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M.F. Husain: Victim of Intolerance

June 20, 2011 by  
Filed under India, Persecution

M.F. Hussain

M.F. Hussain

On 9 June 2011, M.F. Husain breathed his last in a London Hospital, and was later buried in the cemetery in London as per his wish that he should be buried at a place of his death. The most celebrated painter of India, a thorough Indian and understanding Hindu culture much more than any of his detractors died, away from his home due to self imposed exile. This self imposed exile was due to the threats of Hindu fundamentalists. The renowned painter called by many as Picasso of India, had the fate similar to that of Picasso, who also went into self exile in the regime of fascist Franco of Spain.

M.F. Husain’s work spanned a long period, evolving with time and deeply rooted in the rich traditions of India, cultural Hinduism. He was confronted as to why he does not pick up Islamic motifs for his work. One can understand this as Islam has Calligraphy alone and human figures are not drawn in Islamic tradition.  He came more into the news from the decade of 1980s, with the rise of sectarian politics, as the intolerant Hindutva groups started attacking his painting- exhibitions regularly. The allegation was that he is hurting the sensibilities of Hindus, and is doing it deliberately as he is a Muslim. He was abused for painting Hindu Goddesses like Sarswati, Durga, Draupadi and the one titled Bharat Mata in nude.  Interestingly some of these paintings were done in 1970s or so. With the rise of the movement for Ram Temple the Hindu Fundamentalist forces became more assertive, the intolerance grew in the society, many a magazines and newspapers started fanning the fire of ‘hurting our sentiments’ and that’s when the followers of VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena started attacking Husain’s paintings. His exhibitions, Gufa in Ahmadabad, SAHMAT painting exhibition were ransacked. 

Later these communal forces went on filing case after case against him to harass him. The Courts ruled in Husain’s favor saying that his paintings are not obscene and are not promoting enmity between communities in any way. Husain by this time was quiet old, he was offered the security by the state but he declined to be imprisoned in the cordon of security and decided to take the citizenship in Qatar to continue his work in his own uninterrupted way, while maintaining that the Passport is a piece of paper and he remains an Indian at heart. Interestingly at this stage of his life he undertook the work of portraying India from Mohanjodaro to current times. In exile he missed India but it was a painful choice, to do the work in an uninterrupted way or to face the physical and mental wrath of the Hindu fundamentalists. As such he was not spared by Muslim Fundamentalists also, who had objected to his film, ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three cities’ on the charge’ that it blasphemes Koran, and the film had to be taken off the screen. 

As such Husain probably represents the best of Indian syncretic traditions and that too his rooting in Hindu mythology and culture may be much deeper than those who kept attacking him. Indian syncretic traditions have the strong synthesis of plural religious and cultural ethos of the country. Be it the work of poets like Raskhan or Rahim, the musicians like Ustad Bismillah Khan or Ustand Zakir Hussain, the religious traditions of Kabir or Nizamuddin Auliya, the magic of Indian mixed culture mesmerizes the scholars to no end.

– Ram Puniyani

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