ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Restraining Thin-skinned Fanatics

The Supreme Court finds no reason for the initiation of criminal proceedings against M F Husain.

In the last decade, fanatic groups have increasingly been re-sorting to vandalism to express their vehemence against art-ists, writers and filmmakers, whose works and views have, they claim, hurt their sentiments. Painter M F Husain’s works depicting Hindu goddesses in the nude have been the target of violent protests by groups espousing the ideology of Hindutva, the severity of which has led the 93-year old painter to live in self-imposed exile in Dubai since 2006. Now the Supreme Court has ruled that his Bharat Mata (depicting a nude woman on the con-tours of the Indian map) is a work of art and refused the initiation of criminal proceedings against him. However, the ruling is not likely to change the opinion of his detractors or lead to Husain’s return soon to India.

Since 1996, Husain’s art shows in Delhi, Ahmedabad and London have been vandalised, his house in Mumbai attacked by the Bajrang Dal and criminal cases filed against him. While the artist community largely continues to support him, the state machin-ery (including the present United Progressive Alliance govern-ment, which asked police chiefs to take “appropriate legal action” against him in 2006) has proved to be ineffectual in dealing with his tormentors. In fact, the first ever India Art Summit (supported by the union ministry of culture and inaugurated by the culture and tourism minister) held in Delhi last month excluded his works on grounds of “security”. This provoked the cultural group Sahmat to hold a Husain exhibition at the same time but at a dif-ferent venue. Predictably, Sahmat’s exhibition was attacked by a little known Hindutva group. Prominent artists had pointed out that Husain had single-handedly put Indian art on the world map and that the organisers were playing into the hands of the ex-tremist groups by excluding his works. The government excused itself on the grounds that it was not consulted about the choice of artists at the art summit.

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