Politicising Sadness and Angst

Nearly eleven years after the infamous attack on the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda and the arrest and brief incarceration of the student Chandramohan S. and the suspension of the then in-charge Dean, Shivaji K. Panikkar, on 2nd of February 2018 we bear witness to an uncanny event that unfolded in the Vice-Chancellor’s cabin of MSU. Chandramohan had allegedly set fire to the office of the vice chancellor as a marker of his self-consuming frustration resulting from the institutional violence inflicted on him by denying him the basic dignity as a human being. For many of us sadness and angst was the feeling that accompanied the witnessing of this ‘return of the repressed’. This note rescues a moment in the elaboration of that sadness and angst in order to go beyond notions of rational/irrational, legal/illegal and violence/non-violence that belong to the political vocabulary and technology of the liberal institutional systems and their political apologists. Sadness is used here as a means of sharing a procedure that has allowed us to ‘make public’ an intimate feeling of people and groups; and angst, in order to register and differentiate the nature of violence.

Chandramohan’s case is symptomatic of millions of people whose life is reduced to the bareness of being by the institutional mechanisms of this nation. Hailing from an economically and socially deprived family, he excelled in his studies. This is evident from the mere fact that despite the controversies around the works he produced as part of his academic activities and formal examination process in 2007, he procured a high distinction by the jury of the same examination. But he has been deprived by the institution from availing the MVA certificate that is rightfully his. He has also been denied moving out of Baroda due to the specific nature of the Indian Penal Code thrust on him. Few words about the nature of his practice suffice. He defines himself as a printmaker and woodcut is his primary medium. The latter as we know is a materially and physically intensive practice. The lack of basic support system affected not only his emotional state but also his physical health; the very economy of life as such.

The only thing Chandamohan proved to himself and others is our own negligence of the pervasiveness of the repressive system that we are part of, and the suicidal nature of this act may be conceived as an antidote to it. In fact, the only knowledge he embodies is the intensity of ignorance against the regime of knowledge and perseverance. Before rushing to condemn ‘the act of violence’, we should acknowledge the fact that he has shown unparalleled resilience (even without any support from the academic and artistic community) by appealing and pleading with the University authorities for over ten years. He has submitted over 25 applications to the University requesting the release of his mark sheet and degree certificate. Some may wonder, what the big deal is in a certificate. The answer you may find in the soul of your privileges.

Let me make it very clear here that I am not providing a justificatory background for the act of Chandramohan. On the contrary, my proposition is that the ground upon which this act embodies itself is the systemic and epistemic violence that we inflict on the very principles and possibilities of becoming. This is very clear in this video where he is both actor and witness to the act—it is at the same time a testimony of one’s own disappearance as a being, as well as an assertion of one’s right to life. The attempted murder of the agraharas of academic knowledge can be read as an act of self-annihilation in order to retrieve the irreducible spirit of resistance.

Chandramohan’s ‘performative act’ should be understood as an embodiment of the violence inflicted on him—by the formal institution such as the University as well as the artistic community. Chandramohan’s solitude is not one of the romantic kinds which the artist community aspires to. It is in fact intensely bodily, visceral, intellectual, artistic, material, spatial—an unbearable weight of being subaltern in this so-called progressing (or progressive) world.

According to Spinoza, sadness consists in being separated from our powers. Among us political sadness often took the form of impotence and melancholy in the face of the growing distance between our actions and the political imagination capable of carrying it out. Perhaps, this instance, where a young artist inflicted violence on himself and chose to be in formal incarceration over the given abstract freedom, by burning the citadels of academic knowledge, is a reminder of our own culpability.


The title is indebted to Colectivo Situaciones, Buenos Aires, 13 February, 2007.


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Santhosh S. Written by:

Asst. Professor at the School of Culture and Creative Expressions, Ambedkar University of Delhi.

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