Frontline Report on M.F. Husain Attack

The attacks on M.F. Husain’s art must be seen in the context of communalism thriving on economic liberalisation.
V.V. KRISHNAN An exhibition of reproductions of M.F. Husain’s paintings and some photographs of the artist, organised by SAHMAT in New Delhi, was vandalised on August 24. Here, a destroyed photograph.
LET us begin with two recent, and seemingly unrelated, events in New Delhi.
First, at around 3.30 p.m. on a dusky afternoon, on August 24, eight or 10 Hindu fanatics, identifying themselves as belonging to the little-known “Sri Ram Sena”, vandalised an exhibition showcasing reproductions of some paintings by Maqbool Fida Husain and some photographs of Husain taken by Parthiv Shah. Furniture and a television set showing Husain’s films were also broken. The exhibition was going on outside the SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust) office in New Delhi.
Only a few months ago, some miscreants attacked Husain’s exhibitions at India International Centre, New Delhi, and in London. Facing seven cases for “obscenity in his paintings” and “causing offence to religious sensibilities”, Husain has been living in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London, fearing physical danger from people who are opposed to his paintings. Photographer Ram Rahman said that Raghu Vyas, a painter and a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti spearheaded the campaign against Husain.
Second, the India Art Summit 2008 in Pragati Maidan from August 22 to August 24. With the objective to tap the expanding art market in India, this was the first full-fledged corporate initiative in getting 34 art galleries from India and abroad on one platform. Sunil Gautam, the managing director of the Summit’s organising company, Hanmer MS&L, said during the event: “The Indian art market is worth Rs.1,500 crore and is growing at 35 per cent a year.”
The buzzword at the Summit, unsurprisingly, was “art market”. Phillip Hoffmen, who owns 16 art funds across the world, said in his well-received speech, “Art of making money”: “The August 2007 credit crunch has still not affected the art market, and in India the market should be worth Rs.400 million in five years.”
He went on to say, “Pseudo-collectors are dominating the market now. In future, I anticipate around 20 billionaires in different pockets of the world spending $100 million each. The market would slowly become more limited and richer.”
These, which prima facie look like unrelated events, have more than one missing link. SAHMAT decided to hold the exhibition after the organisers of the India Art Summit decided to exclude Husain’s paintings from the displays of all the participating galleries. Three galleries from New Delhi, including the famous Delhi Art Gallery and the Dhoomimal Art Gallery, which wanted to display Husain’s paintings, were told not to display any of his paintings before the Summit began.
SAHMAT believed that while the organisers might have made the decision out of fear of attacks or protests against the works of Husain, by giving in to such threats by communal political groups they were playing into their hands. Gautam, quoted in a newspaper, said at the event: “We issued an advisory about the real risk of including Husain…. India is the fourth most buoyant market in the world. Must it be derailed by controversies attached to one artist?”
In solidarity with Husain, SAHMAT displayed images of his work through all three days of the Summit. SAHMAT had informed the nearby Parliament Street police station of the exhibition. No police protection was provided.
The organisation had demanded that Husain’s works should be displayed with police protection at the India Art Summit, too. The decision not to do so in effect ostracised India’s Picasso. Husain’s role in putting India on the world art map is phenomenal. He is also one of the principal forces behind the world market boom for Indian art. SAHMAT members said that without Husain’s contribution to art, an event like the India Art Summit would not have taken place in Delhi.
The communal attack on Husain’s exhibition comes at a time when there is a booming art market in the country. Over the past decade, the Indian art market has grown by leaps and bounds. Over the same period, attacks on artists and their works have escalated. Be it the Chandramohan case of 2007 in Vadodara or the seven legal assaults on Husain, there is a build-up of fascist tendencies in the way art is perceived.
It is debatable whether economic liberalisation and fascism grow simultaneously. But the constant emphasis on the art market in recent times can be definitely branded as a by-product of the economic changes witnessed by India since the early 1990s. “Artists like M.F. Husain characterise the function of a national artist,” writes Geeta Kapur. “He marks the conjunction between the mythic and the secular and then between secular and aesthetic space.”
