Now that MF Husain died in exile, some Hindus are breathing a sigh of relief. When he was alive, Husain was a pain in the neck, an irritant, whose existence made Hindus uncomfortable; because it made them face some awkward truths which, according to them, were best avoided.
Is Hinduism a great religion? These Hindus tout, ‘yes, it is’. Then how come it is threatened by a puny artist and his art? Is Hinduism tolerant and liberal? These Hindus say, ‘yes it is’. Then how come some nude pictures of their goddesses by a contemporary artist become such a big problem when thousands of temples in India blatantly depict gods and goddesses in explicit nudity, some of them positioning these gods in perversely sexual acts?
Now that MF Husain is dead and gone, these Hindus conveniently excuse themselves from answering these uncomfortable questions. Many Hindus who hounded Husain when he was alive are now ready to make amends by calling him a great artist. They want to let bygones be bygones. They want to see this as a ‘closed chapter’.
That’s where I find this whole ‘lets-forget-this-and-move-on’ charade dangerous. I believe that NOW is the right time to face those awkward truths and ask uncomfortable questions because they have far-reaching consequences on how we are going to define this supposedly free nation. Few years from now if we have done some good parenting, another Husain will be born in India who will do something more outrageous by taking a position which will make us even more uncomfortable. What will India do then? Will it hang him, or force him into exile?
What we did to Husain today is what some of the intolerant countries on this planet do to their citizens who ask uncomfortable questions about their sacred symbols, either it is the religion or the affairs of the ruling families. By forcing Husain into exile India joined the ranks of such autocratic and theocratic nations. A free nation would have protected Husain’s rights. It would have protected him from the frivolous prosecutions that the people of this country launched onto him to shut him up. By being weak, India fell few notches down in the ranking of free nations on this planet.
To become free, we have to question our past
To become free, we have to question our traditions that hold us down, and we have to elevate our people from the depths of our prejudices and blind beliefs. We have to realize some harsh truths. That’s when we will find some uncomfortable answers. That’s when we will realize that Khap panchayats are not upholders of our traditions but are the usurpers of our freedoms. IPC Section 295A designed to prosecute people for hurting religious sentiments does not protect religion but it allows bigoted people to curb original thought by persecuting them. Our religions don’t need protectors, they don’t need policemen. We are no longer facing crusades from alien religions. In this modern nation of India, we don’t have to give up our freedoms to a Church or a monarch to buy our securities. IPC Section 124A designed to prosecute sedition does not protect this nation but instead weakens this nation. This nation will remain weak as long as we do not question its authorities. Today, we celebrate Anti-corruption movement because people question their rulers. Imagine these protestors, including college kids, booked for sedition for harboring hatred against the Government of India.
To reform this nation of its ills, we need to question our practices, notions and philosophies. We can’t be selective then, because freedom is one way street. Once free, people ask all kinds of questions. Seeds of curiosity once set in will result in inquiry of the infinite. We can’t channelize the process of inquiry or try to regulate it.
As Indians, we do not innovate or invent, and we continue to be corrupt, because we believe that inquiry can be regulated. We think that we can tell our children what questions they can ask and what questions they should not. Europe spawned Scientific Revolution, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, French and American Revolutions, invented the concept of a democracy, freed the common man, and created society on the basis of rule of law, because they started to inquire. This inquiry started nearly 500 years ago. Indians have not started that inquiry as yet.
Indians are generally hesitant to face harsh truths and this nature of theirs is the reason why we continue to have the menace of corruption in this country, why we have suppression of freedoms, and why people of a certain region, caste, or sex are discriminated. Indians are hesitant to ask tough questions because most answers eventually come back to their doorstep and lay the blame right with each one of them.
Some who pretend to sympathize with Husain and feel this is an unfortunate incident do not see any problem with our current legal system. Yes, they admit, there are some anachronistic laws; but they are never used, they assert. Even if they are used, they are usually thrown out by the courts, they add. Even if there are cases where someone is convicted, those are the cases where the convicted person really deserved the punishment, they assure you. I find this rationalization specious and cowardly and insincere; and I find the inherent ambiguity in our legal system a big detriment to creation of a free nation.
To illustrate why insane laws should not exist, I have constructed a small story – completely fictitious. [If you want, you can skip the story by going to ‘End of the Story’ below].
There is a person named Dinakar who grew up in Uttar Pradesh. When he was a young man, he did what every young man did, spent time with his friends and came home late. One day while walking past River Ganges, he stopped by and pissed into a drainage canal which eventually joined River Ganga. The friend next to him, Sudhakar, chided him that he was pissing in the Mother Ganga. They laughed it off and went home.
