Earlier this week, a newspaper in Delhi published a telling cartoon that drew many a snigger: a figure fully veiled in black with the simple caption: “Qatar Mata by M.F. Husain”.
The apparent absurdity of India’s most famous artist relinquishing his Indian nationality for the citizenship of Qatar, a place where he claims “no one controls my freedom of expression”, has disappointed many of his ardent supporters who had faithfully backed him against militant and litigious groups. In turning his back on “my motherland” because “India doesn’t need me” and “no one came forward to speak for me”, Husain has handed out an unqualified victory to those who feel that free speech and expression cannot include the right to offend.
In the past decade, the threshold of tolerance in India has been lowered considerably — thanks in no small degree to the takeover of the internet by competitive extremists. ‘Sensitivity to faith’ has come to mean accommodation of organized blackmail.
The successful anti-Husain and anti-Taslima protests have to be seen in the context of a progressive shrinking of the enlightened public space. India imagined it would be a world player on the strength of its ‘soft power’. Today, that power is being steadily undermined by the clash of rival ghettos. The nonsense has gone on far too long and has touched dangerous heights. It’s time the country extends democratic rights to those who offend fragile sensitivities.
Nice. But the same person, in the same article, writes this – “In theory, there is nothing hideously objectionable to citizen’s rights being qualified by the realities of India.”
As for Husain, I heard the clueless fellow on television, saying the words Dasgupta attributes to him – “no one controls my freedom of expression [in Qatar].” I guess the operative word here is “my.” If only Qatar had offered asylum to Nasreen and Rushdie…