Since the 1980s, India has witnessed routine attacks on artists by individuals who claim to be representatives of a variety of community groups based on language, religion, caste, ethnicity and so on. Often, these attacks are said to be in response to "hurtful" or "offensive" depictions in artworks. When these attacks are debated in the media, binaries are quickly drawn to categorise the victims and the attackers. But is it that simple? Do different political parties respond differently to these attacks? What happens when the "attackers" also defend their actions in the language of dignity, justice and equal rights?
To find answers to some of these questions and more, we spoke to Malvika Maheshwari, author of Art Attacks: Violence and Offense-Taking in India (2019), a book that tells the story of this phenomenon, and their violent transformations over time. Here, in the first of a two-part series of interviews, she begins by taking us through the Constituent Assembly debates that have led to our understanding of free speech today and examines the position of the artist in India.
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“Civil society is an autonomous space from society and the state”