Saturday, May 26, 2007

INDIA'S SHAME: TOI: A bitter PIL for the art frat


A few days after a Jaipur magistrate, outraged by photographs of Richard Gere giving a peck to Shilpa Shetty, wanted the international star to be arrested, it was the turn of a judge in Haridwar to order the attachment of painter M F Husain’s property in Mumbai over alleged obscene depiction of Hindu goddesses in his paintings.

Better sense prevailed later when the Supreme Court quashed the arrest warrant against Husain and stayed the proceedings. Of course, there’s been no dearth of creative works that have upset the votaries of our society. MF Husain has been subjected to their ire with his works being vandalised and burnt.

So, once again, is this a case of the moral police seeking publicity through the artist ? Says senior artist Vivan Sundaram, "Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t see matters like this being raked up. Now, this is all a consequence of the mood that has been created by certain fundamentalist groups who claim to uphold Indian values.” The need of the hour, he insists, "is to counter such moves through a responsible judiciary and a greater public opposition that says ‘enough is enough’ . An alertness has to be created to make this lot feel they are a minority."

Adds Neville Tuli, chairman of Osian, "Disrespect for the learning processes and knowledge and escape from any counterforce leads to the growth in the power to abuse. The importance of debate and experimentation for growth and progress is undermined and hence we face this deceit in the name of protecting the hurt of others on a daily basis."

Says art-gallery owner Arun Vadhera, "How can an artist of the stature of MF Husain be subjected to such treatment? There has to be method or a screening system whereby such frivolous PILs are not admitted. We must not allow time and effort to be wasted on such matters." SC lawyer Alpana Poddar shares a similar view. "We must not allow the law to be misused by publicity seekers. Such cases should be dropped immediately.

Even the press must refrain from giving importance to such cases," she says. So, will the formation of a special body that will screen such matters being put up in the court of law, be the answer? "As of now, this is not legally viable. But look at it this way, people who take such matters to court are not ready to be reasonable, so they will not be open to the idea of such a body," she says. However, if one is formed, then it must have representatives from across the board and not necessarily only artists who, many feel, will look at just one view.

"We must have an open forum, an autonomous body of people whom these moral policemen can talk to instead of vandalising works and burning effigies, etc," says theatre person Arvind Gaur, whose play Jinnah was banned sometime ago. "What these people don’t realise is that they are putting a stop to the democratic rights of the people. They must let people decide for themselves about what is right and what is wrong," he says. Gaur gives the example of artworks on Indian temples "and the erotica that ancient literature and paintings are replete with.

Indian society has always given a lot of freedom to the creative arts, so what’s happening now?" he wonders. It was, he says, the British who first imposed restrictions on a play called Neel Darpan in the 1890s. "The law that was made then is what continues to be our yardstick even today" he informs

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