Mallika Sarabhai
Mallika Sarabhai has been appointed the Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam by the state government.

Kerala trying to uphold values of secularism, democracy: Mallika Sarabhai

Kuchipudi/Bharatanatyam exponent and activist Mallika Sarabhai, who has been appointed the Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam by the Kerala government, says she has accepted the offer because the state has been trying to uphold values of secularism and democracy.

Talking about her new role, Sarabhai told The Federal in an email interview: “How do I get a fifteen-year-old in Bhopal interested in Kathakali? That is the challenge.”

Sarabhai’s appointment as the Chancellor of Kalamandalam, deemed to be University of Art and Culture by the Centre, came a day prior to the presentation of the University Laws Amendment bill in the Assembly, which aims to remove the Governor from the position of the Chancellor of all other state universities. Sarabhai’s appointment is generally perceived as a ‘political message to the Centre’ with regard to the government’s policy on higher education. However, Sarabhai refrained from commenting on this.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

There is an overwhelmingly positive response on social media in Kerala to the decision taken by the government to bring you as the Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam. Even the Opposition parties (Congress) did not raise any contention. How do you respond to this?

Kerala has always given me tremendous love and respect. I have worked with both the Left and Congress. I am fine as long as secular and Constitutional values exist. I need to understand the situation at Kerala Kalamandalam and only after that I can make plans while taking all stakeholders with me.

I hope you are aware of the ongoing tussle between the Governor and the government. Considering this context, is it a ‘message’ to Prime Minister Modi and the Centre? 

This is a question to be asked to the government, not to me.

Can you share with us your concept of administering a University for art and culture in the capacity of a Chancellor? There are a lot of allegations floating in Kerala about nepotism and corruption with regard to appointments in universities.

Also read: Kerala HC: Why only girls, women need to be ‘controlled’ or ‘locked up’ at night?

I have fought corruption and nepotism and I think there is no place for them in society let alone in an educational or arts institution. Kerala Kalamandalam needs to be cutting-edge in the training of classical art. These are not contradictory. We train in Pandannalur Bharatanatyam at Darpana, for instance. Once you become a trained artiste, what you do with content, collaborations and cross-genre work invigorate the work. The roots must be solid. How do I get a 15-year-old in Bhopal interested in Kathakali? That is the challenge we face.

What are your expectations about developing Kalamandalam as a centre of excellence for promoting art and culture?

Art must take risks, it must breathe, and it must look at and react to a dizzyingly changing world. That is what it takes to be a top-rated arts centre.

The BJP retained power with a thumping victory in Gujarat, but lost the MCD elections in Delhi. How do you observe these trends?

They just won Gujarat with a record-breaking win. I don’t know what the trends are, and I hope for better days.

Also read: Kerala: Writer kicks up a row over usage of ‘Higuita’ as title for film

Education is on the concurrent list. There is a growing trend of the Central Government intervening in the affairs of state universities. (Recently, the UGC asked all universities to organise seminars on the topic “India is the mother of democracy.”).  In this context, how challenging would be your new role?  Especially, since you have been a staunch opponent of Hindutva fanaticism? 

India is what it is today. Kerala is trying to hold on to secular and democratic values and that is why I have accepted this offer. So, I hope for the best.

You have a long-standing relationship with Kerala, not only as an artiste but also as an activist. How is it like coming back to the state where you have familial ties?

I am thrilled. I worked extensively with Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation (KSWDC) in 2006 and 2007 and spoke about empowerment and breaking the silence of 40,000 women. I look forward to having a deep engagement with Kerala.

Read More
Next Story