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Of Taslima & Hussain:ENOUGH OF DOUBLE STANDARDS, by Prakash Nanda,5 March 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 5 March 2010

Of Taslima & Hussain



By Prakash Nanda

There are two different stories having a common India link. One is of the Bangladeshi novelist, Taslima Nasreen, who has been living in exile, partly in France but mostly in India. She wants an Indian citizenship because she is perhaps the most-hated person in Bangladesh because of her liberal views and moderate interpretation of Islam.

The other story involves Maqbool Fida Hussain, who, until recently, was arguably India’s most-celebrated and richest painter. On a self-imposed exile over the past few years and shuttling among London, Riyadh and Dubai, last fortnight he accepted the citizenship of Qatar. The 95-year-old Hussain, whose family members live otherwise very comfortably in India, left the country when confronted with uproars among a section of Hindus and a series of criminal cases in various courts of India over his controversial paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses.

However, the parallel ends here. Taslima wants to settle down in a pluralist, secular and democratic India. But Hussain has opted for an “Islamic monarchy”.  Secondly, Taslima got her name and fame outside her country. But in the case of Hussain, his celebrated status and unimaginable wealth were earned in India.

It is doubtful if Bangladesh will ever welcome Taslima back. But here in India, Hussain has such support that on Tuesday last, Home Minister P Chidambaram assured him not only safety but also every possible help in fighting his legal cases. However, Chidambaram failed to add how Hussain could return to India when he no longer is an Indian citizen and India does not allow dual-citizenship. Perhaps, Hussain can be given a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status and visa for an indefinite period.

Thirdly, Taslima has invited the wrath of conservative Muslims for her views on how in the name of Islam women are being ill-treated and how things like forcible imposition of burqa is not mandatory under Islam. So much so that on Monday last, as India was celebrating Holi, Muslim extremists in Karnataka were indulging in riots over the publications of  her old writings in some vernacular newspapers, that too without her consent. The timing was significant, since it followed the Government of India granting a fresh extension of six months to Taslima’s visa.

On the other hand, Hussain’s paintings seem to have hurt Hindu sentiments. Despite repeated Hindu anguish, the painter did not stop displaying consistently Hindu Gods and Goddesses in the nude. For example in one of his paintings he shows goddess Sita stark naked, masturbating on the long tail of God Hanuman, whereas Hindu mythology contemplates a very pious relationship of mother and son between goddess Sita and God Hanuman. In another painting, she is sitting naked on the thigh of naked Ravana. Imagine a bull copulating with goddess Parvati and God Shanker watching the act on Shivratri festival. Or Goddess Durga in union with her lion!

Hussain’s countless liberal supporters say that he, while painting Hindu Gods and Goddesses, was expressing his artistic and creative freedom and that there was no communal motive behind. Besides, they further argue, nudity in paintings and sculptures has been a part of Hindu cultural tradition, as displayed in the magnificent temples of Konark, Khajuraho, Elora and Bhubaneswar sculptures.

But these supporters miss the point that nowhere in the above sculptures the main deities were displayed in the nude. The problem with the paintings of Hussain has been the fact that he does not allow the people much scope to imagine over his work; he invariably wrote “Sita”, “Laxmi”, “Parvati” and “Hanuman” etc. below his paintings to make it abundantly clear what he meant. And that is really offensive.  In fact, in one of his “much acclaimed” paintings, he drew a naked woman in the shape of the map of India and displayed it as “Bharat Mata” (mother India)!

Significantly, whenever Hussain has painted celebrities belonging to Islam and Christianity, he has displayed utmost sensitivity and ensured that all of his figures are properly dressed.

Last but the most significant difference in India between the Taslima and Hussain episodes is the sheer inconsistency that the Government of India and the so-called liberal secularists have displayed.  While every attempt has been made to overplay the ominous implications of Taslima’s stay in India, no stone has been left unturned to bemoan over Hussain’s departure and facilitate his return to the country. In fact, some have even gone to the ridiculous extent of suggesting amending the Indian Constitution and granting dual-citizenship status to Hussain as a special case.

Sadly, this brings the factor of politics to the fore behind such inconsistencies. No government in India dare annoy the religious sentiments even on most unreasonable matters, as doing otherwise will adversely affect the so-called vote banks or “identity politics” of the political parties. It is this “identity politics” that erodes liberty.

Fearing over the loss of support of Muslims, the West Bengal government led by the Communists, supposedly most secular and rational, have banned all of Taslima’s books and refused her permission to live in the State. Worried over the backlash of the Christians, who are extremely important in the politics of Kerala and Northeastern States, the government banned the screening of the religious thriller The Da Vinci Code, a highly successful film in the United States and Europe.

Clearly, in India is common to succumb to the threats of protestors against creative persons, be they writers, artists or filmmakers. Books and plays questioning some of the thoughts and actions of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and BR Ambedkar have evoked passions, and some of them have been proscribed. Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and Arun Shourie’s Worshipping False Gods have been banned. Few years ago, the government decided to stop BBC from filming Rushdie’s epic, Midnight's Children, because somebody in power feared that the sentiments of some community might be hurt.

Hence, it is no wonder why there are double standards in political and intellectual circles over matters pertaining to Taslima and Hussain.  If those who advocate the restrictions are from the so-called “Right-wingers” or “Hindutva” side, then the so-called liberals and secularists will go to any extent of condemning the move, as evident in the case of Hussain and the shooting of the film Water that exposed the ill-treatment of widows in temples.  But if there are demands for the ban against the creations of “Right-wingers” (like Worshiping False Gods), then they go to every extent of rationalizing it.

However, it so happens that the “secularists” and “Leftists”, who dominate India’s educational and cultural infrastructures, have tolerated more incidents of banning of and restrictions on ideas than any one else. In fact, they are more intolerant of others’ views.  They can rewrite and reinterpret history books (as they did under the Congress regime, particularly under education ministers such as Nurul Hasan and Arjun Singh), but they denied the same right to the “Rightists” under the Vajpayee regime.           

Let us remember what the great philosopher-poet Rabindranath Tagore had written. His magnificent vision of India was that it would be a country “Where the mind is without fear”. Let us allow the authors and artists the right to express whatever they want so long as it isn't libelous. This is the best way to fight intolerance, ignorance and enemies of reason.  But keep in mind the key here is a thing called consistency.--INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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