Re-Open the M F Husain Exhibition
Awaaz – South Asia Watch urges Asia House, London to re-open the exhibition of the work of renowned Indian artist, MF Husain. Awaaz condemns the forced closure of the exhibition following violence, harassment and intimidation by fundamentalists claiming to represent the views of British Hindus. The fundamentalists who vandalised the paintings reflect the authoritarian ideologies and tactics of militant Hindu Right groups in India.
In India, organisations such as the extremely violent Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other organizations linked to the fascist-inspired Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) , have repeatedly attacked MF Husain and other artists, filmmakers, intellectuals and cultural practitioners. In 1998, Hindu Right groups attacked and ransacked Husain’s Bombay home, one of several such attacks on the artist and his work. Hindu Right groups have regularly attempted to undermine the freedom of thought and expression enshrined in the Indian constitution and reflected in the vibrancy of Indian culture.
In Hindu traditions there is an extensive history of wide and diverse representations of the sacred deities, including nude, erotic and other depictions. Hinduism has never possessed a concept of censorship or blasphemy of the kind that authoritarian groups wish to promote. A key reason the exhibition is being attacked is because MF Husain is a Muslim. Groups involved have used religious claims to mask a political agenda that owes to the Hindu Right, an agenda which has caused considerable violence and misery in India since the 1980s.
Hindu Right groups in Britain have previously used tactics of intimidation to attempt to prevent films on the 2002 Gujarat carnage being shown in London. Contrary to any Hindu tradition, they have also appointed themselves to police in an authoritarian way the representation of Hindu deities and icons in the UK.
The Hindu Forum of Britain and Hindu Human Rights accuse Asia House of not ‘consulting’ with them before putting up the exhibition. But they are not democratically-elected representatives of Hindu populations or opinion in the UK and represent little beyond their limited and chauvinistic political agendas. The Hindu Forum of Britain has actively supported or defended the RSS’s UK projects as well as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The Hindu Forum of Britain has attempted to present these as ordinary religious organizations, whereas they are in fact political organizations of the Hindu Right.
We urge Asia House not to give in to the bullying and intimidation tactics of Hindu fundamentalists and to reinstate the exhibition of works by one of the subcontinent’s most acclaimed artists. Asia House must reject the intolerance, narrow-mindedness and political interests of the Hindu Right. By re-opening the exhibition, Asia House will genuinely honour the rich and diverse traditions of expression arising from Hinduism and from India.
1. The RSS was created in the 1920s as a semi-paramilitary movement and its origins were inspired by Italian Fascism and German Nazism. The assassin of M.K. Gandhi was a former RSS member. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is the RSS’s religious front and has been repeatedly indicted for acts of violence and hatred in India over several decades. The ideology of the RSS and its vast network of organizations is Hindutva, an intolerant worldview of Hindu supremacy, anti-minority hatred and an exclusive ‘Hindu nation’. The RSS and VHP have an extensive network of branches in the UK, organised through the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and the VHP UK. The National Hindu Students Forum, which has opposed the exhibition, is also very closely associated with the HSS.
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Awaaz – South Asia watch is a UK based South Asian secular network committed to challenging all forms of religious hatred and intolerance. Awaaz – South Asia Watch is a project of The Monitoring Group.