Jawaharlal Nehru’s left-liberal ideology gave the Indian state a basic infrastructure for culture and the arts, as well as the confidence to host international modernism. However, there was a significant shift that began in the early 1990s. With the consistent demand for “global art”, the arts in India came off the path of progressive nationalism, a trend manifested in the Art Summit’s motto emphasising global art. From the 1990s, artists broke their pact with progressive nationalism, leaping beyond statist parameters to grasp the discourse of contemporaneity. With this pact broken and the demand for more global art increasing, the public presence of art and artists such as Husain, who intended to create art for an audience beyond the esoteric realm, kept decreasing.
V.V. KRISHNAN A framed print after vandalisation.
The political scientist Aijaz Ahmed writes about the inevitable link of capitalism and fascism in history. He says that “policies of liberalisation can succeed only if Indian nationalism can be detached from its historic anti-colonial origins and redefined in culturalist, irrationalist, racist terms, so that the national energies are expanded not on resistance against imperialism but on suppression of the supposed enemy within: the denominational minority, the communist Left, the ‘pseudo-secularist’, any and all oppositions to ‘tradition’ as defined by Hindutva”.
It is in this larger perspective that the ideological construct of Hindutva and the public policy of liberalisation are not only reconcilable but also complementary. With the secular parties liberalising the economy in India, additional spaces are being created for the growth of Hindu fundamentalism in the country.
Economic globalisation not only ensures a complete reorganisation of culture, it also depoliticises people in the process so that they fail to resist. Thus, the rich become unconcerned and the desperate poor incline towards sectarian ideology, which promises to liberate them from their deplorable situation.
It is not surprising, then, that the India Art Summit 2008, touted as the first biggest art summit in the country, steered clear of Husain. The art galleries, except for a few, did not protest, knowing full well the damage that they would incur if Husain were to be included. There is clearly a transition in the way art was perceived before and the way it is now.
Husain, in an interview to a magazine, said that he had been inspired by Hindu mythology. His controversial paintings are those that were made for Ram Manohar Lohia for his Ramayan Mela (1960s) as part of his political campaign in the rural hinterland. “It is people in the villages who understand the sensual, living, evolving nature of Hindu gods,” says Husain. He sees purity in nudity and says that his study of the Hindu culture has only reaffirmed his belief. The renowned Bharat Mata, a work that has been attacked by Hindu fanatics, was so named not by him but by an art gallery that exhibited it long after he painted it. He imbibes the spirit of the Indian Constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and expression to every citizen of the country and is a torch-bearer of its core secular values.
When ideologues of Hindutva such as Arun Shourie complain that the proponents of freedom of speech did not come forward to support the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten when Muslims all over the world agitated against the cartoons of the Prophet that it published in September 2005, what they conveniently overlook is that the cartoons provocatively represented the Prophet as an accomplice in terrorism. Journalist Sukumar Muralidharan writes, “Far from being an exercise in the right to free speech, the newspaper was, by in its own boastful claim, engaged in an effort to rub in the superiority of Western culture.” Husain, in contrast, has never harboured any malicious intent and each of his work aims at connecting with people at an aesthetic level.
The Summit organisers’ attitude towards Husain’s works persisted despite the historic May 8, 2008, judgment by the Delhi High Court, which gave Husain a reprieve in three of the seven cases against him. In his judgment, which was also an indirect attack on the growing communalism in the country, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul mentioned in point 120: “In the end, it may be said that education broadens the horizons of people and means to acquire knowledge to enhance one’s ability to reason and make a sound judgment. However, when one is instructed to only view things in a certain manner, regardless of truth and facts, this is actually a form of programming – not education.”
Contextualising Husain’s case, he said, “There are very few people with a gift to think out of the box and seize opportunities and therefore such people’s thoughts should not be curtailed by the age-old moral sanctions of a particular section in the society having oblique or collateral motives that express their dissent at the very drop of a hat.” Husain’s exclusion not only amounts to encouraging communal tendencies but also boosts the “programming” Kaul talks about.
The Ministry of Culture and the leading art auction house Sotheby’s, which supported the Art Summit, assumed strategic silence on the issue. Ambika Soni, Minister of Tourism and Culture, made an unconvincing request to the Summit organisers to include Husain. The statement in solidarity with Husain said, “As far as the present India Art Summit is concerned, the Union Ministry would be happy if all major artists and their works including the paintings of Shri M.F. Husain are displayed at such event.”
Though the letter of support was seen as a positive development, SAHMAT felt the need to stand up for the artistic community and its creative freedom at the Summit. The point of contention is whether it is the market that stifles the creative voice or a process that thrives on the gradual co-option of artists into a class – apolitical and implicitly communal – that has the capacity to buy paintings at astronomical sums.
The Mexican Mural movement, Fluxus, Arte Povera, Installation art and Dadaism were all attempts to further artistic practices that interacted with people. They represented anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiments. However, it can be argued that global capitalism and its cultural fallout cancel the very concept of the avant-garde.
Not everyone, however, was silent on Husain’s exclusion from the Summit. Peter Nagy of Nature Morte Gallery showed the courage to distribute SAHMAT pamphlets at the exhibition. He also displayed one of Ram Rahman’s photographs of Husain painting a horse in his gallery. He said, “If the Art Summit is not a safe place to show Husain, where will it be shown? You have got to start from somewhere. It is about the freedom of speech.” He declined comment on the artistic community’s silence but said that people had not known about the exclusion until the last moment. Dhoomimal Art Gallery actually had on display a painting named Judaism by Husain but had to remove it on the second day under pressure from the organisers. Rob Dean Art, U.K., also followed suit.
Rajendra Prasad of SAHMAT said, “It is an attack on the plural representation of our culture. They are people who want to impose a majoritarian representation of our culture.” The question that looms large is who this “majority” is? Is it just the Hindu fundamentalists or people for whom economic liberalisation is the solution to all woes? This trajectory of thought is becoming increasingly majoritarian, assisting fundamentalists in reorganising culture.
Today, the libertarian thought has led to a summit where not art but the art market is important, where not Husain but the absurd controversy surrounding him is important, where not ethics but potential buyers are important. Art history made transitions at important historical junctures as and when the artistic community stood up for progressive streams of thought.
In the age of economic liberalisation and state withdrawal, art is moulding itself to turn its back on the historical. Geeta Kapur says, “Such contemporary art will meet its nemesis in obsolescence, in a premature, death-driven decrepitude.”
Artists have often found themselves in exile during historic upheavals. Nazi Germany, General Franco’s Spain, Porfirio Diaz’s Mexico before the revolution, all have witnessed mass exoduses of artists. Husain, largely seen as not an overtly political painter, is in exile today because for a large section of society his identity is confined to that of a Muslim. Ram Rahman contextualises and links this kind of attack on a pluralistic culture to the increasing intolerance by Hindu fundamentalists.
He said that what was happening in Orissa – the violence against Christians – could be directly linked to the attack on the exhibition. It is in such contexts that the attack on Husain’s paintings should be looked at. Whether only Hindu fundamentalists are responsible for such attacks or state-supported global capitalism should also share the responsibility remains an open question.
Communalism in art is a result of depoliticisation and a simultaneous “valorisation of the un-theorised contemporary”, as Geeta Kapur points out. It should be looked at in the context of a larger process of economic liberalisation. Contemporary artist Jitish Kallat said at the Summit: “The operational term in art has shifted from creativity to production.”
The implications of this trend are countless. What if the popular comic character Calvin had seen Hobbes, his dear friend, as just a soft toy? It is human imagination that allows art to flow unrestrictedly, creating for us our fantasies, wonderlands, angels, demons and adventures. The hour demands that art be set free to explore the endless horizons of the imagination unbridled by fascist and communal forces.
As lawyer Lawrence Liang puts it, “The true test of democracy lies not in the volume of speech that it is willing to grant its citizens but in the volume of uncomfortable speech that it is willing to listen.”


