Zealots attack art and artists on both side of the Indo-Pak border
[It appeared in The Indian Express, Delhi on June 11, 1998 with two photographs, not reproduced here.)
Five explosions here. And six there. So far, so bad. That’s what the summer of 1998 spelt for India and Pakistan. Tensions grow between the two nations of the Sub-Continent, but nuclear explosions alone cannot be held responsible for the emerging scenario. Also, territorial security is not at risk. The onslaught is on art and artists. Painters, singers, dramatists and cultural activists on both sides are facing the wrath of the theocratic, nationalist zealots. These self-appointed guardians of art, culture and morality are on spree of breaking into art galleries, homes of artists, banning theatre performances, and disrupting music concerts.
M.F. Husain, an internationally renowned painter, has experienced the worst. His two decade-old paintings of Saraswati and Sita are being decried as attacks on Hinduism as the goddesses are painted bare-bodied. Husain’s apologies do not seem to alter the situation. Interestingly, both these works evoked no anger till 1997. The Siv Sena and Bajrang Dal Privar have stoned galleries, assaulted artists and ransacked the home of Husain.
However, Hindutva fanatics must rejoice the fact that their kinds of zealots are active even across the barbed wire. Followers of the most notorious Islamic fundamentalist organizationacross the western borders openly slaughtered a well-known Punjabi language poet, Nemat Ahmer, in 1992. He was a Christian from Jhang, who allegedly maligned in verses Prophet Mohammad. While nothing of the kind had really happened. Recently, the same outfit threatened to kill a young Christian, Ayub Masih. The reason was that have said in a discussion, “If you read Salman Rushdie’s book, you will come to know the true face of Islam.”
Troopers of Hindutva attacked in Musical concert in Mumbai and succeeded in scaring away Ghulam Ali, a ghazal singer from Pakistan. So much so that he could not even sing his famous song Iss dasht mein ik shehar thha, Who kya hua Awargi (There was a city in this jungle; What became of it, my wandering soul). And fringe lunatic counterparts in Pakistan did not lag behind. Tumhari Amrita, an Indian play in Hindi and enacted by ShabanaAzmi and Farooque Sheikh, was to tour different cities in Pakistan form May 21. The night the theatre group was to fly to Pakistan, Shabana received a call from the organizers from Pakistan informing her that the tour was off. No theatre management in Pakistan could afford the risk of putting up an Indian play. Shabana could only lament, “What has happened to Tumhari Amrita is similar to what happened in Mumbai to Ghulam Ali. The fringe elements just took over.”
The story does not end here. There is more madness yet. Recently, Madeeha Gauhar, a well-known theatre personality and woman activist based at Lahore, had two criminal cases slapped upon her. She was charged with the crime of publically embracing the former Prime Minister, I.K. Gujral, and dancing with him when she came to India with her play Kala Mainda Bhes. Gujral who had witnessed the play had joined the artists on the stage in a celebratory mood. Another case been admitted to a Shariat court of Pakistan against Pahthanay Khan, the greatest living folk singer of Pakistan, for his claim that he was spreading the word of God through music.
All these attempts at cultural cleansing are being made in the name of religion and nationalism. It is pertinent to note that artistes like Ghulam Ali, Madeeha Gaughar, Pathanay and plays like Tumhari Amrita and Kala Mainda Bhes represent a culture which is humane, secular, pro-people and rooted in a common cultural heritage.
Surprisingly, the champions of Hindutva in India have no objections to inviting Michael Jackson to perform here. Not for the matter is any hue and cry raised over vulgarity and violence in Indian cinema. Islamic guardians of morality in Pakistan have no qualms about the most vulgar and obscene Urdu plays emerging from Pakistan, which have a large video viewership all over the world.
In the context of Husain’s paintings, the issue of nudity has been raised time and again. Painter Anjolie Ela Menon makes a valid point in this regard, “Is nudity the main issue, if so, would you recommend thousands of temples and lingams should be razed to the ground for depicting our gods and goddesses without cloths? Will the Bajrang Dal ban Naga Sadhus or is male nudity all right?”
The mounting repression on creative persons in our Sub-continent puts the artists in a strange dilemma. What is the basic identity of singer, painter or performer? Should their artistic creativity determine their identity or the religion that they were born to? Husain the Muslim should lay off Hindus gods and goddesses. But the same artist painted Ganesha some 20 years ago and it adorns the walls of thousands of Hindu homes, Many Muslim leaders are happy that Husain is paying for his sins as it is un-Islamic to draw pictures.