I have copied below the text of series of exchanges me and another writer had on the subject of MF Hussain using his artistic freedom to portray Hindu gods in a demeaning manner and thus hurting Hindu sentiments.
The exchange of ideas occurred in response to my invitation to view the link http://www.hindujagruti.org/ activities/campaigns/national/ mfhussain-campaign/
The flurry of mails happened during May 2008.
My friend wrote:
I doubt if Hindu gods themselves would have minded MF Husain's art - we should resist the temptation to play god. An incident from Swami Vivekananda's life has helped me not to succumb to misguided campaigns:Swami Vivekananda was in Kashmir towards the end of his life but his heart was heavy even in that paradise on earth. Large-hearted though he was, he felt tormented by the fact that successive invaders had desecrated and destroyed countless sacred images of Hinduism’s Gods and Goddesses and pulled down Hindu temples and built mosques overtheir ruins. Unable to bear the burden of this humiliating testimony of history, Vivekananda poured out his anguish at the feet of the Divine Mother in a Kali temple? How could you let this happen, Mother, why did you permit this desecration?? he asked despairingly. Swamiji has himself recorded all this, and reports that Kali whispered in his heart the following reply to his question? What is it to you, Vivekananda, if the invader breaks my images? Do you protect me, or do I protect you?? - (mentioned in "Sita's Kitchen" by Ramachandra Gandhi, pg 10). Vivekananda's doubts and anger melted away on hearing this.
My reply was :
We do not need to protect God. But when someone with intolerance, revenge and hatred in his heart tries to impose his God and breaks/desecrates/damages our temples then there is nothing wrong in taking a stand against such arrogance and attempted domination. Same is the case with Hussain's paintings. Our temples were not just abodes of gods, they were fountainheads of cultural, educational (spiritual and philosophical) and social interactions. As such they are more sacred! Swami Vivekananda's episode as narrated by Ramachandra Gandhi in his book can at best be a conjecture that originated in the fertile mind of the author.
Peace and respect.
The rejoinder from Chandan :
Since the respondent questioned the scholarly integrity of the late Ramachandra Gandhi, I’m obliged to refer you to another documentation of Swami Vivekananda’s experience at the Kshirbhavani temple in his biography by Swami Nikhilananda published in 1953. Please click the following weblink to this biography’s online text and go to Page 172 or enter “Kshirbhavani” as a search term right above the printed page and choose the second result. http://www.scribd.com/doc/ 2536351/Swami-Vivekananda
(In any case, morality tales need not be historical events to have any meaning. It does not matter if the Bhagavad Gita episode actually happened in history or not). The MF Husain episode brings up the question of artistic freedom in relation to a community’s feelings of hurt. It might have been good if Husain had chosen not to paint Hindu goddesses in the nude, respecting the sentiments of Hindus. But, he chose to paint them. (He is one of India’s best known painters; so, we aren’t talking of a mediocre talent doing sensational things to achieve quick fame). How then must the Hindus respond? Asking for censorship is a display of insecurity about our selves and of intolerance towards anything that departs from what we accept to be good. Showing charitableness is to be magnanimous and secure in oneself. Or, if Husain has hurt you, then express it in ways that will persuade him to reconsider his decision. But, I feel, asking for legal penalties isn’t the way.This is an occasion to remind ourselves of Kalidasa’s explicit description of the lovemaking between Shiva and Parvati in his play, Kumara Sambhava. Should Kalidasa (and the hundreds of others who have written on erotica involving Hindu gods) have been punished for what he did? Is he insulting the gods? And, we cannot have different standards for Kalidasa and Husain.
Hope I haven’t taken too much of your time. I felt, I had to say it in the spirit of living ethical lives.
To this my response was thus :
Firstly, I have not expressed any reservations about the scholarly credentials of Ramachandra Gandhi. It would amount to throwing a stone at the Sun. I am a small inconsequential speck too incapable of blocking the light of knowledge radiating from such an enlightened person.