Date: 08-08-2009
The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust held a one day seminar Against the Neo-Liberal Thrust that is being given to the education policy by the UPA government. The seminar focused on the recently passed Right to Education Bill and the hundred days agenda of the new HRD minister Kapil Sibal.

Eminent educationists, teachers from Central Universities , Representatives of School and College Teachers’Associations attended the seminar and highlighted the dangers of the UPAs agenda in school and higher education.

The inagural session of the seminar was addressed by Sitaram Yechury, Prabhat Patnaik ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ), Muchkund Dubey (President, Council for Social Development), Yashpal and Zoya Hasan (National Commission for Minorities). All speakers in this session spoke of the need for having an equitable and publically funded educational system which also met the need of socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

Prof Patnaik stated that the university needed to be oriented towards intellectual engangagement which was not subservient to the market. This could not be achieved without fighting the neo-liberal context. Sitaram Yechury hightlighted the need for expanding state responsibility in education and increasing social control over all private educational institutions, both in terms of their fee structures and admission policies. The dangers of privatisation of educational institutions was highlighted by Prof Yashpal, while Prof Zoya Hasan emphasised the need for increasing access of minorities to state funded institutions and reducing their dependence on minority educational institutions.

The second session of the seminar focused on school education and was chaired by Arjun Dev (formerly of NCERT) and addressed by Jayati Ghosh (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Ashok Agarwal (Social Jurist), Ravi Kumar (Jamia Millia Islamia) and Mr Rajendran (School Teachers Federation of India). This session highlighted the problems in the Right to Education Act and the Minister’s proposal to make 10th class examinations optional. Prof Jayati Ghosh highlighted the silences within the Right to Education Act in terms of absence of financial responsibility of the state for providing education, and on the norms for educational institutions. Ashok Agarwal used his vast experience in dealing with private schools for evaluating the ways in which the current Right to Education Bill created and institutionalised a discriminatory system against disadvantaged groups and diluted Article 45 of the Constitution guaranteeing right to education to all children from 0-14 years. This aspect was also taken up by Mr Rajendran who stressed the need to include children from 0-6 years within the ambit of the act and the need to struggle against the current neo-liberal educational agenda through a broad mobilisation of ordinary people. He also demanded a National Commission on Education and a debate on Kapil Sibal’s proposals in the CABE so that the federal structure of education was respected. Ravi Kumar highlighted the basic contradiction between the goal of achieving an equitable educational system and the broader neo-liberal context and said that the Right to Education act needs to be seen in this context.

The third session of the seminar focused on higher education and was chaired by C.P Chandrasekhar ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ). Speakers in this session included Sudhanshu Bhattacharya (NEUPA), Dhruv Raina and Soumen Bhattacharya ( Jawaharlal Nehru University ), Vijender Sharma (Democratic Teachers Forum, Delhi University ), N Raghuram ( Indraprastha University ) and Dinesh Abrol (National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies). The session highlighted the limitations of the National Knowledge Commission and Yashpal Committee with respect to their recommendations for reforming higher education. Sudhanshu Bhattacharya said that the government needed to set up a National Commission on Higher Education to check malpractices and privatisation of education. Vijender Sharma showed how the Yashpal Committee had created space for private education and why there was a need to oppose foreign investment in education. This could only be done by increasing social control over private capital. Dhruv Raina highlighted the need to democratise education and research in institutions of higher learning. Dinesh Abrol argued that technical education needed to be subservient to social goals and control and not to the market. Thus market and not overregulation was the problem. The seminar ended with a resolve to oppose the current neo-liberal agenda and called for a sustained fight to amend the right to education act for achieving equity in educational opportunities.

Press Release condemning ban

Date 3.08.2009
We are shocked to learn from press reports that the BJP government of Chhattisgarh has banned Charandas Chor, a classic of the modern Indian theatre, written and produced by Habib Tanvir. The play was first done in the 1970s, and is originally based on an oral folk tale from Rajasthan. Habib Tanvir worked on this tale, introducing into it elements of the art and beliefs of the Satnami community. Satnami singers and dancers have performed in this play, and it has been seen by members of the community several times. In Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, there are several rural troupes who are today performing some version of this play.

The play itself is the story of a thief who, under the influence of a guru, pledges never to tell a lie. He sticks to his pledge, even at the cost of his life. This superb tragic-comedy, in a thoroughly entertaining and artistic manner, brings into focus the moral and ethical degeneration of our society, in which, paradoxically, it is a thief who ends up being more honest than those who supposed to be the custodians of our morality.

Charandas Chor remains Habib Tanvir’s best-known play, and has been performed literally hundreds of times by his world-renowned Naya Theatre troupe all over India and in several countries across the world. It was made into a film by Shyam Benegal, with Smita Patil in the lead, in 1975, and was the first Indian play to win the prestigious Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in 1982. It then did a successful run on the London stage.

We demand that the Chhattisgarh government immediately revoke this absurd ban.

Act One, M.K. Raina, Arvind Gaur, Moloyashree Hashmi, Asmita Theatre Group, N.K. Sharma, Bahroop Art Group, Sahmat, Brijesh, Shahid Anwar, Govind Deshpande, Sudhanva Deshpande, Jana Natya Manch, Vivan Sundaram, Jan Sanskriti, Wamiq Abbasi, Janvadi Lekhak Sangh, Javed Malick, Madangopal Singh

Press Statement Date 29.07.2009

We are deeply disturbed by attempts being made by interested quarters to take over several historically important and protected monuments in different parts of the country, in clear violation of The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, on the excuse of offering worship there. Many of the monument are parts of the precious legacy of the country and under the rules framed under the Ancient Monuments Act, there can be no installation of worship wherever it had ceased.

