Saturday, December 16, 2006

Freedom of Expression

I was born in a Hindu family and educated in a Christian convent. I attended Bible classes in school and also prayed in temple every evening. I have also offered prayers at Durgahs. As I grew older I stopped believing in Idol worship and stopped going to the temples except perhaps on festivals (I have been chastised by my parents for that :)). I subscribe to the idea that God resides within our heart.

"The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart. 0 Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities."
Bhagavad-gita 18.61

I have friends who are followers of Islam and I’ve celebrated Id with them. I have always believed in “God is one and all religions are means of uniting with the supreme Lord”

However when the television channels showed the nude painting of Goddess Sita clinging to Hanuman’s tail painted by Maqbool Fida Hussain the eminent painter of India, I was infuriated. This had hurt religious sentiments of Hindus. I am not a fundamental Hindu, but I also don’t like to see the Hindu Gods and Goddesses painted nude like I was not happy to learn that the Muslims were hurt when cartoons of Prophet Mohammed were published in a newspaper.

MF Husain is no stranger to controversy. He has painted nude pictures of Goddess Saraswathi in the past (probably in the year 1997?). Hindus across the globe were furious and had sought an apology from the painter. The painter was also quick to apologize. Any responsible citizen with even a below average IQ would have realized that such acts hurt the religious sentiments of the people. But Mr. MF Hussain went on to portray nude Draupadi, Bharath matha (though this has nothing to do with Hindu goddesses) and also Sita. If Mr. Hussain had really intended to apologize in 1997 he wouldn’t have committed the sin; for repeated mistakes are sins.

I quote the following from

It is also narrated by Ahmad that Abu Bakr said that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

‘No Muslim commits a sin and then performs ablution, prays two rak’ahs and begs Allah for forgiveness for that sin, but He forgives him.’

If a believer makes mistakes, and we all do, we have to offer sincere repentance to be entitled to forgiveness. In Islam, sincere repentance is known as taubah. This requires us to;

• Recognize and admit we have made a mistake
• Ask forgiveness from Allah and if the sin was against a person, we have to ask forgiveness from that person also
• We try to atone for the sin we have done if possible, by for example, returning money if we had stolen it
• We make the intention never to do the sin again

Some people went on to label the Hindus who opposed this act of Mr. Hussain as “religious intolerant”. So what do we label the people who protested against the publication of cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in certain European newspapers?
A crowd of up to 6,000 Muslim worshippers in New Delhi, India demonstrated
against the cartoons, burning, trampling and spitting on Danish flags while chanting "God is Great" and "Down with Denmark."
Bidar: Members of Tippu Sultan Youth Club took out a protest rally at Chitaguppa in Humnabad taluk on Friday against the publication of cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in certain European newspapers.

If Haji Yaqoob Qureishi the Minister for Minority Welfare and Haj can announce a cash reward of Rs 51 crore for anyone who beheads the Danish cartoonist who caricatured Prophet Mohammad and still gets away by saying it was a “concerted decision” and the killing of a person who blasphemed Islam was “justified.” (
then perhaps people shouldn’t react to self-appointed chief of the Hindu Personal Law Board offering exactly the same prize money for ‘eliminating’ MF Husain

Religion has always been a sensitive issue not just in India but across the globe. Religion to some people is their identity. People in today’s world are less tolerant than they used to be fifty years ago and they will react to any provocation. Perhaps Gandhiji wouldn’t have been preaching “show your second cheek if you are slapped on one” if he were alive today.

Stop Justifying

But Hindus have always depicted naked Goddesses in their temples...
I read an article where one person has tried to justify Mr. Hussain’s paintings by quoting that Hindus have depicted their Gods and Goddesses naked in ancient temples. ( It was probably acceptable in ancient India and what was acceptable in the past may not necessarily be acceptable in present world. Adam and Eve once wandered naked on this planet. But walking nude on streets is not considered civilized in today’s world.

Oh! But Hindus wouldn't have been furious if Mr. Hussain wasn't a Muslim...
Another writer ( also commented that the Hindus reacted only because a Muslim had painted these paintings. Well, no Hindu has done it till date and so we can’t really say how the people will react if ever a Hindu paints the Hindu Gods and Goddesses naked. But we can certainly say that such statements do not promote communal harmony.

I am neither trying to justify the act of Mr. Hussain nor am I saying that the Muslims’ protest against the Danish cartoonist was barbaric and loony. I only want to point out that people of any religion will be intolerant to such acts and they should never be provoked.

Thus spoke the media...

Barkha Dutt wrote:,00120001.htm
Yes, we are all entitled to our religious sensitivities, but equally, a strong, democratic society must allow space for satire, irony and personal interpretation of religious beliefs.
So, if Husain really offends you that deeply, don’t buy his art, boycott the galleries that display his work and stop dining at the homes of the important people who can’t stop preening about his work on their walls. But, he has just as much a right to paint Hindu deities in the nude, if that’s his artistic vision, as the Danish cartoonist has to poke fun at Islam in his comic strip. Surely, we don’t believe either religion to be so fragile that it can’t take a joke or two about itself?

Is this artistic freedom?
Some people argue that the artists should be given sufficient freedom in a democratic nation to display their interpretations. But if their interpretations are hurting the sentiments of the people, should we let them continue doing so?

If such freedom leads to religious disharmony should we encourage it? If yes, then to what extent? How much of freedom is too much of freedom or how little freedom is too little freedom?

If we do not have the freedom to express ourselves, then can we say that we are a democratic nation having freedom of expression?


multisubj yb said...

Quite neutral and unbiased. I appreciate.
Hussain's paintings and Danish Cartoons etc. are motivated by an yearning to make millions. The real enemy of human is the Capitalism.

Ashish said...

Nice post.
The fact remains that the right to protest is also our fundamental right, and if we do express ourselves what MF Hussain has done (without violence), then there should be nothing wrong.
And it's not like MF Hussain is equally unbiased, he had made a movie called '...., A tale of cities' (can't remember the exact name), and at the slightest sign of protest, he withdrew the movie.