This letter was written to The Hindu editor N. Ram by Dr. Mrs. Hilda Raja, retired Professor of Social Sciences, Stella Maris College, Chennai, in response to an editorial favouring the painter M.F. Husain and his right to freedom of expression. Husain lives in self-imposed exile in the UAE. He has renounced his Indian citizenship in favour of Qatar citizenship. – Editor
I have taken time to write this to you, Ram, for the simple reason that we have known you for so many years. You and The Hindu bring back happy memories. Please take what I am putting down as words that come from an agonized soul. You know that I do not mince words and what I have to say, I will. I call a spade a spade. Now it is too late for me to learn the tricks of being called a ‘secularist’ if that means a bias for one, and a bias against another.
Husain is now a citizen of Qatar. This has generated enough of heat and less of light. Qatar you know better than me, is not a country which respects democracy or freedom of expression. Husain says he has complete freedom. I challenge him to paint a picture of Mohammad fully clad!
There is no second opinion that artists have the right of freedom of expression. Is such a right restricted only to Husain? Will that right not flow to Dan Brown? Why was his film, The Da Vinci Code, not screened? Why was Satanic Verses banned? Does Salman Rushdie not have that freedom of expression? Similarly, why is Taslima Nasrin hunted and hounded and why fatwas have been issued on both these writers? Why has Qatar not offered citizenship to Taslima? In the present rioting in Shimoga, in Karnataka, against the article Taslima wrote against the tradition of burqua which appeared in the Out Look in January 2007. Nobody protested then either in Delhi or in any other part of the country. Now when it reappears in a Karnataka paper there is rioting. Is there a political agenda to create a problem in Karnataka by the intolerant goons? Why has the media not condemned this insensitivity and intolerance of the Muslims against Taslima’s views? When it comes to the Sangh Parivar it is quick to call them goons and intolerant, etc. Now who are the goons and where is this tolerance and sensitivity?
Regarding Husain’s artistic freedom it seems to run unfettered in an expression of sexual perversion only when he envisages the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. There is no quarrel had he painted a nude woman sitting on the tail of a monkey. The point is he captioned it as ‘Sita’. Nobody would have protested against the sexual perversion and his orientation to sexual signs and symbols. But would he dare to caption it as ‘Fatima enjoying in Jannat with animals’?
Next example is the painting of Durga copulating with a lion. Here again his perversion is evident and so is his intent. Even that, let’s concede, cannot be faulted. Each one’s sexual orientation is each one’s business, I suppose. But he captioned it as ‘Durga’. This is the problem. It is Husain’s business to enjoy in painting his sexual perversion. But why use Durga and Sita for his perverted expressions? Use Fatima and watch the consequence. Let the media people come to his rescue then.
Now that he is in a country that gives him complete freedom, let him go ahead and paint Fatima copulating with a lion or any other animal of his choice. And then turn around and prove to India the freedom of expression he enjoys in Qatar.
Talking about freedom of expression. This is the Husain who supported Emergency and painted Indira Gandhi as Durga slaying Jayaprakash Narayan. He supported the jailing of artists and writers. Where did this freedom of expression go? And you call him secularist? Would you support the jailing of artists and writers, Ram? Would you support the abeyance of the Constitution and all that we held sacred in democracy and the excessiveness of Indira Gandhi to gag the media, writers, political opponents? Tell me honesty, why does Husain expect this freedom when he himself did not support others with the same freedom he wants? And the media has rushed to his rescue. Had it been a Ram who painted such obnoxious, degrading paintings, the reactions of the media and the elite ‘secularists’ would have been different. Because there is a different perception and index of secularism when it comes to Ram, and a different perception and index of secularism when it comes to Rahim/Husain.
It brings back to my mind an episode that happened to The Hindu some years ago (1991). You had a separate weekly page for children with cartoons, quizzes, and with poems and articles of school children. In one such weekly page The Hindu printed a venerable bearded man fully robed with head dress, mouthing some passages of the Koran, trying to teach children. It was done not only in good faith but as a part of inculcating values to children from the Koran. All hell broke loose. Your office witnessed goons who rushed in, demanded an apology, held out threats. In Ambur, Vaniambadi and Vellore the papers stands were burned, the copies of The Hindu were consigned to the fire. A threat to raise the issue in Parliament through a Private Members Bill was held out. Hectic activities went on. I am not sure of the nature and the machinations behind the scene. But The Hindu next day brought out a public apology in its front page. Where were you, Ram? How secular and tolerant were the Muslims?
Well, this is of the past. Today it is worse because the communal temperature in this country is at an all high: even a small friction can ignite and destroy the country’s peace and harmony. It is against this background that one should view Husain who is bent on abusing and insulting the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Respect for religious sentiments, need to maintain peace and harmony should also be part of the agenda of an artist, if he is great. If it is absent then he cannot say that he respects India and express his longing for India.
Let’s face it. He is a fugitive of law. Age and religion are immaterial. What does the media want? That he be absolved by the courts?
Even for that he has to appear in the courts. He cannot run away. After all this is the country where he lived and gave expression to his perverted, sadistic, erotic, artistic mind under freedom of expression. I simply cannot jump into the bandwagon of the elite ‘secularist’ and uphold what he had done. With his brush he had committed jihad-bloodletting.
The issue is not just nudity. Yes, the temples, the frescoes in Konarak and Khajuraho, have nude figures. But does it say that they are Sita, Durga or any goddess? We have the Yoni and the Phallus as sacred signs of Life – of Siva and Shakti. Take these icons to the streets, paint them, give the painting a caption, it becomes vulgar. Times have changed. Even granted that our ancients sculptured and painted naked forms and figures, with a perverted mind to demean religion there is no license to repeat that in today’s changed political and social scenario, and it is not a sign of secularism and tolerance. I repeat there is no quarrel with nudity: painters have time and again found in it the perfection of God’s hand craft.
Let me wish Husain peace in Qatar – the totalitarian regime with zero tolerance! May be he will convince the regime there to permit freedom of expression in word, writing and painting. For this he could start experimenting painting forms, and figure of Mohammad the Prophet, and his family. And may I fervently wish that the media, especially The Hindu, does not discriminate goons. Let it not substitute tolerance for intolerance when it comes to Rahim and Anthony, and another index for Ram.
I hope you will read this in the same spirit that I have written. All the best to you Ram.
Dr. Mrs. Hilda Raja
M. F. Husain’s alien concept of Bharat Mata
Husain has stated that he paints images naked when he has contempt for them. He has contempt for Bharat Mata so he paints her without dress or decoration. He is aware that this deeply offends Hindus who revere Bharat Mata as a nurturing mother and goddess, but spiting Hindus pleases his primitive jihadi psyche as much as exposing Sita to profane public view or dismembering Hanuman does. Husain lives in exile in Dubai because he is afraid to face the Hindus in India he so despises. – IS
Filed under: cultural relativism, free speech, freedom of expression, media, nehruism, neo-colonialism, newspaper, psychological warfare, secularism Tagged: | art, free speech, hilda raja, hindu goddess, hindu nation, hinduism, indian history, khajuraho, m. f. husain, minority rights, national identity, nationalism, politics, psychological warfare, religious politics, secularism-nehruism, sex and religion