Different strokes

Published : Jun 06, 2008 00:00 IST

M.F. Husain at the inauguration of his exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Mumbai in January 2004.-SEBASTIAN D SOUZA/AFP

M.F. Husain at the inauguration of his exhibition at the National Art Gallery in Mumbai in January 2004.-SEBASTIAN D SOUZA/AFP

The M.F. Husains of India are in danger because the people who wish to control their destiny are devoid of creative imagination.

THE trouble with being an out and out artist like Maqbool Fida Husain in a bigoted, largely feudal country like India in the 21st century is that there will always be a small group of people, acting on behalf of their interested masters, who are ready to find fault with anything you do. These people of necessity will have to belong to right-wing religious outfits. In Husains case, it has been the satellite organisations of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, and the Rashtriya Swayamswevak Sangh (RSS) and even the Shiv Sena, the Mumbai-based party founded by Bal Thackeray on strict communal lines.

M.F. Husain, 92, Indias most charismatic artist, has been living in exile in Dubai ever since Hindu fundamentalists filed cases against him in Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Pandherpur in Maharastra, Rajkot, Gujarat, Haridwar, Uttarakhand and the State of Delhi and many other places in India for painting Bharat Mata, or the mother-of-the-nation, in the nude. One must risk being called a bore for saying time and again that ancient Hindu, Jain and Buddhist sculptures have depicted various deities in the nude as have the more recent though pre-modern schools of miniature painting, which have exquisitely rendered examples of Radha and Krishna making love.

Husain does not have much of a choice. He shuttles between Dubai and London, where he also has a home, and to other places in Europe. What is incredible is that the lower courts everywhere allowed specious charges to be filed against him. After all, the judiciary at all levels is expected to be fair, responsible and well informed. It cannot rely on sophistry and say that any citizen in a democracy is allowed to bring a law suit against another and that there is the law to decide on the worthiness of the case and to decide one way or another in favour of the plaintiff or the accused.

The other excuse offered, though not so readily by the so-called progressives planted amongst the more enlightened citizenry by the BJP and its agents, is that the legal machinery is so burdened with cases that it takes years to come to a decision on any single one. How then can the courts in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Delhi be expected to arrive at a decision on charges pending against Husain? No one has even bothered to say that the charges against him are frivolous and communal in intent and therefore malicious. The constant refrain is that Husain saab has hurt Hindu sentiments by painting Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude.

The only reprieve for him was the recent order of the Delhi High Court quashing the criminal proceedings initiated against him at three different places.

The truth of the matter is that the average Hindu, by birth or faith or both, is too busy struggling to earn a living to bother. As for the nude deities in ancient Indian sculptures, either he or she does not care about them or has come to accept them as a natural part of his consciousness. His/her relationship with god is very much like that of astrologer and client. Since there is neither equity nor justice in the world he/she inhabits, it is only gods throw of dice that can sometime be relied upon to keep starvation at bay or protect the dignity of the wife, daughter or any other member of the family.

The vociferous claims of the Hindu upper class which holds the reins of political and hence financial power despite being a minority in the Hindu community to be the voice of downtrodden Hindus are entirely false and laughable. The BJP, Bajrang Dal, VHP and the Shiva Sena are upper-class and upper-caste Hindu organisations. Their hatred for Husain is because of his religion and is thus wholly illogical and irrational.

Class has as much a contentious role to play in 21st century India as religion. The fact that Husain overcame the limitations of a poor economic background to fight his way to the top in the world of art and stay there has riled his detractors no end. For them, it was as if a Dalit had become the Prime Minister of India.

The analogy is not as far-fetched as it sounds. It was after all caste that led to the formation of a party like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu where the Brahmin hegemony had not only garnered all the privileges for itself but also treated the so-called lower castes with contempt.

