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Vir Saghvi puts l'affaire Husain in context in his characteristic, lucid style:
Now that he has chosen to live in Qatar, the Hindutva-wallahs will ask the obvious questions: How much freedom will he have there? Of course the Arabs will let him paint naked Hindu goddesses. But will they let him paint anything that even remotely offends Muslims? Anything that offends the royal family? Nude portraits of previous rulers of Qatar? Or even, nude portraits of Arab women?
These are crude questions. But sadly, the answers are as crude. Husain will have no artistic freedom in Qatar. He will be no more than a court painter to a medieval monarch. So has he chosen to live in a society that values the artistic freedom that he says he is denied in India? Or has he just taken the soft, very profitable, option and forgotten all about artistic freedom?
These are troubling questions and I think they will worry many of us who have spoken up so vociferously in Husain’s defence for so many years. From what I can tell, the threat of nuisance litigation has now retreated after the Supreme Court has intervened. Nor is India a particularly unsafe place. The Home Secretary has now offered Husain as much security as he needs.
So here’s my view: if he wants to stay abroad, fine. That’s reasonable. But he should not turn his back on his own country. He should not surrender his Indian nationality and opt for a passport offered by an undemocratic regime – all in the name of artistic freedom.
The battle for Indian secularism and free speech must be fought here, in India. And not at the feet of some Middle Eastern monarch.
Couldn't agree more on almost everything in this piece although I am not sure where the figure of "almost 900 cases" is coming from. As the Hindu pointed out a couple of days back, "several cases were reportedly filed against Mr. Husain, only seven registered in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi came to light through the media as the courts had summoned Mr. Husain."
Of the seven cases, four were quashed by the Delhi High Court in May 2008 in a refreshingly worded judgement by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul which had been upheld by the Supreme Court and there are apparently only three minor cases against Husain pending in lower courts which, going by the judiciary's response, were clearly not the worrying factor.
Granted, even to have to fight one legal case is needless harassment, particularly for one as old as Husain at 95, who also definitely faced threats to his physical safety - and the UPA's response to the cases against Husain was abysmally craven even by its own low standards on free speech - but while it may have been hard for Husain to continue living and working here, it was not impossible. One can bemoan the fact that he did not feel safe in India - it is easy to be magisterial and dismissive and my intention here is not to discount or diminish the very genuine threats he faced here from criminals and goons - and that the UPA should have aggressively taken action against those who threatened him -- but the choice of Qatar citizenshop is most inexplicable and can not be defended even remotely on the grounds of greater artistic freedom! Clearly, the only winners in this will be those inciting other against Husein -- the Bajrang Dal et al -- who would now be emboldened even more thinking that they can bully anyone into submission.
Also See from Outlook Archives:
March 2008: Why does no one speak up for his basic freedoms?
May 2008: 'There Should Be Freedom For The Thought We Hate': Full text of the Delhi High Court judgement quashing "the summoning orders and warrants of arrest" issued against M. F. Hussain, which went on to add that 'Freedom Of speech has no meaning if there is no freedom after speech'
Post Script: March 3, 2010: Kishore Singh in the Business Standard
Maybe Husain is right in fearing for his life — he, after all, is the one who has been threatened — but we must not forget that it is possible he is playing to the galleries. And at the bottom of that might be something Husain is very smart about: fiscal prudence.
March 3, 2010: M.F. Husain speaks to NDTV:
"If I were 40 years old, I would have fought them tooth and nail...but now I need to concentrate and need all the comforts... I never said that India rejected me... It was largely a practical decision ... I would have had to become an NRI.. sponsors... taxes... etc"