The country’s speech restrictions didn’t allow M.F. Husain to paint in peace. Salil Tripathi in the Wall Street Journal:
Maqbool Fida Husain was India’s most celebrated painter, and his death in London last week was front-page news across the subcontinent. However, toward the end of his life, Husain had trouble finding galleries willing to show his work. He lived in Dubai, Doha or London for most of the last two decades because he couldn’t paint in peace in his own country, even becoming a Qatari national last year.
Husain’s story says much about modern India. The troubles started in 1996, when the magazine Vichar Mimansa (“Discussion of Thoughts”) published a decades-old sketch that showed a nude Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. That discovery electrified Hindu activists, who began filing lawsuits against the painter for hurting their sentiments.
These activists were able to persecute Husain by taking advantage of laws intended to prevent the incitement of religious hatred. Though the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it allows “reasonable restrictions” to safeguard “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity” of the country and “public order, decency or morality.” The penal code makes it a crime “to outrage religious feelings” and also outlaws “promoting enmity” between different groups on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language—and the all-inclusive “etc.”
Fringe Hindu groups claimed to have been offended by the artist’s work, and pressured the authorities to initiate proceedings. Indian courts often throw such cases out, but there were multiple cases against him. When a few of them reached the Delhi High Court on appeal, it ruled in Husain’s favor. So did the Supreme Court in a similar case. More: