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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK

World: South Asia

Indian artist upsets sensibilities

Hindu fundamentalists are outraged by M F Husain's paintings

The BBC's Daniel Lak reports from Delhi on the artist who is at the centre of a row over religious images:

Maqbool Fida Husain is no stranger to controversy.

Three of his paintings depicting Hindu goddesses in the nude began attracting the ire of hard-line Hindu groups in 1996.

Complaints against the paintings of Saraswati, Draupadi and Sita have been investigated before but have not resulted in criminal charges.

Complaint filed by World Hindu Congress

The latest complaint in Delhi was filed against Mr Husain earlier this year by a member of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), a group whose name translates as the World Hindu Congress.

Police asked the government, now dominated by the Hindu chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for clearance before proceeding with the complaint.

[ image: BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee...his government has told police to investigate Mr Husain's paintings]
BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee...his government has told police to investigate Mr Husain's paintings
Officials say the authorities have now granted that request. Senior officers say they will complete their investigation before deciding whether to lay criminal charges.

Mr Husain, whose home in Bombay has been attacked by members of a militant Hindu youth group, has apologised for any offence given by his paintings but his remorse apparently comes too late for the police.

Some artists in Delhi have also been attacked by Hindu activists outside a gallery where paintings of Mr Husain were on show.

Defended by India's liberal intelligentsia

Mr Husain's defenders include many of the country's top artists and liberal intellectuals.

His detractors have pointed out he is a Muslim, but his supporters say this is irrelevant and point out Hindu gods and goddesses have been depicted throughout history in sculpture and painting not just in the nude but in sexual positions as well.

At the heart of the controversy is a long-running dispute and disagreement over the nature of Hinduism and its role in modern India.

India, while overwhelmingly Hindu, contains significant Muslim, Sikh and Christian minorities.

The proudly secular Congress Party ruled for decades but in the last decade Hindu chauvinism, spurred by anti-Pakistan sentiment, has grown and with it the BJP.

Ten years ago, Mr Husain's paintings would probably have been ignored but "insulting" a Hindu god in modern India is now akin to blaspheming the prophet Mohammed in 1980s Iran.

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Internet Links

Leave Husain alone (letter on Hindunet)

Samples of M F Husain's work (Art Today)

M.F. Husain's home page

Profile of the Hindu god Saraswati

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