Exile or Home Arrest?

Maqbool Fida Husain, an art icon, has become a political toy. The Congress led Union Government has flashed support for his return to India. On 29 October 2009, it declared that it would approach the Supreme Court for a quick disposal of his cases. On 30 October 2009, he was assured ‘Z’ security. This is clearly a change of heart. In May 2006, Mr. Patil, the Congress Home Minister, issued an advisory to the Police Commissioners of Delhi and Mumbai that “there are grounds to believe that certain paintings of painter M.F. Husain which hurt the religious sentiments of the majority community, and, therefore might be a provocation for communal disturbance”.

In other words: “Prosecute Husain. Criminalize his art as hate speech”. Karan Thapar reminded us of an old earlier interview where Congress Spokesperson, Jayanthi Natrajan responded on the need for protecting Husain by saying, “I don’t think it’s the highest thing on our list of priorities at the moment given the act of terror against our country (and) given (the) particular situation we find ourselves (in). It’s simply not the job of the government in my view.”After all this, the government now wants to protect Husain and expedite his trials. The hype apart, the offer is a limited offer: the process of criminalization of his work will continue. He should give up his freedom in exile, give effect to his sentiment to return to India and virtually become a prisoner under home arrest with ‘Z security’. Husain pithily remarked that the government has not been able to protect his paintings, leave alone himself.


Rajeev Dhawan is a very senior lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.

(written in October 2009)

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