The Crux of the M F Hussain Controversy
Painting By M F Hussain
First Published for Delhilive.com on 3 March 1010
The point is not whether the paintings of M F Hussain are good or bad. The point is not even whether they are insulting, or derogatory or a misuse of artistic freedom. The only point that should concern us is, do the citizens of India have a right to live in the county without fear and intimidation? Do Indian citizens have the right to feel safe enough to be in their country of birth at age 95?
The drawings and paintings of Maqbool Fida Hussain are open to interpretation. I do not know enough about art to make any informed comment about his work; perhaps I am a philistine that his brush strokes do not evoke much of a reaction in me; negative or positive, the way that a beautiful landscape painted by an unknown would. As I am ignorant about art; so I suspect are most of the others who have taken up cudgels against his work.
Many of Hussain’s paintings have actually been without names, which have then been then been ascribed by others. So you could say that some if not all of his paintings have been misinterpreted. Again the point is that we are free to interpret them the way we perceive them. We are also free to condemn his work. But is it open to people to persecute a 95 year old man who has arguably put Indian art on the world map?
The right to freedom of expression is not absolute; agreed that it should be within the parameters of acceptable behaviour and that the creator of an art work is not wholly unaccountable to society at large. But, it is the job of art to question, to provoke, to incite debate, to initiate new thought; yes even to shock.
Is one disagrees with someone’s art; even someone’s trash, do they have the right to hound the creator of said art/trash to the point that he cannot live in the country of his birth? Does the rule of law have no place in a civil society? Should a backlash instill such fear that a person feels constrained to take up citizenship of another country?
Besides who will decide upon what is art and what is trash? The mob? And will that same mob decide what punishment is to be meted out for the art/trash? This reflects poorly on our democracy, our maturity as a thinking populace, also our law enforcement agencies. Home Minister P Chidambaram has extended a lukewarm welcome and has said that he will be ‘happy’ if the painter returns to India. But this is evidently not reassuring enough.
If M F Hussain will now spend his last days in a foreign country (albeit one with a completely abysmal record of according personal and other freedoms but that is another matter altogether) we must look within and examine our credentials as a democracy that claims to uphold the law, and claims to accord equal security to all its citizens; even if some of those citizens are decried as criminals by a substantial segment of society.