M.F. Husain, India’s most famous modern artist, died at the age of 95 this morning, not in Maharashtra, his home state, nor New Delhi, where many of his ground-breaking works were exhibited, but in London, where he lived in exile with Qatari citizenship. The ‘Picasso of India’ has for five years felt unable to live and work in his country of birth.
Husain fled India in 2006, leaving behind court cases and death threats against him, and continued vandalism of his works from right-wing Hindu groups that accused him of insulting their religion by painting deities in the nude.
Husain, a Muslim, felt unsafe and unable to practice his particular art form in the world’s largest democracy. And he’s not the only one. Salman Rushdie, who was born in Mumbai but lives in the UK, saw New Delhi ban his Satanic Verses for its perceived depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
And Husain’s death presents a timely reminder to India of the multi-faceted obligations of an open, secular democracy, as anti-graft movements swell against the government.
On Thursday morning, India’s news channels cut to the breaking news of Husain’s death from pictures of Swami Ramdev, the yoga guru turned social activist being treated by doctors monitoring his health during a hunger fast that entered its sixth day on Thursday.