Of Taslima & Hussain
ENOUGH OF DOUBLE STANDARDS
By Prakash Nanda
New Delhi, March 10, 2010
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
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
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
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
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
(Copyright India News & Feature Alliance)