Gurpreet Singh: M.F. Hussain's death in a foreign land exposes India's doublespeak on secularism

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      The recent passing of India’s renowned painter, Maqbool Fida Hussain, in London exposed India’s halfhearted commitment toward secularism.

      Hussain, an Indian-born Muslim who lived in self-imposed exile because of death threats from Hindu fundamentalists, acquired Qatari citizenship in 2010.

      Born in the Indian state of Maharashtra, he began his career by painting cinema hoardings. Hussain shot into prominence in the late 1940s and was widely known as the "Picasso of India".

      He also joined the Progressive Artists’ Group, received many awards, and in 1986 was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament.

      He was forced to leave the country of his origin in 2006 after receiving threats and being charged for making paintings that allegedly berated Hindu deities.

      Hindu extremists attacked his art exhibitions. Members of the Bajrang Dal, a highly fanatical Hindu organization, vandalized his paintings. The Shiv Sena, another Hindu nationalist group from his native state of Maharashtra, welcomed this action.

      Hussain was accused of painting Hindu goddesses nude and provoking religious sentiments. For this, he was always on the hit list of the groups that enjoy an affiliation with the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the main opposition group.

      Even the ruling Congress party of India—which claims to be far more secular than the BJP—not only failed to prevent him from leaving his home country, but also failed to bring him back and let him live fearlessly with dignity.

      In contrast, the Congress-led coalition government gave refuge to Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi Muslim author who had offended Islamic fundamentalists. Nasrin received death threats, too, and was forced to leave Bangladesh in 1994.

      She continues to live in exile and was given refuge by the Indian government from 2004 to 2007.

      Congress’s hypocrisy matches that of Hindu nationalist groups, which are intolerant to any free comment about their faith. These groups welcomed Salman Rushdie, who faced death threats from the Islamist groups. When Rushdie was to visit India, the then-Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackrey, commented that his organization wouldn't oppose the novelist's presence.

      The Indian establishment that guaranteed the safety of Nasrin, an outsider, failed to ensure the safety and security of its own Muslim citizen. Such doublespeak from the Congress-led government not only reflects its commitment to a secular agenda, but also its weakness in standing up against Hindu extremism.

      Indeed, the Congress-led government has also been unable to ban Hindu extremist groups, like Abhinav Bharat (which is separate from a charitable trust by the same name) or Bajrang Dal, that have been accused of planting bombs during recent years.

      Unlike banned Islamic, Sikh, and ultra-leftist terrorist organizations, those promoting the cause of a Hindu nation continue to have a free run. On many occasions, Congress has also indulged in peddling the soft version of Hindu nationalist politics.

      Congress officials were not only involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage that followed the assassination of the then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, but also turned a blind eye when Hindu extremists gathered to demolish an ancient mosque in December 1992.

      The Indian government should ensure the safety of all writers and artists whose lives are endangered, without being lenient toward any extremist group. Religious groups need to understand that any free comment cannot really put any religious belief in danger. No religion is so weak or fragile that it can break into pieces by any small act of blasphemy or a free thought.

      Instead, religious leaders should be more compassionate and forgiving if they love and care for humanity. They should not let religion go into the hands of extremists, who are full of hatred and venom.

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.




      Jun 12, 2011 at 6:03pm

      Mr. Singh...

      India has serious problems with Race & Cast separations.

      The Congress can not protect it's own Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nor "Hindus" from various Terrorists Groups, in fact they have demonstrated that they can't protect much at all regardless of Race, Religion and / or Creed.

      Yes they are all hypocrites but so is anyone that suggests that somehow the Indian Government [which has shown it can't protect it's own then PM from Sikh body guards] can protect an Artist regardless of their Religion.

      They [the Indian Govt.] should but anyone who knows India understands that currently the Indian Government can't in practical terms really provide much security to any Individual/Group.

      Anyone who knows anything about India also knows that Civil Riots and/or retribution on any one group on any real or perceived injustice is only one heinous act away from erupting in the streets.

      Until the various Religious Groups understand that they face common enemies from outside India and need to co-operate to build a strong & just nation, until then there will be mindless violence & bloodshed against each other.

      One small ray of hope was the fact the after the Terrorist attacks on 2008 Indians by and large did not target Muslim groups / citizens for retribution on a large scale as in the past.

      Hopefully the Sikhs, Muslims & Hindu's come to the realization that their Communist neighbors, Climate Change & Peak Oil pose a far greater danger than silly Religious / Cultural differences.


      Jun 13, 2011 at 5:16pm

      What a one-sided load of $#$%. Is the author ignorant of history? Does he know of a country neighbouring India, created to be a purely Muslim state? No mention of pakistan in an article about Indian religious "extremism"? That's just not right, and can't pass without comment. India is a much, much more tolerant and secular nation compared to Pakistan. It's the world's largest democracy. There are millions of muslims, representing a greater amount than the Hindu population of Pakistan (if there are any left). Religious extremists from Pakistan actually go into India to kill civilians, that's how deep their hatred of Hinduism, Secularism and democracy runs. Exiling one "artist" who seems to have been trying to incite religious hatred, pales in comparison.

      I'm getting tired of how the content and viewpoints on the Straight are so reactionary towards perceived right-wing-only views. There are leftists who can recognize how far gone Islamic radicalism is, and that it does, in fact, despite some right-wing hyperbole, represent a serious threat - to India, and even Vancouver. Try to balance your content with at least ONE article that's critical of Pakistan, or Islamic violence and anti-democracy in general.

      Charlie Smith

      Jun 13, 2011 at 7:25pm

      To the commenter above:

      Check out this article by Gurpreet Singh last month, which highlights terrorists in Pakistan:

      Or this one by Gurpreet Singh in March, which highlights religious extremism in Pakistan:

      Or this article in March by Gwynne Dyer about religious extremism in Pakistan:

      Or this review of an Ahmed Rashid book:

      Or this article about a film chronicling gang rape in Pakistan:


      Jun 14, 2011 at 4:05am

      hello Singh..India or Indian people are not extremist....its M.Hussain who always tried to insult Hindu God and Goddess...why he was making a painting against a community or religion only ?

      There is no way for his support.

      prabhujeet singh

      Jun 14, 2011 at 7:25am

      Very well written summary of the problem and the double speak of the Indian Government. I have grown up in India as a minority and have had the nasty experience first hand of the Indian double standards. The Indian secularism is another name for Hindu religious fanaticism fully aided by the national machinery. There are double standards everywhere from Police, judiciary to parliament. The intent in India is to create a state for the upper class Hindus. There have been government sponsored mass killings against Sikhs in 1984, Muslims in 2001 and against Christians in 2002 and onwards. There are continuous atrocities against tribals and low caste people. India as a nation seeks to be only upper caste Hindus with second grade living for all other minorities. The true face of Indian democracy has blood of minorities all over it. The western world should stop all cooperation with India including the supply of arms until it stops sponsoring the Hindu terrorism against the other minorties.