We call upon the PM, who is also in-charge of the ministry of Culture to initiate immediate action to save these monuments from encroachment. We also call upon the Chief Minister of Delhi to rein in all such elements who are aiding and abetting the violation of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. We also call upon the authorities to initiate immediate steps to evict the encroachers and to take all steps to ensure the protection of all listed monuments. This should set a model for official action against law-breakers irrespective of the religious community or ritual concerned.

Irfan Habib, Ram Rahman, Amar Farooqui, D. N. Jha, Prabhat Shukla, Arjun Dev, Sohail Hashmi, Zahoor Siddiqui, Shireen Moosvi, Suraj Bhan, Suvira Jaiswal, Archana Prasad

Released to the press

To celebrate the life, theatre, politics and creativity of

Habib Tanvir

(1923-2009) join us at the memorial meeting at

6.00 p.m. 10 June 2009 Muktadhara Auditorium Banga Sanskriti Bhavan 18-19 Bhai Veer Singh Marg, near Gol Market

Jana Natya Manch Sahmat Janvadi Lekhak Sangh Directions: This is the road between Gol Market and St. Columba’s School. From south and east, take Ashok Road up to Gol Dak Khana, then Kali Bari Marg, and turn immediately right. From west and north, take Mandir Marg, Gol Market, turn right on Bhai Veer Singh Marg. Most bus routes for Shivaji Stadium take this road and will drop you in front of Muktdhara. From west and south-west, from RML Hospital, take Baba Kharag Singh Marg where there is the construction of the express metro, Gol Dak Khana, then left at Kali Bari Marg, and turn immediately right.
9868301864 (Sudhanva), 9868254822 (Moloyashree), 23711276 and 23351424 (Sahmat),,

Habib Tanvir
, the legend of contemporary Indian theatre, was also a writer, poet, actor, organiser of progressive writers and people’s theatre - passed away on June 8, 2009 at Bhopal. Habib Tanvir, whose plays make him a true citizen of the world will always be remembered for his abiding commitment to the values of secularism and progressive ideas.

For us at SAHMAT, Habib Saheb was an inspiring presence as its founder trustee and its chairman after Bhisham Sahni’s passing away in 2003. His was one of the most militant voices in the spontaneous protest after Safdar Hashmi’s brutal murder in 1989. Habib Tanvir had earlier collaborated with Safdar Hashmi in dramatizing Premchand’s story

Mote Ram Ka Satyagraha”. Habib was an important organizer and participant in SAHMAT’s Hum Sab Ayodhya exhibition and the Mukt Naad cultural sit-in in Ayodhya in 1993, after the Babri Masjid demolition.

Habib Tanvir was born on September 1923 at Raipur, Chattisgarh. After initial education at Nagpur, he went to RADA in 1955 and travelled in Europe during 1956-57. He became the organiser, secretary, playwright and actor-director of IPTA during 1948-50.

In 1954 he had directed ‘Agra Bazar’ which he himself described as “the first serious experiment integrating song with drama and rural actors with urban” For the last 55 years Agra Bazar’ has been performed all over the country countless number of times. He founded Naya Theatre in 1958. Habib’s abiding contribution to contemporary culture will be his remarkable incorporation of traditions of folk and tribal theatre, music and language into his modern formal craft. The power of his plays delighted and moved audiences cutting across all class boundaries from the man on the street to the powerful elite.

During the last two decades Habib Tanvir had through his plays invited the ire of the Sangh Parivar and the reactionary forces for firmly standing against fundamentalism and obscurantism through plays like “Ponga Pandit”, “ Zamadarin”.

Habib Tanvir will be missed by progressive artists all over the country. His passing marks the end of an era.

To Nagin and the artists of Naya Theatre we convey our heart-felt condolences.

Statement on 14-04-2009

Press Statement on Tendentious Reporting in Media

We are deeply disturbed by the tendentious reports in the media of the Supreme Court proceedings on April 13 dealing with the S I T report on the Gujarat carnage of 2002.

This unhealthy trend in the media reporting is going to seriously compromise the credibility of the media and undermine “ freedom of expression” enjoyed by the media which we all cherish.

