Delhi judge backs MF Husain, says “ignorant people vandalise art”

May 9, 2008

The Delhi High Court issued a strong judgement on Thursday in support of one of India’s leading painters MF Husain, who has been forced into exile after a painting of Mother India as a naked woman was accused of hurting religious sentiments.

M.F. Husain and TabuJustice Sanjay Kishan Kaul made no bones about how he felt about the issue.

“It is most unfortunate that India’s new ‘puritanism’ is being carried out in the name of cultural purity and ignorant people vandalise art,” the Times of India quoted him as saying.

The high court found nothing wrong in Husain’s work and said art, both ancient and modern, had always used nudity.

“We have been called the land of Karma Sutra then why is it that in this land we shy away from its very name,” he said.

“Ancient art has never been devoid of eroticism where sex worship and representation of the union between man and woman has been a recurring feature.”

It remains to be seen if the 90-year-old Husain will ever return home, but Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen decided enough was enough earlier this year and decided to leave India.

Last year the Economic Times said the Indian government had not done enough to defend Nasreen because it was “afraid of offending the Islamist street”.

When we reported this issue last year, a leading sociologist told us lopsided economic growth had created a disposed population which could not relate to Western cultural values and norms.

And the Bharatiya Janata Party said the West was fighting psychological warfare to influence youth, and said it was saving the country from cultural anarchy.

So did Justice Kaul get it right? Is freedom of speech and expression under threat in India from the religious right, whether Hindu or Muslim?

Or is a rich, liberal elite out of touch with the valid religious sentiments of hundreds of millions of Indians?


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We really have to applaud the Delhi High Court order, which is a breath of fresh air and provides a boost to civil liberties in the country, under threat from the intolerant religious right, Hindu and Muslim.

An ominous portent for a society or country moving towards a fascist-type state is attacks on its artists, poets, intellectuals and writers (Taslima Nasreen), which we have seen in India in recent years.

If we don’t speak up now, and support institutions like the Delhi High Court when it gives such inspiring judgements, all our civil liberties could come under threat, with bigots from both communities deciding for us what is acceptable to wear, to paint, to sculpture and, eventually, to speak.

It’s not only about Husain write to paint. It is also about Tasleema Nasreen, who has been chased out of this country by intolerant Muslims. Some of her writings are offensive but once must protest peacefully.

To say that talk of protection of rights of artists and painters like Husain and Nasreen is the liberal elite in the country being out of touch with the religious sentiment of most Indians is insulting. First of all, most Indians — who are not part of this liberal elite you talk about — do not approve of intolerance, even though they may not approve of a writer’s or artist’s work. And they are more accepting of what is not conformist than you think. That is why India is one country today, despite all the challenges that the right poses.

Remember, the right-wing elements though a minority make more noise, like empty vessels. We should not allow their unpleasant din drown out our voices.

Posted by Syed Mansoor | Report as abusive

I applaud the decision of the Delhi Court, preserving the freedom of expression that is essential in a thriving democracy. There is no place for religious fundamentalism in a multicultural society like India.

However, I will ask Mr. Hussian to be aware of the religious sentiments of the populace. Depicting Godesses and women is naked form will engender strong feelings. In Islam, the portraits of the Prophet and other religious leaders is strongly dicouraged and even Mr. Hussain has abided by those rules. Even though there are no religious limitations in depicting them in a paintings, Hindu Gods and Godesses be should be shown in a respectful form.

This will prevent any hurt feeling. In response to the judges comments, eroticism is acceptable but it should not be mixed into religious imagery. Freedom of expression is strengthened by common sense approach to projects at hand.

Posted by Sanjeev Kumar | Report as abusive

The very purpose of art is to explore the side avenues, the less-seen and the unseen aspects in human experience. If not for art, we would live in a world of religious fundamentalism and no spirituality, a world of law but no justice, a world of love but no passion. The purpose is to explore, and a simple depiction of nudity should not, by itself, be construed as an insult. Unfortunately, religion is being interpreted in very dogmatic ways, and this is really unintelligent. Who can save us from our own lack of intelligence? Who can save us from poor choices?

Posted by bajji | Report as abusive

Husian shoud show Prophet and Jesus nude. He should show his art with own religion. Do not show other people Nude. You have rights to remove own cloths not others… Nanga Husain and His Supported Gang should award Danish cartoonist for his courage of expression… Empty head of Syed Mansoor and Bajji – when are u arranging felicitation of Danish Carttonist and Fitna fame minister???

Posted by Deshbhakta | Report as abusive

I dont understand what’s the big deal in nude art. We are Indians and historically Indian art has always been nude and not shy of the human body. Who cares what Islam or other religions think about nude are. India is a democratic secular state and we should preserve our rich cultural heritage. Should we remind people that in the past it was the foreign invaders who took offense and attacked, destroyed Indian art ! Not Indians as we have seen in the case of M.F Husain. Shame on the Indian Gov for not being able to protect its own citizens . Its a national shame that this man had to run into a foreign nation for protection. Did some one say India is a “Democracy” ? I really wonder and doubt that one.

Posted by Raj | Report as abusive

There are two aspects of the M F Hussain – nude painting controversy.
On one hand as an artiste of such fame and as an Indian he has the right to paint anything he wants.
On the other hand, even though he maintains innocence, his nude subjects are invariably hindu subjects. If he were a Hindu he would not have attracted such hatred and passion. But being a muslim his intentions are considered in a different light. Would he paint any muslim figure nude? Can he paint a nude and call it Fatima? He would have been dead long time ago if he ever did.
We are a tolerant people and let us forget that. But nobody should abuse the large heart of India.

Posted by pervez | Report as abusive

I am a fan of M F Hussain but not a blind one like Justice Kaul. M F Hussain is to be blamed for his actions as he went overboard. Few paintings were never noticed but his madness in painting many many more made people to notice – and a feeling of deliberate ‘mischeif’ by the painter spread like bush fire. India is changing fast, communication is instant and people have begun to think more. This may be a good thing or bad – time will tell. But it would be a great mistake to brand everyone who protests to be part of ‘puritanist ignorant crowd’. I am shocked and bemused. Here we go again another elitist judgement blaming ‘cultural puritanists’. I only warn people in high position to think and think seriously – every one is not a fundamentalist but such judgement can tilt the balance. How come baning ‘Satanic Verses ‘ and Da Vinci Code’ were justified? Please visit my Blog. judgement-with-health-warning.htmlName – Navin Joshi

Posted by Navin Joshi | Report as abusive