Media Picks – The case against the moral police

The Indian Express
But now that the hornets are buzzing around anyway, perhaps it’s time to address some of those hitherto unaddressed questions of artistic freedom, aesthetic appeal, social norms and the female body. While we are about it, let us also remember that these are multi-layered issues, which cannot be addressed by bringing out the manacles and sending M.F. Husain to jail. Let us hope that Maharashtra’s saint-goddess Muktabai, the sister of the much-beloved Dyaneshwar, grants some sense to the likes of Pramod Navalkar, Maharashtra’s honourable minister of culture, who carry arrest warrants in their pockets. When one of her male associates, Namdeo, came upon Muktabai bathing in the nude and turned his head in shame she chastised his thus: One is not ashamed to stare at the niches in the walls. Do the cows grazing in the fields have any clothes? I too am like the cows. Why are you embarrassed at my sight? (October 11, 1996.)
Metropolis on Saturday
Art, first of all, is not meant to leave you where you are. It would be no fun if it did. You would stagnate and so would culture as a whole. Art should expand your horizon, change the way you see things, I mean that’s what makes it exciting as an activity. Take the example of Meerabai: in her songs she evokes Krishna sometimes as her lover, sometimes as her father, sometimes as her son! Now why didn’t the Hindus of that time, nearly 600 years ago, take out a morcha against her? That’s artistic license isn’t it? But people went along with her, tolerated her Krishna-madness, and look what a poetic treasure we have as a result.
(Quoted by Narendra Panjiwani. Ila Pal, a Bombay-based painter is Husain’s biographer. October 19-20, 1996.)
The Economic Times
Meanwhile, little man you have unleashed something. It is a debilitating emotional plague… In this state you seem to have erased the line between the sacred and the profane; if you want to “worship” every representation of Saraswati you see-whether in a school text book, or on a shop name board or behind an auto rickshaw or on a packet of crackers, or a calendar advertising cement – then you can only deemed to be in serious trouble. Little man, if you can’t decide to keep your worship inside the temple and the pooja room and want to carry it inside art galleries and theatres, you may be victim of your own highly neurotic attitude towards religion…
As Jean Paul Sartre said in another context, remember little Man, India is the name of a country; let it not become the name of a nervous disease.
(October 20, 1996)
The Pioneer
The freedom of speech and expression has been bought by the citizens of this country at a fairly high price. It has to be watched over, and defended vigorously by the people themselves. And we face a challenge once again to this right now, when the VHP and Bajrang Dal have not only come out on the streets against M.F. Husain’s paintings, but destroyed some of his work in Ahmedabad.
What they have done is revolting, the more so because they did it in the name of religion. But though they have been brutal and vicious, they do not represent the real danger: we know these louts for what they are. The real danger is in what Pramod Navalkar, the Minister for Culture in Maharashtra has done. Had the state government seized the paintings, it would have been intolerable but not surprising. But the Minister did not do that: he filed an FIR with the police, alleging that Husain had acted in manner calculated to bring about ill-feeling between communities. This is deliberate mischief, for the police will obviously act on what is in reality an order, and yet it seeks to cloud the real issue: that the Minister will decide whether what Maqbool Fida Husain paints is legal or punishable.
(October 20, 1996)
The Pioneer
The season of Ramlilas see me a long way away from that time. In an atmosphere charged with cynicism and a hidden violence, the Ramlila of Tigri acquired mythical intonations. My thoughts go out to M.F. Husain trembling in cold, foggy London. He loved the season of Ramlilas, would slip into a neighbourhood shamiana and watch the majesty of Ram with the glee of a child. It took him back to his boyhood years in Indore when Ramlilas were a regular feature of his life. Years later inspired by a suggestion of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia to paint the lore of the land, Husain spent 10 months in an Andhra village, sat with a pundit from Benaras, took lessons in the Ramayan of Valmiki and Tulsidas and recreated his own version of the epic – dozens of canvasses, some of them as long as 40 feet that people were happy to refer to as Husaini Ramayana.
“Why don’t you paint the story of Islam in a similar fashion?” a friend once asked him. “Do you have the tolerance to accept what I paint? If I raise my brush to depict Islam will you stop the fanatics from descending on me?” It never occurred to Husain that the Hinduism which he celebrated will also acquire its own brand of fanatics who will so soon lose the catholicity of a way of being.
(October 20, 1996)
The Pioneer
It is therefore impossible to protect oneself against fascist attacks for the agents of intolerance set up their standards idiosyncratically. If it is goddesses in the nude one day, it is the Hindu scriptures the next or the writing of text books, and so on.
This is why it is important to desist from intellectual debates with such organizations and insist instead that the criminals who ravaged Husain’s works be brought to book. This will expose the sordity of fascism, as well as the official agencies that protect and encourage them….
Likewise the Shiv Sena consistently glorifies violence and engages it in broad daylight without fear of official reprisals… Intellectuals should therefore curb their natural instinct to debate indiscriminately. Instead they should unequivocally demand that the law should apply to criminals: no more and no less.
(October 29, 1996)
The Bombay Times
Much has been made about the fact that only Hindu gods and goddesses are depicted in this way. That argument is silly because it overlooks traditions. Christianity has always, except for a stray case here and there, depicted Jesus Christ with a loin cloth. Islam prohibits the pictorial depiction of Mohammad.
In fact, in the strictest sense, it proscribes the depiction of any human form. While Hinduism, uniquely among religious, has glorified the human body and its physical senses. We worship the yoni and the lingam and Krishna disrobes the gopis.
That’s the problem with religious fundamentalists. They always glorify their traditions, while knowing nothing about them, which is why they remain a rabble waiting to be roused.
(October 11, 1996)
The Pioneer

I hate to say it but it must be said. I believe this misguided, motivated mischievous and malicious attack on M.F. Husain has very little to do with his art and a lot more to do with his name. It also seems like a diversionary tactic to take everybody’s minds of uncomfortable issues like the Kini case and the Sarpotdar imbroglio.
The Sistine chapel shows the creation of man in graphic, vivid detail. Horror of horrors, god’s genitals are on view. Yes, god’s…
Millions of visitors stare in wonderment at Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Nobody plays the slightest heed to the exposed genitals, even though everybody looks.
(October 9, 1996)
The Pioneer
This is because despite his beard and his name and his possible protestations, Husain cannot claim the sanctuary of Islam for his own. By painting the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, Husain proclaimed himself a Kafir; in saying that he has often been inspired by these gods and goddesses, that he admires them, he confounds his kufr
Incidentally, I think that Husain is just a skilled charlatan who has created a lucrative career for himself through a series of high profile gimmicks. It doesn’t matter. His freedom to do so is rooted in a tradition and culture that predates India’s ‘secular democratic’ constitution by 2000 years.
(October 19, 1996)
(This is archived from Communalism Combat, November 1996)



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