An impression being created in a section of the media that the former CBI director R K Raghvan who led the S I T has “told” the court that Teesta Setalvad “ cooked up macabre tales of wanton killing” is mischievious. Only the Supreme Court, the amicus curiae and the Gujarat government have access to the report. The S I T has not filed any other document in court to which the media has access nor was Mr. Raghvan in the Court. It is therefore obvious that the media is only uncritically reporting what the Gujarat government’s lawyer said in the note liberally distributed to the press outside the Court.

While the Supreme Court observed that there was no room for allegations and counter allegations at this late stage, the media coverage has brazenly flouted this observation by reporting the totally baseless allegations against social activist Teesta Setalvad and the organisation she represents Citizen for Justice and Peace on the basis of the Gujarat government’s note circulated in the Court. This is all the more reprehensible because Teesta Setalvad and Citizen for Justice and Peace have neither been given a copy of the S I T report nor has their response been sought in the matter.

The proceedings in the Supreme Court related to the response of the Gujarat government and the amicus curiae Shri Harish Salve to the S I T report. The very fact that the Supreme Court had to set up the S I T to correct the miscarriage of justice due to the tardy investigation by the state of Gujarat was highlighted in the court’s observation that but for the S I T investigation many more accused, who were freshly added, would not have been brought to book. It was the untiring efforts of Teesta Setalvad and the CJP and the National Human Rights Commission that persuaded the Supreme Court to set up the S I T and on the basis of its findings further arrests have been made of persons who held administrative and ministerial positions in the government of Gujarat.


Statement on 23.3.2009

Open Letter to NDA Allies condemning Varun Gandhi’s hate speech

Press Release March 23, 2008

Open Letter to NDA Allies

The Citizens for Justice amd Peace (CJP) and SAHMAT urge the various allies who constitute the NDA coalition and who believe in Constitutional Governance to not only condemn outright, the communal hate-ridden speeches of Varun Gandhi while campaigning in Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh but to ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not nominate him as a candidatefort he forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The letter has been written to Nitish Kumar of JD(U), Om Prakash Chautala Indian National Lok Dal, President Assom Gana Parishad and Ajit Singh of the RLD.

Varun Gandhi’s hate speech epitomises the core of the BJP’s supremist and ultra nationalist ideology that has always targeted India’s syncretic civilisational ethos and specifically (and crudely) targets Muslims, Christians and others sections of Indian.

The BJP’s core ideology stems from its politcal heart the Rashtryiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and is openly being backed by the BJP party.

The allies of the NDA who swear by the Indian Constitution need need to make their position clear on Varun Gandhi’s speech and his possible prospective nomination as a Lok Sabha candidate from Pilibhit. Not to oppose his nomination and candiadture as Lok Sabha candidate is to support not just Varun Gandhi but the BJP that has grown from strength to strength through flagrant violations of the Indian Constitution and the rule of law.

In the past, prime minsterial aspirant Shri LK Advani has been known to have indulged in similar hate mongering (en route to Ayodhya in December 1992); senior party leaders like Shri Murli Manohar Joshi have also committed similar offences; Gujarat chief minister Naremdra Modi’s statements on the internally displaced refugees livng in pathetic conditions in relief camps of the state in 2002 were not just violations of the law, but shocking; fratermal organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parisgad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD) have taken the entire content and tempo of hate speech to the levels of a cynical game and continue to indulge in these criminal violations because they escape the long arms of the law.

It is about time that all those political players who have a stake in the future of Indian democracy, who are fighting the elections and especially those who have in the past and still continue to support the BJP-driven NDA come clean on Varun Gandhi’s speech and oppose his nomination as a BJP canbdidate. Not to do so would be to support the content of the violence ridden speech made by him.

Teesta Setalvad, Javed Akhtar, Javed Anand, Rahul Bose, Vivan Sundaram, Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Shakti Kjak, Archana Prasad, Madhu Prasad, CP Chandrashekhar, Indira Chandrashekhar, Badri Raina, Prabhat Patnaik, Utsa Patnaik, Chanchal Chauhan

