MSU fine arts student convicted of ‘outrageous religious sentiments’ gets bail

A local court in Vadodara on Wednesday granted bail to the student of the Faculty of Fine Arts at MS University, who had been convicted of “outrageous religious sentiments” and was subsequently expelled from the university.

Kundan Kumar Mahato, 22, a master of visual arts in the university’s sculpture department, was booked on an FIR filed by a second-year arts student on May 9. He was arrested after surrendering to Sayajigunj police station on June 4 and was released from Vadodara central prison on Wednesday evening.

Senior District Judge MR Mengdey granted conditional bail to Mahato, against Rs 10,000 bail after hearing arguments from defense attorney Hitesh Gupta and Attorney General AM Desai.

Barrister Gupta, representing Kundan Kumar, told the court that no offense could be established under Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code as “there was no malicious intent on the part of the plaintiff to outrage the religious feelings of any class”.

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The court upheld the defense’s argument, taking into account that the student not only surrendered to the police, but was also “expelled” by the university.

Kundan Kumar’s first plea for early bail was rejected on May 30, after which he appeared at Sayajigunj police station on June 4.

The court said: ‘The plaintiff prepared the artwork… to place it in the exhibition which was to be held on May 7. Previously, the applicant had to have the same approved by the MS Faculty of Fine Arts jury. University, Vadodara.

The jury had disapproved of the artwork and as a result, the plaintiff withdrew it…”
Pointing out that Kumar had responded to the university’s show cause notice, the court said, “It appears that the plaintiff realized his mistake and he also apologized… he also clarified that he there was no intention on his part. to outrage the religious sentiments of any class of society.

Setting bail conditions, the court prohibited Kundan from “abusing his liberty” and restraining him from “engaging in the same or other offences”. The court also ordered him not to act in any way that could be detrimental to the prosecution’s case or to make direct incitements or promises to anyone with knowledge of the case.

The court also ordered Kundan to surrender his passport, if any, within seven days and prevented him from leaving India without the court’s prior permission. He also ordered Kundan to refrain from changing his address and communication details without court permission.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Kundan’s lawyer, Hitesh Gupta, said: “The FIR was filed against Kundan on May 9 for the alleged incident which occurred on May 2, when the jury saw his work and has already disapproved of it… The incident inside the faculty took place on May 5. In the meantime, someone from the faculty made images of this private artwork which went viral when it wasn’t even meant to be on public display.

The University or its investigative committee have not yet reached a conclusion as to who made these images go viral…”
Gupta added, “The plaintiff in the case did not even disclose how he got the photographs of the artwork on Whatsapp… He filed the FIR against Kundan using the wrong surname as Yadav. These are all probe questions.

The attorney added that Kundan Kumar submitted his explanation to MSU’s investigation committee by emailing a scanned copy of a handwritten apology as advised by the University which was not “considered” by MSU .

“Later, upon his arrival in Vadodara, he wrote another letter explaining his position to the Chancellor when he had not been heard from. We will now pursue a case of his illegal rustication in a competent court,” said Gupta.

MSU Registrar Krishnakumar Chudasma told this newspaper that the decision to expel Kundan Kumar was made by the union. “The Investigation Committee has submitted its report to the Union on the basis of its investigation. The student submitted his explanation to the committee and it was up to him to decide whether the explanation was satisfactory… The sanction was decided according to the provisions of the MS University handbook…”

Sayajugunj police station in the city of Vadodara arrested Kundan on May 9 for allegedly creating illustrations of “objectionable” images of gods and goddesses which led to a clash at the FFA campus on May 5.
A native of Bihar, Kundan was booked based on the complaint of Jaswantsinh Raulji, a second-year student at the Faculty of Arts.

One of Kundan’s artworks were cutouts of goddesses made from newspaper clippings reporting crimes against women, particularly rape, which created controversy when right-wing groups protested and l have described as “a wound to religious feelings”.

In his complaint, Raulji said he complained to the dean of the faculty, Dr Jayant Poduval, and asked him to remove the “controversial work” from the assessment when the dean “made fun of the case”.

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