluation of the artworks of first-year students of the Masters’ course. I created the artwork on cardboard, which was cut out in the shapes of Goddesses, and newspaper clippings of crime against women were pasted onto the cutouts,” Mahato stated.
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He went on to state that his class teacher Shantaben and other professors had asked him to “immediately” remove the said artwork warning him that it could stir up a controversy. However, he did not immediately remove it “with the intention to explain the rationale behind creating the artwork to the professors”. “My professor Shantaben raised her voice and rebuked me, and asked me to take off my artwork from the table. I completed with the instruction. No professor had guided me or asked me to create this artwork and it was my own creation. Once my professor told me that it could create controversy, I threw it away in the waste and I do not know how it was finally disposed of,” his statement read.
The police statement said Mahato’s responses were to questions asked by them as part of the probe. “People in Hindustan pray to Goddesses. Similarly, girls and women in Hindustan should also be likened to Goddesses and no one should cast an evil eye on them. Even women should get the same respect as Goddesses. But many people do not understand this and subject women to crimes like rape and molestation. This was my intention behind creating the artworks but people have misunderstood the rationale and stirred up a controversy,” Mahato said in the statement, partly written in Hindi—his mother tongue, as he explained his “idea”.
He went on to state that he himself “is a follower of the Hindu religion and prays to Goddesses”. “…and so, I have no intention of hurting the religious sentiments of believers of Hinduism. However, the issue of the safety of women is close to my heart since there are repeated incidents of serious crimes against women.”
Mahato has told the police that his father is a daily wage laborer in his village near Muzaffarpur in Bihar while his mother is a homemaker. He has a younger brother studying in Class 12. He has said that he had explained his stand to MSU’s nine-member fact-finding committee. “After the controversy broke out, I was scared and therefore, I returned to my native village. Thereafter, MS University formed a fact-finding committee to probe into the incident, which was headed by Professor Murthy. I had sent across my apology letter and my explanation to the committee by email,” Mahato stated.