Indian right-wing groups target Jaipur Art Summit over semi-nude painting

Artist attacked for creating “obscene” work and pictures snatched off the walls during incident

Members of two right-wing groups in India stormed the Jaipur Art Summit, a five-day-long festival in Jaipur City, Rajasthan on Thursday 8 December, in protest over a work on display that depicts semi-nude women. The artist of the work, the London-based painter Radha Binod Sharma, was injured and intimidated in the attack, according to a volunteer at the summit who spoke to The Indian Express.

The attackers are said to be involved with Rashtriya Hindu Ekta Manch, whose leader Pandit Vijay Shankar Pandey was arrested by authorities shortly after the incident, and with the primarily female organisation Lal Shakti, whose leader Hemlata Sharma is reportedly wanted by police.

According to a volunteer working at the summit, Hemlata Sharma, accompanied by men who warned the artist not to retaliate, pushed the artist and injured his wrist and leg as he attempted to impede her from removing his painting from the wall. A video on India Today shows the protesters berating the artist, snatching the work and stepping on it. Sharma then took the painting to the police station. The authorities later returned the work, which was damaged in the tussle, to the summit’s organisers.

“What was done was illegal and unacceptable,” Kunwar Rashtradeep, the deputy commission of police in Jaipur East, told the Indian Express. “We have asked the organisers to submit a detailed complaint, following which we will take action. I went to the summit and assured each delegate, both foreigners and Indians, of their safety and security.”

Before she was wanted for arrest, Hemlata Sharma told reporters gathered at the summit that her actions are justified on the grounds that the work, a polyptych that shows four women topless, is obscene and that “we do not need artists like this—vulgarity is not a form of art”.

The artist and organisers involved with the summit say that the attack infringes on freedom of expression. “This is very sad. Artists cannot work like this,” Radha Binod Sharma said. “I do beauty. I do humanity. The painting is not obscene or vulgar.”