Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Following ABVP disruption against play, PU students booked in suo moto case for ‘outraging religious feelings’

Following a protest and hate campaign by the Hindutva student outfit ABVP against a play at the annual cultural festival at Pondicherry University, the Kalapet Police have now suo moto registered a case against certain students and others on charges of “outraging religious feelings” while staging the play.

The police registered the case following a protest by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, an affiliated organization of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), on the campus on the night of March 30, 2024.

The right-wing students alleged that characters from the epic Ramayana were depicted in an objectionable manner while staging a play titled Somayanam.

The play was staged on March 29 as part of the festival organized by the Department of Performing Arts, Pondicherry University.

“We have registered a case against those involved, including the director and scriptwriter, in staging the play. The Kalapet Police have started the inquiry,” a senior police officer told The Hindu.

Meanwhile, the University has also launched an inquiry into the issue. “It is hereby informed that the University has received a complaint against a play staged by students in the Department of Performing Arts. A committee is being constituted to investigate the matter,” the Registrar in-charge of the University said in a circular issued on Sunday, March 31.

“The play Somayanam was a play that talked about the patriarchal values of women in a TheruKoothu style performance. Our play displayed the ancient ideas of chastity in a woman, which is still relevant in today’s society and seeks to overturn those ideals from its roots in time. A woman’s chastity is the symbol of her virtue, if that is true, why isn’t the same scale applied to men too? And what happens then? This is everything the play talked about- about the long lurking patriarchy which has been leeching our societies for centuries,” read a statement from the students of Performing Arts and the students in solidarity with team ‘Somayanam.’

They said: “The make-up and ornamentation were based on TheruKoothu, a traditional street theatre form of Tamil Nadu, about which we studied as part of the syllabus. We took the form of TheruKoothu performance and fused it with modern storytelling to create Somayanam, a women-centric play questioning societal norms. The characters of the play are completely fictional and any similarities or likenesses with characters living or dead is purely coincidental, as was announced as a disclaimer in the play on stage. The play was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience and we received an overwhelmingly positive response.”

“The members of the ABVP have been creating a nuisance for the past days disturbing the day-to-day activities of the students and faculty of the Department of Performing Arts with claims based on no evidence. They rallied into our department without permission on 30/03/2024 and created a hostile situation for the students of the university who were participating, watching, and performing in the evening, and they remained at the venue attempting to sabotage the performances and rehearsals that were happening. Their claim that Somayanam hurt their religious beliefs is due to their misinterpretation of the make-up. The play clearly did not intend to hurt any religious beliefs, and there was no mention of any names of gods or their characters in the play, and the play clearly did not intend to hurt any religious beliefs. The play was enjoyed by everyone from the audience regardless of their religion and appreciated. Their claim that we created Somayanam in collaboration with political bodies is also completely false, as the play is completely an independent academic production of the students with no affiliation to any political parties,” read the statement.

The students said that the play is not intended to hurt any religious beliefs. “Hailing from different social and cultural backgrounds ourselves, we respect the beliefs of everyone equally. If at all we hurt anyone’s religious sentiments, we apologize for it,” they said.

“The issue is perpetrated by the members of the ABVP to fuel hatred towards creative artists. There was no backlash from any of the audience as we received thunderous applause from throughout the venue throughout and at the conclusion of the play. We doubt that even a couple of the members of ABVP who are attacking the play even watched it. Clips of the play are being made viral without proper context to make it fit their propaganda about the play. We regret the usage of our play Somayanam for political propaganda by ABVP,” they said.

The students said that they condemn the PU admin for letting the ABVP create disharmony for the academic functioning of the department with their nuisance.

“Their activities have highly affected the students of the university and their aggression is creating an unsafe environment for the students. The students from other departments as well as Performing Arts who were involved in this play and other plays have also been targeted by the ABVP through cyberbullying following their rallies. We demand the University to take stringent action against the propagators of these activities and set things back to normality,” they said.

“The students are disturbed but will continue to do theatre in its fullest form, despite attempts to hamper it. We will exercise our right to freedom which the Constitution of India entitles us to,” they concluded their statement.

Students’ Federation of India (SFI), National Students Union of India (NSUI) and Fraternity Movement units in the campus vehemently opposed the police action. In their statements, they also stood in solidarity with the students.

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