Religious Sentiments vs Artistic Freedom: Battle Over Controversial Plays In Higher Education Institution Continues

Religious Sentiments vs Artistic Freedom: Battle Over Controversial Plays In Higher Education Institution Continues

The controversial play, titled ‘Raahovan’ was performed by IIT-B students during the institute’s Performing Arts Festival on Mar 31. It sparked an outrage among some students, who alleged it had hurt their religious sentiments.

Megha ChowdhuryUpdated: Thursday, June 27, 2024, 01:01 PM IST
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IIT Bombay | Facebook

Higher educational institutions (HEIs) across India have been experiencing the ongoing debate between religious sentiments and freedom of expression in the context of controversial plays staged by students. 

A similar play, allegedly depicting a ‘feminist’ version of the Ramayana, at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) stirred a controversy resulting in the institution penalising eight of the students who participated in it.

The controversial play, titled ‘Raahovan’ was performed by IIT-B students during the institute’s Performing Arts Festival on Mar 31. It sparked an outrage among some students, who alleged it had hurt their religious sentiments.

Reacting to the incident, parents and professors have extended support to the IIT-B’s stand, while some students raised concern over losing their artistic freedom.

Rajesh Sharma, a parent of a student, expressed his worries. "We send our children to these prestigious institutions to gain quality education and secure their futures. It's distressing to see them getting involved in activities that seem to divert their focus from their primary goal," Sharma complained.

"The institute should have clear guidelines for such plays and monitor them closely. Why let things escalate to this level?" he added.

Talking to The Free Press Journal (FPJ), Anjali Rao, a professor at IIT-B, stated, "Universities are places of learning and intellectual development. While freedom of expression is important, it is equally important to ensure that such expressions do not foster divisiveness among students. Our primary focus should be on education and research."

Vikram Patel, a faculty member at the Indian Institute of Management, Mumbai, shared similar sentiments.

"We encourage creativity and critical thinking, but it must be balanced with the responsibility that comes with it. Universities should not become platforms for promoting personal or political agendas," he said.

The IIT-B play isn’t the sole issue; in the recent past, other plays were also mired in controversies.

In February, professors and students at Savitribai Phule Pune University were held for hurting religious sentiments through a play. 

In April, a play inspired by the Ramayana at Pondicherry University led to complaints of hurt religious sentiments, resulting in the removal of the department head and actions against some students.

However, these incidents raise questions about how free students are in exercising their right to freedom of expression.

"An artist was performing as an artist and not trying to mock anyone. The play didn’t intend offence. The performers were only sharing stories," said a student and artist from TISS Mumbai, who wished to remain anonymous.

An IIT-B student, also speaking on condition of anonymity, questioned, "What will this intrusion lead to? Does this mean we cannot even voice our opinion? Or will we be arrested if we perform? If this continues, who will join these plays in the future?"

The IIT-B has imposed severe penalties of Rs 1.20 lakh each on four graduating students, while four undergraduates were fined Rs 40,000 each and ordered to vacate their hostel accommodation.

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