‘Wanted To Make Country Proud, Ended Up in Jail’: MSU Student Rusticated for Art

A first-generation learner, Kundan Kumar Mahato is the son of a daily wager in Bihar.

4 min read
‘Wanted To Make Country Proud, Ended Up in Jail’: MSU Student Rusticated for Art

Ever since he was a toddler, Kundan Kumar Mahato used to make sculptures out of mud in his village, Fulkaha Godain, in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district. It was this passion that took him to the renowned Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) in Gujarat's Vadodara years later.

But a controversy over the 22-year-old student’s artwork has turned his dreams to dust.

Last month, on the behest of right-wing groups, a First Information Report was filed against him for creating an installation out of newspaper clippings of rape and murder of women, in the form of Hindu goddesses. He was later arrested by Gujarat Police on 4 June, and granted bail after four days in jail.

However, he is still debarred from the university. It is pertinent to note that the installation was shown only to an internal jury at the MSU for an annual exhibition. It was not cleared for display, and hence it wasn't for public consumption. However, photos of the installation were circulated, triggering the controversy. It is not clear who took the photos or circulated them.

Mahato, who was in the first year of his master's degree in Sculpture and a first-generation learner, told The Quint, “I come from a village where people take up jobs as daily wagers after school. I dreamt of coming to this university for a long time and reaching new heights in Indian art, but I ended up in jail only four months into my course.”


Why Did His Artwork Come Under Scanner?

On 9 May, an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) member registered a complaint with the Gujarat Police. Mahato was booked under section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class) and section 298 (uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings of any person) of the Indian Penal Code.

Emphasising that his intention was "not to hurt anyone’s sentiments," Mahato said his artwork was an attempt to make a statement about women's safety.

"The society says that women are goddesses, but in reality, women are attacked every day. I wanted to bring out the irony. It was an attempt to protect women. Is that wrong?"
Mahato Kumar Mahato

Mahato has issued apologies to the university on multiple occasions, hoping that he could continue the course, but to no avail.

‘He Was Victimised, Had No Political Background,’ Says Lawyer

Mahato has dreamt about becoming a renowned sculptor for years. His father is a daily wager and his mother is a homemaker. He had pursued his undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Fine Arts from Banaras Hindu University.

Dedicated to his work, he used to work in college from 9 am to 7 pm every day. While his focus is sculpting, he also paints.

"I had been dreaming about this for so many years. I wanted to make the country proud… wanted to be a successful sculptor and contribute positively to Indian art. I had been hearing about MSU for years, and I wanted to follow the footsteps of artists like Manjit Bawa and Subodh Gupta."
Kundan Kumar Mahato

His father, Mahato recounted, was proud that he had gone ahead to pursue his master's, being the first in the family to do so.

His advocate, Hitesh Gupta, said that Mahato was "victimised" because of his lack of resources and power. "He has no political links or motivations whatsoever," he told The Quint.

"For a fair understanding of the case, one must understand his background. He is from a small village, but he put in his best efforts and reached here."
Hitesh Gupta, Mahato's lawyer

Timeline of Events

The events began to unfold on 2 May when Mahato showed his artwork to the internal jury. The photos were purportedly circulated soon after, leading to protests by right-wing groups on 5 May.

Mahato had returned to his village in Bihar as he felt he was not safe on campus. The annual exhibition had been scheduled for 6 May.

A fact-finding committee was formed and had written to Mahato on 7 May, asking him to remain present before the committee on 8 May. Mahato, who was back in Bihar, wrote to the university, saying,

"I did not have any intention of hurting anyone's religious feelings. Whatever issue my work has caused, I am asking for genuine forgiveness. I won’t do anything like this in the future."
Mahato in a note to the university

On 13 May, Mahato received a notice stating that he had been permanently debarred from the university. It said he had not replied to the show-cause notice dated 12 May. It further asked him for a reason why he should not be debarred for "adversely damaging religious sentiments," "creating disharmony" and "damaging the prestige and peace of the university campus."

His lawyer told The Quint that Mahato had written to the university, stating that he was on a train back home. However, by the time he could return, he had been permanently debarred.

In the meantime, the judgment, granting him bail, stated that no deliberate or malicious attempt to hurt religious feelings could be proved.

"He submitted that the artwork in question was not made for public consumption. It was for the Jury of the Fine Arts Faculty of the MS University, Vadodara to examine the said work. After the jury advised the applicant to remove the said piece of work, the applicant has removed the said art piece. The applicant has not further transmitted the said art work, therefore, no intention can be attributed to the present applicant for deliberate and malicious attempt to outrage the religious feelings of any class.”

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Edited By :Tejas Harad
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