For Hussein but not his defenders


MF Hussein has accepted Quatar’s citizenship offer and he is no more an Indian. Hussein had drawn naked paintings of Hindu deities such as Saraswati, Laxmi and Sita. For this he had suffered a great criticism from several parts of Hindu society. There were over 900 cases lodged against him. Several art galleries that showcases his work were vandalized.

I support ideas. Art and literature has often come up with things that the rest of society could not come on terms with. Artists, authors, philosphers have suffered as great deal because they said things that were against the accepted norms. But we must remember that the biggest changes in history were brough about by these people.

This is not to say that every person who comes up with something different is essentially a high class thinker like Socrates. There is very high probability that he might be a maniac. But then a society that seeks change, betterment must learn to tolerate these maniacs in order to give space to the true genius.

In Hussein’s case I am not sure about the quality of his work. But I feel that we must have given him enough freedom to draw whatever he wants. Those who dont like it have the right not to watch it.

But the problem the whole controversy highlighted was not really about Hussein but the intolerance that the Hindus showed. Support that Hussein received from media and other political parties was not really because they felt the need to protect his right of expression but they found this as an opportunity to show similarity between Hindu society and Islamic mindset.

The questions that were often raised by Hindu critic of Hussein were very uncomfortable for the pseudo-activists to answer. Can he draw a well clothed Prophet? Can he draw artistic depictions of any of the descriptions of prophet given in the Hadis? About the dreams that the prophet had about his 13  year old wife?

The answers are obvious. While the Hindu society restricted itself to peacefully lodging complaints, Islamic society not just in India but worldwide would have reacted in a way that could have cost him his life. Beyond any doubt, India certainly wouldn’t have protected him in that case. India did not protect Salman Rashdie nor did it protect Taslima Nasreen whose work was not really offending but actually a very sensible one.

I think the Hindu society’s unexplainable intolerance lies in this. Islam always got a treatment that it never deserved. When Salman Rashdie’s book was banned in India the intellectual class was pretty much silent. In fact they endorsed the ban. May be that was politically convenient but we lost an opportunity to prove ourself to be a modern society. We bend before Islam.

Like the adage “Barking Dog gets the Bone”, Hindu mindset is learning this double-face nature of rulers and public intellectuals. Unless their life and position is threatened these people will not support a Hindu cause.  Nevertheless more Islamic the Hindu society behaves more benefits that the ruling class and secular media has.

Many of them have manufactured arguments to support Hussein but to decry Rashdie. The argument is Hinduism allows nude portrayal of gods but Islam forbids any sort of representation.

The argument certainly is not a secular one. The artist must have freedom irrespective of what religion says.  And even if we look at Hindu traditions the nude portrayals are not really of deities that are worshiped. The Khajuraho etc are not really Hindu gods. The iconography lays down detailed rules when it comes to depiction of goddess like Saraswati. Raja Ravivarma’s painting which were the first paintings to give a face to Goddess like Laxmi and Sarasvati adhere to such traditions.

I dont think the real problem is Hussein or his paintings. The real problem I feel the the Hindu intolerance that is growing day by day. It is not the fault of Hindu society. Unlike Islamic society Hindu society was tolerant by nature but if we look into history, we will realize that Hinduism has enough material to provoke its followers to adopt violent mediums to defend themselves.

Whatever happened in the Hussein case was not really because of the content of the paintings. These paintings are pretty old but the outrage is only recent. Neither this is the conspiracy of “a few” to stroke communal feelings as often portrayed by the media. These double standards are getting exposed now and that’s the real cause of the rising Hindu intolerance. Unless we cautiously take steps to mitigate this threat, I am sure a complete lunacy awaits us in future.

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