Threat to freedom


The continuing threat to artistic freedom and the inability of the state to protect it have been exemplified by two recent events — the Chhattisgarh government’s ban on the celebrated playwright Habib Tanvir’s play ‘Charandas Chor’ and the exclusion of M F Husain’s paintings from the India Art Summit  to be held in Delhi next week. ‘Charandas Chor’, written and directed by Habib Tanvir, has had countless performances in the country and abroad and has won popular acclaim and honours. It is a classic of post-Independence Indian theatre. But the book and the play were banned by the Chhattisgarh government because the leader of a religious sect has objected to the portrayal of its guru in the play. Tanvir had used his creative freedom to interpret the life of the guru, passed down through legends. For decades the portrayal had evoked no objection. But the BJP government has now invoked offence to religious sentiments and threat to law and order as grounds to ban the work of an author who has not been in the good books of the Hindutva brigade. That Habib Tanvir belonged to Chhattisgarh, used local stories and local dialect in his plays and helped the state to rediscover and redefine its cultural heritage did not appeal to the bigots and their supporters in the government.

Hindutva extremists have always been intolerant of art and literature which do not conform to their narrow worldview and have visited them with violent opposition. The record of other kinds of extremists is also not better. In the frequent face-offs between artistic freedom on one side and prejudice, intolerance or crude politics on the other, it is the latter that unfortunately wins. That makes our democratic and secular credentials unconvincing.

If Chhattisgarh banned Tanvir, the Delhi government is unable or unwilling to ensure that India’s greatest living artist is represented in the country’s premier art show. The organisers of the art summit have kept Husain out of it because of threats and cited lack of protection by the government and Delhi police in defence of their decision. The fact that the 94-year-old artist cannot live in the country is itself a matter of national shame. How we treat our art and literature, and artists and writers, is a measure not only of our good taste and culture but of our commitment to freedom and democracy that we claim to cherish. But the claims do not often stand the test of reality.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry