MF Hussain And Freedom of Self Expression

So this renounced artist MF Hussain, who was a citizen of Qatar when he died yesterday. Though my heart prays for his soul to RIP, but I have never been a fan of him or supported him. To set a brief context, he is an Indian who supposedly had to leave India to escape from arrest which was due to some court cases against him. There was a lot of agitation and legal retaliation against him because he painted Hindu goddesses in nude and sexual manner.

This had time and again in our country created debates on freedom of expression. So before I discuss my views on freedom of speech and expression, I would also like to quote where legality stands on this particular issue does. So this is what our constitution says about Freedom of Speech & Expression-


(1) All citizens shall have the right—

(a) to freedom of speech and expression;

(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;

(c) to form associations or unions;

(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;

(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and

(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

So coming back to my point I respect our forefathers to include the freedom of speech and expression in our constitution; but my respect trebles on their foresight when I read the clause 2. Now coming back to case of MF Hussain, I see these areas where I think whatever happened to him weren’t totally unjustified.


Firstly if he painted some goddesses in a naked and sexual way his freedom of speech and expression was clearly shaky on the grounds of morality, decency and may be secularity too. When there were cases against him, he left the country, if one is convinced that whatever his expression was it was not indecent, immoral or affected the secularity of the state then he always had the option to fight the legal way out running out of the country is not an answer.

Secondly, he chose Qatar as the place where he would belong after separating from India; did he try and attempt to do an illustration which might have been a bit controversial for the people of Qatar. I am sure that would not be the case but instead he worked on the project under the ruling family glorifying the Arab history. Not that I have a problem with that but then my problem lies with the fact that between India & Qatar there is a drastic change in his idea of creative expression through art.

Now, coming back to a deeper question which a lot of people have been demanding, the creative freedom of expression should not be restricted by the rider in the clause (2) is where I have a huge problem. My entire argument in this regard is based on the premise of non discrimination and equality in the constitution would hold true. So when you waive off the rider for someone like MF Hussain to allow him to paint whatever he wants no matter how offending or immoral or indecent it may be, but he should be allowed to do as it is his form of creative expression. This is where my problem starts, now a good for nothing guy is standing on the corner of the crossroads and making lewd gestures to women passing by. Now he doesn’t say anything nor physically touches them. So technically he is performing an art form which can be a mime (or we can call it something else) which is offending, indecent & immoral to a lot of people (while it might be funny to some idiots standing around) but our constitution would allow it in the absence of the clause (2). I would accept a lot of arguments on this, but I would not accept an argument which is based on the premise that the laws of this Good-For-Nothing-Guy should be different from MF Hussain and I would not accept that Art & Paintings need to be given more rights than Mime (or whatever you want to call those lewd gestures technically).

He no doubt was one of the best painters India ever had but then he was a pathetic movie maker too (If I would have met him I would have asked my money back for GajaGamini).To conclude I would only say, my Hussain saab’s soul rest in peace. I have no issues with him or what he did; he paid a hefty price for it in his life time.It’s not an easy thing to live in self-imposed exile. I am sure the majority of the Indian population is gracious busy enough to forgive and forget him as they would soon forget the likes of A Raja & Kalmadi to elect them back in power then I guess the best painter of India deserved the “Saare Gile Shikwe Maaf” from us.


28 comments on “MF Hussain And Freedom of Self Expression”

  1. Shail Reply

    You know you are right about the street corner guy making lewd gestures, the technical mime, as you call it. If people had the nonchalance not to be disturbed by or be ashamed of his gestures and went their ways not caring at all….. Hmm… what then??
    After all such people thrive on shock, disgust, shame…. and the general public very generously provides it all 🙂
    That applies everywhere I guess.

    • Prats Reply

      @Shail: Well the same is true about people being irrelevant to an Art. The question here is what is correct and what is not. Even if nobody sees the person except the one towards whom he is making a gesture; that doesn’t makes it correct. The constitutional correctness should not be a subjective function of the mood and character of people around.

  2. Prashant Parashar Reply

    Quite true. I think we as a country now thrives to be pseudo-secular. It is okay to paint nude Hindu gods but if somebody dare to paint or even cartoon Muslim gods we would go overboard to criticize; and it would suddenly become okay to even announce a bounty on the person.
    I truly believe people like MF Hussain tries to amuse themselves by creating unnecessary controversies and playing with sentiments of the commoners.

  3. Irfan Iqbal Gheta Reply

    Dear Prats, a really thought proviking, deeply researched and well-written piece on both M F Husain and the freedom of self expression. You’ve put forth your arguements with elan. I read this post nearly half a dozen times. To tell you the truth, I am tempted to read it a couple of more times. Though the artist was hugely popular, he has indeed hurt the religious sentiments of many people. But you are a guy with the golden heart who upholds the spirit of Forgive and Forget by saying “Saare Gile Shikve Maaf”. Kudos!

    • Prats Reply

      @Irfan: I believe that the country is in desperate need for people who can provide closure to the issues. You know I feel that we are becoming world champions in dragging the issues way beyond their active life. Ayodhya, Bofors, Union Carbide are all examples of the same. The guy died and I think we need to close the chapter and the court cases, forgive and forget we have lot to look forward to as a country.

  4. Monika Reply

    u know he is an artisit and they shld have freedom of expressions, indian mythology is full of nudism and sexuality and the way I look it is that our gods never ashamed of it and I respect it that… Khujrao and many more temples are examples of it. So why the problem when MF paints them nude? just because he is a muslim???

    And what I feel is that even if u dont like that person u are free not to respect him but disrepect after the person is dead and not acceptable, that is certainly not freedom of speech. A person called him sleazeball, prick, said rot it hell, and he should have been burned alive ??? I didnt see so much venom on twitter on osama’s death as I saw yesterday shows deep inside we are like them too 🙁 and that pains me

    on a seperate note it also cost be 32 followers on twitter 😉

    good post

    • Prats Reply

      @Monika: Firstly the freedom of expression is there but its there with a rider. Secondly the Khujraho was built before the constitution was in place but MFH paintings were made after it, so they come under the purview of law; and more than that Khujraho cannot be the justification for any explicit content or nudity happens in India (which is becoming the trend). If MFH was convinced his work was not against the law he should have fought through it the legal route.

      Secondly venom you saw was may be because he offended Indians and we follow more Indians. I don’t really think Osama directly did anything in India, the venom I am sure would be visible in the US.

  5. Cocktail Party Reply

    Hi again 🙂

    I really agree with Monika here…It is a matter of personal choice..India is the land of Kamasutra…erotic carvings on temples have been attracting millions of visitors through out…How come nobody objected to that if you call MF Husains paintings immoral and indecent..How come nobody opposes to obscenity on celluloid but have a problem with paintings…How come women and even children get raped but the bigger issue is a set of paintings….It is evident it is all politically manipulated..our mind has been poisoned saying we are Indians and it is our culture that he is tarnishing…It is such a pity that a country that calls itself the biggest democracy in the world couldn’t fulfill the desire of one of its greatest painters – to die as a an Indian…Fie on the government!!! and you mentioned about the guy who leches at women and pass lewd comments and compared it to husain’s paintings…I would not agree with you on that….Nudity on canvas takes guts….and not all can draw as beautifully as he does….Isn’t it a fact that many men visualize women nude even if she is clothed top to toe….what do u say about that???? atleast he has the guts to paint what he visualizes….and u talked about the creative expression circles…trust me when you live in a middle east country you will value the freedom you get in India..the creative freedom…freedom of speech and expression…

    • Prats Reply

      @Cocktail Party: Same argument… Khujraho cannot be justification of anything nude and sexually obscene in India. Secondly Khujraho has been built before the Indian constitution has been in place while MGH’s paintings has been not. For the Bollywood there is a censor board in place which rates the movies and determines what is obscene and what is not. Secondly sexuality shown in the movies and painting gods of religious faith in a sexually explicit manner are two different things, the same way two people indulging in sex is their personal matter but it becomes an issue when a godman like Nithyananda indulges into it.

      For his desire to die Indian, the government assured him prtoection and his non bailable arrest warrants were cancelled by the Supreme Court but still he didn’t returned, he could have came back and justified his point that what he painted was not religiously tarnishing in the court of law. Living in the middle east thats exactly my point, he chose middle east over India and his logic was in India he didn’t get freedom of creative expression. Had he tried something like he did in India in Qatar we could have seen the results but he didn’t. So in a way he was just exploiting the sensibility and tolerances of the people here; otherwise why his creative expression became so narrow that it was fit to the wills of the ruling family of an Islamic nation.

      Thats my point is in India you have all the freedom of creative expression as long as it doesn’t interferes with certain aspects of the society, so all you need to do is not exploit that freedom but enjoy it responsibly.

    • Prats Reply

      @Cocktail Party- Erotic Carvings on Temples…Kamasutra point to Khujraho (but my argument holds true even if you are not talking about Khujraho and some other temple) You talked about about nudity on celluloid and I took Bollywood as an example (But my argument holds true for television, Kannada, Tamil & Telugu film industry and even for the hollywood movies which are released in India).

      In your argument “How come women and even children get raped but the bigger issue is a set of paintings” how are the two even remotely related? We are comparing apples and oranges here… The two are not interrelated or mutually dependent its like saying “Unless we achieve healthcare for everyone we would not do anything for education”.

      The article you quoted says that Pritish Nandy met MFH personally and he thought he was a very good person. He was well aware of Mumbai and was welcomed there. The article doesn’t it say that it was legal of him to paint those paintings? Going by the same argument I am sure the entire DMK cadre would vouch for A Raja being the most honest man on this earth but that doesn’t free him from his crimes against the country and the society. I think Pritish Nandy has a right to freedom of expression, he does that on MFH which is not against anything in Clause (2) nobody has a problem with that.

      • Cocktail Party Reply

        Well! If his paintings were so objectionable then he should have been put to trial and a judgement passed against him…forcing somebody out of one’s own country and denying the right to be buried in one’s own homeland is a grave crime bigger than anything else.And in no way can that be justified..

        • Prats Reply

          @Cocktail Party: Well we need to check the facts here –
          He was put to trial but he failed to respond to the court summons which in itself is a criminal offence and a non bailable warrant was issued against him for the same.
          Later a Supreme Court order suspended an arrest warrant for him and In absence of dual citizenship, Union Home Secretary, GK Pillai, said that MF Husain was free to come back and would be provided security if he requested it. So he had all the support from the Indian government and judiciary it was his personal choice to go in exile, he was not exiled by any court of law in India. So nobody has committed a crime against him, he was the one who flee to escape the rule of law and he deserved what he got.

  6. Indianhomemaker Reply

    I agree with what Shail has said, I also wonder if we would object if the man was making lewd gestures inside his own house and we did not have to watch him unless we chose to go there and look at him?

    Nudity became immodesty only now, Hinduism did not think human bodies needed to be covered to be respected, we have enough proof of that. Why adopt somebody else’s standard of tolerance and modesty, when one’s basic standard is so much more rational?

    • Prats Reply

      @IndianHomeMaker: That’s exactly my point that even if we don’t know about it, the act is constitutionally wrong. People don’t protest around it because they are not aware about it but the fact is the victim can always take his refuge in the law.

      You are allowed to follow your own standards of tolerance or modesty as long as they don’t cross the clause(2). There is a minimal benchmark set by the constitution and we as a citizen have to follow it; if every one does not respect the benchmarks set by the law it would be an utter chaos.

      Just extending it to another law which says Sex is not a crime; but the rider it has to be between consensual adults. The point is if this rider is waived off rape becomes legal. So for sanctity of people & the country it is necessary that the law should govern people.

    • Prats Reply

      @IHM: That was before our constitution came into existence. We used to burn our widows some 200 years back doesn’t mean that we allow our society to do it today as well. There are laws which are created for us to coexist as a society and they need to be respected and followed. There is provision and method to change these laws to keep them abreast with society needs which can be followed if required but the law should be respected and followed.

  7. Irfan Iqbal Gheta Reply

    Dear Prats, thanks for replying to each and every comment. I really admire your dedication towards blogging. I’ve been going through the passionate comments your post has generated. People have a lot to say on the subject and they will continue to debate what M F Husainsaheb did in the years to come. You’ve touched upon a raw nerve. This blog has become a superb place to debate, argue and express sentiments in a positive way. Hats off to you yet once again……!!!!

  8. Mystic Reply

    MF Hussain the celebrated artist deserved better i feel.
    Yes he did hurt the sentiments of people with his nude depiction of gods and goddess. No I am not a supporter of Sangh Parivar and I condemn all the vandalism they do in the name of religion.

    One of my colleagues was arguing that an artist takes inspiration from the culture of the country and Muslims don’t have the culture of paintings neither Christians their Jesus and Mother Mary in nude…its only the temples in India that depict nude idols.

    So why blame him, point taken but like in a conversation the same sentence can sound different depending on the tone and action used while saying. so was the case with the paintings of MF Hussain. Till i saw the paintings even i used to think why people are making so much fuss about it, but when i saw them of which one is still clear in my memory was that of Hanuman and Sita.

    Nude Hanuman in a flying pose and nude Sita sitting on his tail and the way it is painted was disgusting…atleast he should have tried to know what kind of a relationship sita and hanuman shared…if this is freedom of expression, then we definitely it needs to be looked in to it.

    If he thought as an artist he had the right to do so he should have stayed back in India and fought it legally. I have nothing against him may his soul RIP.

    BTW your venn diagrams are interesting

    • Prats Reply

      @Mystic: I quite agree with that and even I have seen the paintings and I seriously think it deserved what it got….

  9. Phoenixritu Reply

    I like your points Prats – that example about the man making lewd gestures was superb. Yeah, the paintings are overtly sexual, but they are depictions in abstract. If a Hindu had painted them, we would have playfully slapped his knuckles and said, “Naughty boy”. I think his faith had a huge role to play in the ruckuss that happened.

    That having been said, he loved to create drama. Sensationalism helped sell his work. That cannot be denied.

    But … his work shall endure, so will his name. The people who try to bring him down – they wont amount to much. That is the truth

    • Prats Reply

      @PhoenixRitu: I agree to your point; but then it was his choice not to fight the legal battle, which he could have. I agree he was a good artist, but then nobody ever questioned greatness of his art (as far as painting is considered when it comes to movies I don’t think he was even mediocre). The question is not about those people would amount to something; I feel the question is is there a sense of closure are we stronger and better at understanding and following our laws? I would really like that next time this kind of issue happens the protests are civilized and the law is uphold in every sense which I believe was a bit compromised for a small time in case of MFH.

  10. Robin Reply

    Beginning is shaky. Renounced artist or renowned artist? “…….from arrest due to some court case against him” or ……from arrest due to some court cases pending agaist him?????
    “This had time and again in our country created debates on freedom of expression”
    Time and again this had created debates on freedom of expression in our country????

    Need to get the sentecne structure right. Couldn’t read further due to obvious reason.

    Best luck for next post.

    • Prats Reply

      @Robin: Now what makes you think, that I meant renowned and not renounced? Thanks for pointing out typos 🙂

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