Many years later Dinakar grew up to become a responsible citizen. When khap panchayats were targeting young couples with insane and arcane interpretations of Hindu customs, he took up the cause to fight this khap menace to emancipate young Hindu men and women from the stranglehold of ultra-conservative Taliban like elder men. This did not go well with many Hindus in Northern India who still believed in bigoted interpretations of Hindu scriptures and wanted them preserved at all costs. And these Hindus hated Dinakar. They wanted to somehow stop him and teach him a lesson. A group of chauvinists wanted to know if Dinakar has done anything wrong in his life so that they can go after him. They were discussing how, when Sudhakar, the old friend, said that Dinakar is quite clean. ‘We cannot prosecute him. The only outlandish thing he did in his life was when he pissed into Ganga,’ he said. There was a lawyer in the group who quickly reacted, ‘wait, we got him there’.
It seems that there is some old law created by the British when Oudh was annexed. To please the Brahmins of Awadh who were not ready to accept British rule, they created a law which states that anyone found desecrating by pissing or shitting into River Ganges will be imprisoned for life. This law was never used but it still remained in the Indian Penal Code as Section 1067.
The lawyer in the panchayat group said that they can now prosecute Dinakar using this law. An FIR was lodged. Dinakar was arrested. Sudhakar testified that he saw Dinakar peeing into River Ganga long ago. The fact that he actually pissed into a drainage canal that joined River Ganga became a matter of semantics. The rest of North India followed suit. Nearly 373 cases were registered against Dinakar in various districts and towns. There were summons from various courts. It was established that Dinakar violated a law, based on Sudhakar’s testimony, and hence was imprisoned for life. Dinakar appealed to the High Court. After languishing in the jail for few months, his case was taken up by the High Court. The sane judge threw the case out and recommended that such arcane laws should be scrapped.
When Dinakar was set free he was still facing 372 other cases and summons from hundreds of courts in India. When he went to a nearby town, he was immediately arrested. It became physically impossible for Dinakar to fight each and every police and court case in India. There were too many of them. Entire Hindu population of North India was now ready to file a case against Dinakar on IPC Section 1067. There was no end to this harassment. Eventually it became impossible for him to live in the country as long as IPC Section 1067 was a law. He left the country and migrated to Thailand to live with his brother.
End of the Story
Some Hindus give an insincere excuse that Husain was not hounded out of the country or expelled from the country. They say that Husain left this country out of free will. Instead of facing the various police cases and court cases like a responsible citizen, he fled this country, they remind you. They say that the problem is not with the legal system. According to them, the legal system is fine because the High Court eventually threw out the case.
These Hindus don’t realize that it is humanly impossible to fight so much persecution and prosecution in one’s life. And such persecution and prosecution happens only because certain insane laws exist. If you read history, you will see that all those who went into exile, did so out of free will, while they could still exercise their free will, knowing very well that they came close to losing their free will, that they would be incarcerated or killed if they stayed any longer. Voltaire lived in exile in Britain for few years. Voltaire left France before the insane laws of France could catch up to jail him. Einstein fled Nazi Germany before the insane laws of the land could put him on a train to be sent off to a concentration camp.
Husain left India because was forced into leaving. He was left with no choice. If he stayed further, he would have faced hundreds of court trials, spending years going from one court to another. What if one of the courts convicts him? Does he have the power and support to change the legal system in India? Not really. It was a case of an individual against a mighty group backed by the state. He was bound to lose. Some countries call it persecution.
Scrap the insane laws, immediately
There are many anachronistic, insane and stupid laws in this country. The fact that they have never been used, or that they are rarely used, or that they have been used with discretion is not a good enough reason for such laws to exist. There is no justification for such laws to exist. No individual can stand up against the onslaught of a committed group which uses such insane laws to prosecute and persecute him. That’s why the modern nations give freedoms. These freedoms can also be translated as the ‘freedoms from persecution’ and ‘freedoms for frivolous and unnecessary prosecutions’.
POTA was used more effectively by the political parties in settling scores against political opponents more than catching terrorists. The case of Binayak Sen is a good example of how insane and anachronistic laws can be used by people to create scapegoats.
Existence of such stupid laws is the only reason why some people, like Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, or M F Husain are harassed by various groups and the state. Such stupid laws do not serve any purpose other than giving some vicious groups to malign their opponents, to settle scores with their opponents, to discredit someone whose ideas they dislike, to harass someone because they don’t like them, and to create scapegoats to deliver a message to their detractors. The modern legal system believes in the concept of letting 10 guilty men go to save one innocent; whereas these insane laws in India achieve the exact opposite.
India should scrap these insane laws immediately, and thereby restore some confidence in its promise to build a free nation.