As a strong gesture of protest against the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi for “compromising with Sangh Parivar forces” and not displaying artist Asanthan’s body in the courtyard of the Durbar Hall in Kochi, its executive member Kavitha Balakrishnan resigned on Monday.
It is customary for the Akademi to display the body of any artist who passes away, in the Art Gallery of the Durbar Hall Arts Centre, for the public and artist community to pay homage. The same was planned for artist Asanthan, who died on January 31 following a heart attack. Instead his body was kept in the east portion of the gallery owing to objection from a group of people who said it was against temple customs.
Situated 50 m from the hall is a Shiva temple, famously known as the Ernakulathappan temple. A group of people created a ruckus in front of the hall saying that keeping the body in the line of sight of the deity was against temple customs. This was also echoed by the temple officials.
Herself an artist, Kavitha quit her post in protest against the Akademi deviating from its decision. Speaking to TNM she said that the decision was political and social having far-reaching impact and the messages it gives out is wrong.
“We the members of the Akademi were not aware of the incident as we were not present at the time it happened. By the time we came to know about it, everything was over. I had no issues even if we were not asked if the decision was befitting of an organisation that stand for artists. The Akademi is a family and artists are its members. Everything inside it should be decided inside; no need to get an opinion from outside. By not keeping the body in the courtyard the Akademi has humiliated Asanthan. It gives a wrong message to casteist forces. Why was the body brought there to humiliate him like this!”
The incident has caused a huge outrage in the state and Kavitha’s resignation is the latest form of protest.
Kavitha further said, “In an autonomous institution there is no place for outsiders’ voice when taking decisions. Institutes like the Akademi should strongly defend against the fundamentalist, fascist agenda of the Sangh Parivar. By bowing to their demand, what is lost is the trust in the institution, which is expected to raise its voice against such tendencies, which is indeed shocking.”
“Even if it was a momentary decision taken due to pressure, the Akademi should have apologised for it later. It owed an apology towards our democratic society. Instead as a member I felt that I should apologise… and as a protest I quit. In an institution like this, there should be a joint effort to keep the artistic values high; it shouldn’t function like any other office. Earlier also I had some difference of opinion in way the Akademi functioned. In November I went to the UK for an art presentation. Despite knowing this, the Akademi Secretary issued a show cause notice asking reasons for my absence, which was humiliating for me. But I thought such issues are everywhere and I raised it inside the Akademi. But coming to an issue that is larger and that is social, I thought I should register my protest,” she said.
Akademi Secretary Ponniam Chandran had told TNM that this was not the first time that the group, including some RSS members, had interfered in its functioning. Earlier when a transgender camp was conducted at the centre, the same people had threatened the Akademi against cooking meat. But at that time the Akademi asked them not to interfere in its affairs.
When asked about this, Kavitha said, “At that time Sathyapal was the chairman. At present Nemom Pushparaj holds the post. I don’t know if he was there at the time the latest incident happened. Even after the previous incident, why was the Akademi not vigilant? And why wasn’t the Akademi firm on its stand?” she asked.