The newspaper read, “M.F. Hussain surrenders his Indian passport at Doha mission.” (ToI, 9 March 2010) It was expected news. Yet there was a lump in my throat as I read it. N. Ram had broken the news, in The Hindu, more than a week ago that M.F. Hussain, the most celebrated artist of India was given the citizenship of Qatar. Indian constitution does not allow dual citizenship and M.F. Hussain had to forego his India citizenship. As N. Ram wrote, it was a day of national shame.
Incidentally, the day N. Ram broke the news it was the inaugural day of Article-19, annual media fest of Manipal Institute of Communication. The fest borrows its name from the constitution where Article-19 gives the citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. I wanted to be a part of the inaugural function of the fest but the news of M.F. Hussain made me quite uneasy and I decided not to be a part of Article-19 nor of the protest march in Mangalore in the noon protesting against Karnataka government’s intention to ban cow slaughter.
Next day friend Sudipto informed me that the students of University College, Mangalore had boycotted class demanding action against their lecturer Pattabhirama Somayaji. The ‘crime’ by Mr. Somayaji was his speech during the previous day’s protest. The students demanded action against their lecturer because he was speaking “against the Government.”
The following Sunday a leading Kannada daily Kannada Prabha in its Sunday magazine carried a translation of an article originally written by Taslima Nasreen for Outlook (22 January) in the year 2007. The original article was titled ‘Let Us Think About Burkha.’ The publishing of the translation triggered discomfort among the fundamentalists in Karnataka and lead to riots and attacks in Shimogga.
It is quite an irony that M.F. Hussain who was made to leave this country could not enjoy ‘freedom of expression’ in a country which sheltered Tasleema Nasreen who was sent out of Bangladesh after she could not enjoy ‘freedom of expression’ there. Sadly Tasleema Nasreen is continued to be attacked by fundamentalists even in India. This is happening while many like Mr. Somayajji continue to be attacked for expressing their views. Equally sad is the voice coming against M.F.Hussain in Qatar questioning and objecting the citizenship granted to the man who painted Arab Sheik naked.
The common thread in all these incidents is not just the issue of creative freedom, freedom of expression but also intolerance, unquestioning attitude and uncritical thinking. The Hindutva fundamentalists could not tolerate the art of M.F.Hussain because they could not ask themselves certain questions like “When all our Gods and Goddesses have been sculpted naked and semi-naked in temple architecture what is the offence if M.F. Hussain paints them naked?” The intolerance of the students, considering the fact that they were instigated (sadly I say, by a journalist), was because they thought it was ‘crime’ to question the Governments moves. The Muslim fundamentalists find Tasleema Nasreen offensive and cannot tolerate her because they cannot tolerate the fact that someone is questioning certain aspects of their religion and also the prophet.
During the birth centenary of Rabindranath Tagore in a seminar in Delhi, Kushwanth Singh made some adverse comment on the novel Binodini and the atmosphere became charged. A Bengali writer shouted, “How dare you criticize Gurudev?” to which Kushwanth Singh replied, “You will find it easier to judge a writer if you read him rather than worship him.”
09 March 2010