An exhibition of paintings by the internationally renowned Indian painter M F Husain was recently closed for “security reasons”. The announcement by the exhibition hosts, Asia House, the was a reaction to a protest by the so-called “Hindu Human Rights Group”.
These days the words “religion” and “human rights” being used in the same phrase or sentence, generally means freedom for fundamentalists to throw their weight around and censor everything they find offensive. This group, is indeed a right-wing fundamentalist pressure group, and it staged a protest against the artist’s allegedly “obscene” depictions of Hindu goddesses.
The exhibition organisers were afraid of violent attacks like that by Sikh fundamentalists in Birmingham on the play Behzti last year.
This was a particularly stupid argument since Indian art has a tradition of overtly sexual portrayals of gods and goddessses stretching back nearly two thousand years to the art of Gandhara and Magadha. What the fundamentalists really objected to was Husain himself. He is one of India's greatest artists, but is also of Muslim background. They objected to him depicting Hindu subjects at all; in fact, their argument depends on believing that people of Muslim background have no place in Indian culture or society.
The attitude of these fundamentalists, although more moderately expressed, is all of a piece with that of the Hindu fundamentalism of BJP politicians in Gujarat, aiming for a “pure” Hindu society and culture, and has led to anti-Muslim pogroms in that State. In the British context, the fundamentalists are taking advantage of the government’s toleration of “religious” censorship.
Meanwhile the same government continues to demonise immigrants, especially those of Muslim background, and subject all non-white communities to disproportionate harassment under its draconian anti-terror laws; but it is not prepared to react strongly to religious extremism where that extremism actually interferes with freedom!