M.F. Hussain

mrabe at artic.edu mrabe at artic.edu
Fri Oct 11 03:02:38 UTC 1996

        Since many of you may have been following the headlines out of
Mumbai on the IndiaWorld this week, I thought it appropriate to share this
dispassionate editorial from today's edition of _The Hindu_

With almost bated-breath,

Michael Rabe

Saint Xavier University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
>Outcry against Hussain

                    Date: 10-10-1996 :: Pg: 12 :: Col: b

                    THE ORCHESTRATED OUTCRY against the noted painter, Mr.
Maqbul Fida Hussain, led by the Hindutva forces and abetted by the
Maharashtra State Government is a threat to the freedom of expression, to
say the least. The `public' outcry conducted by the BJP-Shiv Sena cadres
and the prompt response by the Mumbai police in registering a case against
Mr. Hussain ``for hurting the sentiments of the Hindus'' were planned and
those involved in converting this work of art _ of Goddess Saraswati and
Draupadi _ into a political controversy were connected in one way or the
other with the RSS. It was an article by Dr. Om Nagpal, whose leanings are
far too well-known, in a Hindi language monthly published from Bhopal,
Vichar Mimamsa whose editorial positions are manned by those with RSS
background that raked up this controversy. The title of the article reads,
``Hussain _ is he an artist or a butcher.'' It was then only a matter of
time before the BJP-Shiv Sena began demonstrating in Madhya Pradesh and
Maharashtra and Mr. Pramod Navalkar, Maharashtra's Culture Minister, shot
out a missive to the Mumbai police to ``take action against the painter.''

                    That the entire affair was orchestrated is beyond doubt
and it is not the first time that freedom of expression has been attacked
in recent times. There were similar outrages when the SAHMAT organised a
painting exhibition where among other tales from the Ramayana, the Jataka
tradition was also presented. At that stage too, the BJP orchestrated a
vicious campaign, the language of which was filled with communal venom.
There were similar attacks on the freedom of expression when Islamic
fundamentalists launched a vicious tirade against Mr.Salman Rushdie
endangering his life; Dr. Mushirul Hassan too was a victim of this
fundamentalist rage. The latest instance involving Mr. Hussain, no doubt,
is part of a concerted effort by fundamentalists against the freedom of
expression and it needs to be condemned outright.  It is far more serious
when such a campaign is abetted by the State, in this case the Maharashtra
Government and its Culture Minister, Mr. Navalkar.

                    Indeed, there is more to the Hussain affair than an
attack on the freedom of expression. It is a fact that such a set of
paintings by Mr. Hussain is not new. The rich heritage represented by the
sculptures in Khajuraho, Ajanta and Konark have not ``hurt the sentiments
of the Hindus''; instead, they continue to be seen as the reflections of
the effervescent art and culture that flourished under Hindu kings of that
time. It is also a fact that the notion of blasphemy _ if at all Mr.
Hussain could be accused of this _ has never been a part of the Hindu
ethos. On the contrary, heretics of various hues had not only found a place
in the Hindu ethos but had been absorbed and had even contributed immensely
to the richness of this tradition.

                    A disturbing fact that has emerged in this episode is
that the campaign has taken a direction where the work of a painter of Mr.
Hussain's eminence is sought to be portrayed on Hindu-Muslim lines. This is
not the case. The basis for the hue and cry against Mr. Hussain is that he
happens to be a Muslim and hence the outcry is essentially an attempt to
intensify the communal divide. The Maharashtra Government would do well to
reverse its orders against Mr. Hussain and instead of aiding those trying
to trample upon the painters' right to expression, it must act firmly
against them. It is the duty of the state to protect the freedom of
expression subject to certain well-defined limits which clearly have not
been crossed now. The Maharashtra Government cannot abdicate this

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