To digress for a moment with purpose, it is important to remind oneself that in 2002 the Sangh Parivar used starving tribal people to kill over 3,000 Muslims during the pogroms in Gujarat. Only about a third of the assailants were bona fide party cadres, the rest were tribal people desperately short of cash. It must be remembered that Muslims were killed because they refused to be deprived of their right to earn a living. In a documentary done by Ruchira Gupta for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a Hindu Gujarati villager declares on camera, We will kill them economically by not allowing Muslims farmers to sell their fruits and vegetables in the village haat. One may ask how all this connects up with the Husain affair? It does in more ways than one.

The BJP and its supporters regard art in all its modern manifestations as a liability. The number of people in the Hindu Right, which is fascist in outlook, who hero-worship Hitler is not funny they are of the view that art can serve only one purpose ideology. There is room in their ranks for a Leni Riefenstahl (the woman who made two immensely visually impressive documentaries for Hitler, The Triumph of the Will and Olympiad, which extolled the virtues of Nazism) but not for a Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Ram Kinkar Baij, Sailoz Mookherjea or M.F. Husain.

Fascism shuns individuality. Fascists feel confident only in groups. There are no great flights of the imagination for them artistic, scientific or both. They feel intelligence must be applied for a pragmatic purpose to ensure material well-being but not much else. There is no adventure or romance there though the American brand of fascism available, courtesy George Bush and company, makes claims to the contrary.

Even though such assertions are fallacious, let them be for the moment. What place is there in L.K. Advanis or Murli Manohar Joshis scheme of things for a Husain? What does Narendra Modi think of him? Perhaps nothing personal, but they may hate him for denying the BJP the desired political mileage.

The Indian state is indulging continuously in chicanery vis-a-vis the respective roles of the executive and the judiciary. The classic examples are the cases of Husain and Dr. Binayak Sen, a widely respected medical practitioner in Chhattisgarh incarcerated without trial for the last one year for allegedly aiding and abetting naxalites. Dr. Sen has rendered service to poor and needy tribal people in Chhattisgarh, a state carved out of Madhya Pradesh on November 1, 2000.

Chhattisgarhs economic history has always been a troubled one in which the tribal people have been ruthlessly exploited right from the beginning. It is for them literally a question of where the next meal is going to come from. It is only natural for them to support the armed struggle of the naxalites against the state. But a distinguished doctor, Sen, mingling with them can only be seen by the state as treachery. He has, after all, studied in the best schools and colleges in the country.

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, an elite institution of the country, takes great pride in his achievements, as do the tribal people of Chhattisgarh. What does Dr. Sen do? He goes and promptly betrays his class. So what if 14 Nobel Laureates from the world over, including Amartya Sen, plead for his release and protest against his unjust and unlawful detention?

The government can always give the farcical, even bizarre excuse of the executive not interfering with the functioning of the judiciary. But is it too much to expect the judiciary to perform in a free, fearless and unbiased manner? Is it unnatural to expect it to be secular, meaning worldly and completely free of any kind of religious bias? In the cases of Dr. Sen and Husain, dangerous precedents have been set. One has dedicated his life to serving the suffering and the downtrodden and the other to bringing joy and beauty into the lives of people with his paintings and films. Husains GajaGamini with Madhuri Dixit and Meenaxi featuring Tabu are sparkling celebrations of womanhood. Both Dr. Sen and Husain are guilty of bringing hope into a dark world.

In Indian society and so politics, religion is quite literally the opium of the masses. When individuals turn up to contradict this belief, they challenge the status quo.

Indian society has, well before the communications revolution, thrived on the maintenance of the status quo. The upper classes, regardless of their political loyalties, are all united in protecting fiercely what they consider their birthright, chief amongst them being the control of the natural resources of the country and financial and political power. It is of no consequence to them that more than half the Indian population goes to bed hungry. However, the presence of people who might educate them enough to inspire resistance against exploitation or, equally important, open to them the aesthetic possibilities of the beauties of the world is very naturally seen as alarming.

The Binayak Sens and the M.F. Husains of todays India are always in danger because the people who wish to preside over their destiny are mediocre and entirely devoid of creative imagination. It is not nature or the arts as such that inspires them but crass materialism and wanton hedonism.


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment