We need to preserve our cultural heroes

But that an ardent lover of India, a true nationalist in his own way had to die an alien death in a foreign land does not augur well for a secular democratic country like India. It is indeed unfortunate that a country that recognised the contributions of M F Husain with several state honours could not give him security when it mattered the most.   

It is not for nothing that Husain has been acclaimed as the Picasso of India. Picasso was perhaps one of the greatest artists who with George Barque and others introduced cubism in paintings.  He was also known for his anti war paintings during both the World Wars. Husain, on the other hand, had a blend of cubism and modern art in his paintings. He was widely known as the artist who gave a definite shape to Indian modernism. There was a certain mysticism emerging out of his unique creations.


His classic depictions of Mother Theresa and his painting on corruption are but a few masterpieces which set him apart as a genius who was able to put on canvas what otherwise could have been difficult to express.  The legendary British engraver and antiquarian writer Frederick Fairholt once said, “Truth is the highest quality of art.”

Many may have had problems with certain renderings of Husain, but none must dispute the sincerity of his work. The communal brigade in India found fault with almost everything that he painted. In 1996 a Hindi magazine created a controversy by digging up old paintings of Husain, painted in 1970s. The paintings in question seem to have been nude representations of Hindu goddesses. As a result of this, his house in Mumbai and several of his artworks were vandalised.

Indian Constitution, as we know, gives freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental right in article 19. Of course, there are certain reasonable restrictions under which a person can be restrained legally. In the case of Husain it was very clear from the High Court ruling in 2004 and the Supreme Court’s refusal to initiate criminal proceedings against him in 2008, that he had not done anything unconstitutional through his artworks.

The judiciary through such rulings affirmed the maestro’s worth in a multi cultural country like India. However, despite such cognizance by the courts, the successive governments at the Centre failed to give protection to its cultural hero. This indeed was a sad development.

There have been several instances in the recent past of both religious as well as cultural intolerance in India. Several literary as well as art works have borne the brunt of the fringe groups that claim to be the custodians of Indian culture. The vote bank politics that political parties bank on these days has only boosted the confidence of these hate mongers.

The sluggishness of the government in dealing with intolerant groups will only dent the image of our cultural ethos. The international media has taken strong cognizance of the fact that Husain had to die abroad as a result of unfortunate circumstances.

It is important that India learns a lesson at least now and makes sure that its cultural heroes feel secure here. Freedom of speech and expression has meaning only when all citizens are safe to express themselves and not face the wrath of certain anti social elements.

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