Minister of Information & Broadcasting
Govt. of India
New Delhi
Dear Minister,

We are deeply shocked at the decision to cancel the screening of a documentary made by the eminent Indian painter M.F. Husain, after it had been scheduled for November 25 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India in Goa. We are also profoundly alarmed at the wider implications of this act of blatant censorship imposed on artistic production. You are surely aware of the background to this decision by the Directorate of Film Festivals. On November 22, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and an affiliated body that calls itself the Sanatan Sanstha, petitioned the chief minister of Goa and the director of the film festival, urging that the screening be cancelled since it involved a person who had allegedly caused offence to the “religious and National sentiments of crores of Hindus and Indians (sic)”. Almost at the same time, activists of the same two bodies carried out a series of protests in the city of Mumbai, in the vicinity of the Films Division office. As the website of the HJS puts it: they made a “representation with a warning” to the Films Division officials, about the plan to screen the Husain documentary. Then, in the narration on the HJS website: the official at Mumbai had “a long discussion with the Chief Officers in the Film Division”, “tried to contact the officers in Goa and New Dehli (sic) again and again and finally told the delegation at 3.30 in the evening that the screening of the abovementioned film was cancelled”. The craven and unprincipled capitulation by the film festival organisers has been portrayed by the HJS as “one more feather” in its cap ( At the same time, the official response has been to either feign ignorance or pretend that the issue is of little consequence. The chief minister of Goa has reportedly said that he had no knowledge of the entire process and the director of film festivals has taken the position that the screening was being “deferred”. Frankly, we are appalled at this abject failure of principle and the thorough abdication of responsibility by officials entrusted with safeguarding the autonomy of cultural and artistic production. The HJS and its affiliated organisation, the Sanatan Sanstha are, as you would know, under investigation by police and intelligence agencies for their possible complicity in a number of terrorist actions in the country. Indeed, the option of declaring them “unlawful” organisations, is reportedly under active consideration. You would also be aware that the HJS has for years been the central switching-board for a number of cases against M.F. Husain, lodged on the grounds of “obscenity”, “causing ill-will on grounds of religion” and “incitement”. This entire range of charges was considered by the Delhi High Court and in a historic verdict of May 8, held to be completely without substance. The Delhi High Court finding was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, the HJS and its associates have managed to effectively mobilise a sufficient number of complainants scattered all over the country, and the Supreme Court is yet to decide on a petition requesting that all cases be brought within its jurisdiction. You would appreciate then, that the continuing harassment of one of India’s greatest living artists, is a consequence of technical procedures involved in the administration of justice and most importantly, the failure of the administrative authorities to stand up to the coercive strategies of bodies that are currently under investigation for terrorism offences. We urge you to reflect upon the consequences that this would have, for the faith that the common man places in the system of administration he lives under. We urge you moreover, to reflect upon the consequences for artistic production in this country. Husain’s documentary was produced in 1967 and has been widely recognised and awarded by the most discerning judges. It is a sad day for creative activity everywhere, when work of such calibre is deprived of an audience, because of the power of the mob. In the interests of cultural freedom, we urge you to rescind the ban on Husain and allow his documentary to be screened at the ongoing film festival. In anticipation,


Vivan SundaramRam Rahman

ATTACK ON SAHMAT exhibition!

Protest meeting at 11 am on 25 August, at SAHMAT

SAHMAT had organized an exhibition of reproductions of eminent artist M.F. Husain’s works on 22, 23 and 24 August 2008, to coincide with the three-day Art Fair at the India Art Summit, Pragati Maidan, Delhi , at which galleries had been advised not to show the artist’s work. The exhibition had on display, apart from reproductions of Husain’s paintings, eight photographs of Husain by Parthiv Shah, two photographs of Husain painting a hoarding by Madan Mahatta, and three photographs from Husain’s ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ series from the Village Art Gallery, Delhi.

On Sunday, 24 August, at around 3.30 pm, the exhibition, which was being held in a shamiana outside the SAHMAT office, was attacked and vandalised by 8 to 10 miscreants. The television channel ETV, whose crew was present, has recorded the entire episode. The vandals ran away from the scene after destroying the framed photographs and prints, a television set and DVD player (on which Husain’s films were being screened), and furniture. The artist Arpana Caur, and Anil Chandra and Santosh Sharma, SAHMAT members, were witnesses to the episode.

In protest against the attack on SAHMAT and the vandalism, the exhibition has been extended, in ‘as-is’, vandalised condition, for a day – till the evening of 25 August.

