Scathing reproach

Published : May 09, 1998 00:00 IST


POLITICAL reaction to the attack on M.F. Husain's home was prompt and sharp.

The Congress(I), which has taken an evasive position on controversies of this nature in the past, responded with a frontal attack on Hindutva forces. Party spokesperson Ajit Jogi said in New Delhi that the attack had exposed the "fascist face" of the Sangh Parivar. Pointing to other provocative actions by the Parivar in recent times, including threats issued by the Shiv Sena to Pakistani squash player Jansher Khan, Jogi said that the activities of the Parivar "have once again demonstrated their utter contempt for the norms of civilised behaviour."

Janata Dal spokesperson Mohan Prakash demanded that Union Home Minister L.K. Advani take action against those responsible for the attack. Mohan Prakash, who said that the attack was "an insult to Indian art and culture", dismissed the claim that the attack had been provoked by Husain's "obscene" painting. "Those who attacked his house are the same people who extended a red carpet welcome to pop singer Michael Jackson for his show in Mumbai," he said.

The strongest condemnation came from the Left parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) pointed out in a statement that the attack on Husain's home came not long after the Shiv Sena disrupted a concert by Ghulam Ali, the Pakistani ghazal singer.

"It is obvious that such extreme cases of intolerance are intended to browbeat intellectuals and artists," the statement read. It stated that the display of "fascist behaviour" was inconceivable without the support of the local Bharatiya Janata Party MLA and the State Government's police apparatus. "Shockingly, the leaders of the State Government in Maharashtra have defended such vandalism. It is indeed an irony that recently a goodwill bhangra troupe had visited Pakistan."

The Communist Party of India's national secretary, D. Raja, also condemned the assault. He said that the Sangh Parivar was "revealing its true colours through such fascist actions" and warned that such incidents would destroy the freedom of expression and unleash "medieval tyranny."

A GROUP of leading artists and writers issued a statement in New Delhi on May 4, condemning the attack. The text of the statement reads:

"We strongly condemn the vicious assault on the home of the renowned painter, M.F. Husain, by Bajrang Dal activists in Mumbai last Friday. The increasing attacks on the arts and artists have alarmed us all, but this invasion of the private space of an eminent citizen shows the brazen confidence these forces have recently acquired.

"Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's statement 'If Husain can enter Hindustan, why can't we enter his house' is absolutely shocking and deserves the strongest condemnation. To speak of fellow citizens in these communal terms is inflammatory and unacceptable to us.

"The people arrested for the assault have been let off with minor sureties of Rs.1,000 each. This is farcical. The miscreants need to be booked for criminal trespass, intimidation and destruction of property, to prevent such incidents in future. The Government has to act immediately to restore the atmosphere in which the creative community can continue to function without fear.

"We express our continuing solidarity with Husain and his family and share their anguish."

The signatories include Bhisham Sahni, Anup Jalota, K. Sachidanandan, Viswanadhan, Namwar Singh, Bhupen Kakhar, Nikhil Wagle, Manu Parekh, Manjit Bawa, Anjolie Ela Menon, Manoranjan Mohanty, Prabhat Patnaik, K.N. Panikkar and Shabana Azmi.

IN Mumbai, playwright Vijay Tendulkar told Frontline that if the Government allowed the Hindutvavadis to take the law into their own hands, a culture akin to that being enforced by the Taliban in Afghanistan would take hold in this country.

Artist Nalini Malani said: "I do not think that one set of people can lay down the law on what an artist may or may not paint." She said that expecting artists to take dictation on matters of culture was incongruous because culture was partly the creation of artists who exercised their creativity. Malani added that what was now happening in India "is a bit scary". In this context, she quoted an artist friend in Pakistan as having said that owing to the grip of fundamentalism, artists there were not allowed to paint what they wanted. Noting that the spectacle of gods frolicking and having fun was part of the Hindu artistic ethos, she said that India's artistic community should not "get cowed down".

Vivan Sundaram, the Delhi-based artist, remarked that the Hindutvavadis, who had until now attacked public spaces in Delhi and Ahmedabad, were now attacking private spaces. He said that this had created a situation where an artist was not safe in his own home.

Altaf, a Bombay-based artist who made it clear that he had not seen the controversial Sita-Hanuman painting, said that a nude could be beautiful if depicted aesthetically. "I think Husain is a very secular person. I think he was trying to depict it aesthetically. I do not think he would stoop to pornography. At the same time, I think every artist should be sensitive to the sentiments of any religious community."

INTERESTINGLY, the flurry of criticism from New Delhi appears to have put the Sangh Parivar on the defensive. The New Delhi leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party Government and the Sangh Parivar's affiliates did not comment on the incident. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Mumbai secretary Ramesh Mehta reportedly claimed that Bajrang Dal workers were being blamed for a crime they had not committed.

In a complete reversal of his organisation's past position, the VHP leader said: "We are against violence of any kind." Pointing out that activists of the Ram Sevak Sangh, which claims to be an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had staged a rasta roko in Mumbai recently, he suggested that members of this organisation had carried out the attack.

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