Jun 10, 2011

On MF Hussain, Fatwas & our Hypocrisy

So MFH is dead and the entire world has suffered a loss so severe that Sinhead O’Connor is now composing a follow-up to her 90’s hit ‘Nothing compares to you’. First, it was the Jai-Veeru duo of Anna and Baba Chaukanna who dominated the headlines for weeks and yday it was MFH & the shabby treatment meted out to him by the government, sundry Indians, & even the local milkman who refused to deliver milk at his doorstep. I watched the segment on 2 channels – Times Now and NDTV – and was astonished at the utter hypocrisy and cluelessness with which ‘eminent’ thought leaders lamented his passing away. I’m-still-sexy-at-60-Shobha De alleged that MFH ‘would have lived and worked for another 5 yrs but actually died from a broken heart’. Oh, what a shame! Pritish Nandy, Jatin Das, Shabana Azmi and every Lefty loony lamented the government’s treatment of MFH.

Now, the way I see it, there are 2 things we are discussing here – one, whether MFH deserved the treatment he got; second, whether the government failed in its fundamental duty to protect its citizens. On the first, all I can say is that any artist who craves unrestrained freedom of expression is living in a dream world. From Socrates, to Galileo, to Ayan Ali Hirsi, to Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen – they have all had to pay a price for the controversial and audacious rendering of their thoughts or creative process. Sure, in an ideal world anybody could paint, write or direct whatever they wanted but this is not an ideal world and parts of India & its citizens seem to belong to a different world altogether.

It is also juvenile to compare the fatwa on Rushdie with the protests and non-bailable warrant issued against MFH. A more apt comparison would be if Rushdie was a citizen in Saudi or Yemen or Iran or even progressive Egypt & continued to live there. He offended the sentiments of muslims and lived in a country where they constituted the minority. MFH offended he sentiments of hindus & lived in a hindu nation.

Furthermore, it is myopic to compare India with developed nations like the UK or the US. While I also appreciate their culture of pluralism and diversity, it is just not possible to replicate the same model with 1.5 bn people, most of whom haven’t been to school and don’t have access to two square meals a day. What plurality, duh?

Second, what was the government’s role? Rather, is there something more the government could have done? Definitely, yes. For starters it could have issued a strongly worded statement against the Hindu Right who were waging the protests against MFH; it could have arranged for security at his exhibitions. It failed.

I am also reminded of something that happened in Bengal when Taslima Nasreen sought refuge there in 2003 & the minority community erupted in violent protests. The Left was caught in a bind – they couldn’t go back on their secular credentials, yet they couldn’t isolate the minority community, their largest vote bank in rural areas. In the end, they asked Nasreen to leave and I supported that decision. The reason is because, I believe, the government’s first role is to maintain law and order. Sure, it should protect the rights of individuals but not at the cost of law and order. Not an ideal situation, but most often choices in life are not ideal. If Hussain’s presence in the country endangered law and order, then the government would be well within in rights to ask him to leave the country, which it didn’t do. MFH’s decision to leave was an independent choice which he made after due consideration of the situation.

Again, I’m not questioning his love for India or respect for Indian culture since that is not moot to the discussion here. I am not a gifted artist and it is not possible for me to comprehend or share his vision. But I do think it is irresponsible citizenship to blame the government for actually doing what it is supposed to do!


stonetemplepilot said...

inspite of being a very prolific painter he never really got into the ordinary indian psyche like other artists say a pt B joshi or Satyajit Ray etc.

this must have provoked him to paint some controversial paintings just to provoke the ordinary Indians. He probably did not realise it would boomerang on him.

for all his liking for India or his Indianness i'm surprised why it did not occur to him that majority of the nation would have forgiven him if only he had cleared the air wrt those paintings in question.

it remains a mystery to me.

drift wood said...


Pbably the challenge is always greater for a painter. Films and music are more compelling and popular mediums.

Anyway, i wasn't so much disturbed by him as by the manner in which people are busy milking his death for a cause!

D said...

I can't help feeling that a lot of things he did were plain gimmicky!

drift wood said...


If he was gimmicky, the media isn't far behind!