A meeting to protest against this cowardly attack, and the attempt on the part of rightwing forces to impose a narrow, majoritarian view of our culture, was held on Monday, 25 August, at 11 am, outside the SAHMAT office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. Those present at the protest meeting, and those who have sent messages of solidarity, include:

Abhijeet Tamhane, Aditi Magaldas, Aditi Raina, Ajay Srivastava, Akila Jayaraman, Albeena Shakil, Ali Abbas Yakutpura, Aman Farooqi, Amar Farooqi, Anant Raina, Anil Chandra, Anjali Raina, Anup Karar, Arpana Caur, Asad Zaidi, Ashalata, Ashok Kumari, Ashok Rao, Aziz Ahmed Khan, Badri Raina, Bani Joshi, Brinda Karat, C.P. Chandrasekhar, Chanchal Chauhan, Dadi Pudumjee, Danish Ali, Dayanand Singh, Dhiresh, Faizan Farooqi, Gautam Navlakha, Geeta Kapur, Geetanjali Shree, Hannan Mollah, Inder Salim, Indira Chandrasekhar, Irfan Habib, Jatin Das, Jauhar Kanungo, Javed Malick, Javed Naqvi, Jayati Ghosh, K. Bikram Singh, Kalpana Sahni, Kamakumar Hirawat, Kanishka Prasad, Kanti Mohan, Kumi Chandra, Lima Kanungo, M.K. Raina, M.M.P. Singh, Madan Gopal Singh, Madhu Prasad, Maimoona Mollah, Manjira Datta, Martand Khosla, Mithilesh Srivastav, N.D. Jayaprakash, N.K. Sharma, N.S. Arjun, Nalini Taneja, Nandita Narayan, Nandita Rao, Naslima Shahana, Neeraj Malick, Nilotpal Basu, Nina Rao, P. Madhu, P.K. Shukla, Parth Tiwari,
Parthiv Shah, Prabhat Patnaik, Preeti Bawa, Pushpamala N., Qausar Hashmi, Radhika Menon, Rahul Verma, Raj Chauhan, Rajendra Prasad, Rajendra Usapkar, Rajinder Arora, Rajinder Sharma, Rajiv Jha, Rajni B. Arora, Ram Nivas Tyagi, Ram Rahman, Riyaz Ahmed Bhat, Romi Khosla, S. Kalidas, S.M. Mishra, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Sahba Farooqi, Sahba Husain, Sahiram, Samar S. Jodha, Sania Hashmi, Santosh Sharma, Sashi Kumar, Shabi Ahmad, Shakeel Ahmed, Shamim Farooqi, Shamshad, , Shamsul Islam, Shankar Chandra, Shanta Chopra,
Sheena Bhalla, Shireen Moosvi, Shruti Singhi, Shubha Mudgal, Sitaram Yechury, Sohail Hashmi, Sravan Kumar, Subhashini Ali, Sudha Sundararaman, Sudhir Chandra, Sudhir Suman, Sukumar Muraleedharan, Suneet Chopra, T.S. Johar, Utsa Patnaik, Uzma Mollah, V. Srinivasa Rao, Vandana Sharma, Veer Munshi, Vidya Shah, Vijay S. Jodha, Vijender Sharma, Vivan Sundaram.

Press Statement

We are surprised and unhappy at the decision of the organisers of the first India Art Summit to exclude the works of MF Husain from the displays of all the participating galleries from across India . The Art summit and three day fair, which opens at the Trade Fair venue in Delhi on the 22nd, is also supported by the Ministry of Culture. While the organisers may have made this decision out of a fear of attacks or protests against the work of Husain, by giving in to such threats by extremist political groups, they are playing into the hands of these forces. It is the duty of the state and the police to protect our institutions and citizens against threats of violence and surely the Trade Fair authorities and the Delhi police are capable of confronting any such threat. An earlier exhibit by Husain continued at the India International Centre last December under just such assurances by the Delhi police.For the artists community, Husain is the reigning father-figure, commanding enormous respect. In fact, Husain has been single-handedly responsible for putting Indian art on the world map and equally responsible for creating the world market boom in Indian art, without which such a summit and fair would not be taking place in Delhi at this moment. It is therefore deeply ironical that his work is being excluded by dictat. We request the organisers to rethink this decision. In solidarity with Husain, Sahmat will show Images of his work on all three days of the summit outside its office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. We invite all the citizens of Delhi and all artists to come view his work at Sahmat.
Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Madan Gopal Singh, Sohail Hashmi, Parthiv Shah, Vivan Sundaram, Indira Chandrasekhar, Geeta Kapur, K Bikram Singh