My reference is only in the context of the philosophical Q & A session (Do you protect me or do I protect you?) alluded to Swami Vivekananda in Ramachandra Gandhi’s book, “Sita’s Kitchen”. I have nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for Swami Vivekananda and his work.
Surely, moral tales need not be historical. But, moral values and morality keep changing from time to time and from people to people. What is one person’s poison today may be another’s soup tomorrow. Hence, moral issues need to be viewed in the relevant time-frames. They cannot be simply extrapolated. Copernicus and Galileo Gallelli are not mere examples of such time-warped moralities. Today, the Pope has expressed regret at the persecution of both these luminaries and agreed to unveil a bust of Galileo in Rome.
Hence, Kalidasa’s poetic description of erotic acts of union of gods cannot and should not be compared with the willful and vengeful nude paintings of MF Hussain.
MF Hussain being an acclaimed painter does not diminish his social responsibilities in a plural society. All the more reason for him not to resort to such cheap gimmicks to gain attention. Nobody questions his abstracts. But, when it comes to nude paintings of gods of the majority community, he cannot do as he pleases. Artistic liberty and freedom of expression are nice phrases and not just meant for the consumption of Hindus. Nobody explains or condemns the fatwa against Salman Rushdie or the vicious attack on Tasleema Nasreen or the violence against Danish cartoons. Why is it that Hindus must not protest when their sentiments are hurt? The dichotomy is there for all to see.
MF Hussain had hatred in mind when he painted Gandhi’s headless torso just as he gave a visual expression to his hatred and revenge against Hitler by painting Hitler’s headless body alongside Gandhiji’s. (http://www.hindujagruti.org/ activities/campaigns/national/ mfhussain-campaign)
Why did MF Hussain choose Hindu gods for his nude paintings? He does not take any such liberties with Prophet Mohammed’s daughter or his own mother and daughter or Mother Theresa. He fears for his life. Period.
Would Hussain paint Madhuri Dixit (the ultimate beauty according to him) in the nude? He won’t, because the same beautiful Madhuri would transform into Kali!
And gods apart, why did Hussain paint naked Bharat Mata? Surely, he knows fully well that his actions will cause anger and anguish among patriotic Indians. Don’t we all respect Bharat Mata as our own mother? Yet, he does paint a nude Bharat Mata and we are expected to appreciate or remain benign.
MF Hussain’s nude paintings are to be deplored and condemned in the strongest possible terms. He should be punished (the legal way, not some mob-justice) for his deliberate, ill-conceived, prejudiced and malicious nude paintings. Hindus are reacting and responding in a more civilized and mature manner than the way followers of other religions do in such similar circumstances. And Hussain should count himself lucky.
I apologise for posting such a lengthy text. Thanks for perusing this rejoinder. I hope I have not intruded to snatch away your precious time.
The same feeling of living ethical life made me write this!
I have not received any reply for this from my friend!
PS : Thank you all for sparing your precious time to go through the longish text!
Now that MF Hussain has relocated in Qatar, he can very well find out the real meaning of ‘freedom of expression’ in that totalitarian country. He will understand the irony of seeking to protect his “freedom of speech” when the same is denied by his co-religionists to Tasleema Nasreen and Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoonist. When Taslima Nasreen is hounded out of Bangladesh and India, Hussain does not utter a word of condemnation against the hooligans but expects all Indians to support him despite his misdemeanours.
In Qatar, Hussain will soon realize that the Indian judiciary is balanced and more liberal. Instead of fleeing India, he should have submitted himself before the Indian judiciary and sought relief. The fact that he refused to come back to India from his self-imposed exile shows his contempt for the Indian rule of law. A dreaded don like Muthappa Rai came back from the Gulf and faced the Indian courts and obtained relief. MF Hussain should also have reposed faith in the Indian judiciary. He knows for sure that Indian law courts treat everyone equally and he will not get special treatment. He also knows that he has committed serious mistakes in drawing nude Hindu gods apart from portraying Bharath Mata in a demeaning and disrespectful manner in his paintings.
Now that he is no more an Indian citizen, Hussain should stop commenting about the Indian way of life! Indians will go about their normal lives treating Hussain’s departure as good riddance!