Amol Palekar was invited to speak at the inauguration of an exhibition of the works of Prabhakar Barwe.
- Amol Palekar said he was "censored" at the inauguration of an exhibition
- Organisers said they didn't intend to curb his freedom of speech
- Government can't handle criticism, Congress spokesperson said
Freedom of speech or the right to communicate without any fear of censorship was once again brought under the spotlight after noted Hindi and Marathi actor-filmmaker Amol Palekar was repeatedly interrupted and "requested" to stick to the topic at an art event in Mumbai. The organisers, however, said that they didn't intend to curb his freedom of speech and they only wanted the focus to stay on the artist.
An upset Mr Palekar addressed the media today along with his wife Sandhya Gokhale who he said was witness to the "censorship" he faced on Friday.
The actor, who is also a painter, was invited to speak at the inauguration of an exhibition of the works of renowned artist Prabhakar Barwe.
While appreciating the efforts that went into putting together Prabhakar Barve's retrospective for the first time since his death almost 24 years ago, and thanking the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Mumbai for organising the exhibition, Mr Palekar began to criticise the Ministry of Culture for reportedly scrapping the advisory committees at the gallery's Mumbai and Bengaluru centres.
"Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show that is decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an agent of the government with an agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline," he said.
As of November 13, 2018, the artistes' advisory committees operating at both regional centers i.e. at Mumbai and Bangalore have been abolished, is what I have learnt, the actor-filmmaker said while referring to reports and added that he was trying to verify the hearsay.
At this point, a gallery member interrupted him, requesting that Amol Palekar only talk about the artist.
"The curator of the exhibition, Jesal Thacker, asked me to stick to talking about Barwe and not digress from the theme. It isn't that I wasn't speaking about Barwe," Mr Palekar said today.
As interruptions persisted, Mr Palekar refused to stop and referred to an incident when writer Nayantara Sahgal was invited to speak at a literary meet in Yavatmal, but the invitation was withdrawn by the organisers who said they wished to "avoid any untoward incident and in view of the controversy that has cropped up against her name".
"Are we creating the same situation here? You are asking me not to speak? I will not speak. I asked them 'are you censoring my speech'," Mr Palekar said.
But I respected her (the curator's) position and concluded, Mr Palekar said.
Ms Gokhale said that they had a mobile phone and they could record it otherwise there would have been no record of this.
Suhas Bahulkar, the organiser, said that the crowd had come for the artist and not for such sensational issues. "I thought that the focus shouldn't shift to something else. That was my honest intention," he said.
The curator agreed and said, "The evening was dedicated to the artist and we had invited Mr Palekar to talk about him and that was it."
The whole episode hasn't gone unnoticed and triggered angry reactions from activists as well as the opposition.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said this was not an isolated incident and that it was being "deliberately" done for last five years. He likened the interruptions to other alleged attacks by right-wing organisations on artists and thinkers who have criticised the BJP-led government.
"This government can't handle any criticism from various sectors of society. In the last five years, their priority has been towards suppressing the dissent and threatening those who follow a different school of thought," Mr Sawant told news agency PTI.
The Aam Aadmi Party's Alka Lamba said shame on those who insulted a respected speaker.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav accused the BJP of trying to "make India colourless".
This behaviour is undemocratic and highly condemnable, said CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury. "The whole essence of our democracy, our constitutional rights, is the freedom to criticise the government and its leaders. No one is above criticism. This behaviour with Amol Palekar is undemocratic and highly condemnable," he tweeted.
Industrialist Anand Mahindra also tweeted, "However inappropriate Palekar's comments were for the occasion, he wasn't a heckler, he was an invited speaker. The best way to prevent a controversy is for the Ministry of Culture to clarify that it welcomes constructive criticism and that Indian Culture celebrates free speech."