A day after the Supreme Court refused to initiate criminal proceedings against painter MF Husain for allegedly hurting public sentiments, his friends and supporters on Tuesday said the government should provide him security to enable him to return to India.
The Supreme Court order on Monday describing Husain’s Bharat Mata painting as a “work of art,” came as a major relief for the 92 year-old painter, living in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London since January 2006.
A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan had refused to accept the argument that Husain’s work as obscene, saying: “There are many such paintings and sculptures and some of them are in temples.”
Husain’s lawyer, Akhil Sibal said the court order was landmark “as it proved that cases against Husain had been filed with an intention to harass an old man. It is a signal to those trying to misuse the legal machinery for suppressing the freedom of expression of artists”.
He said the apex court order vindicated and provided recognition to the veteran painter’s work. “It would certainly help in four other cases pending against him and would serve as a guideline for police and lower courts on how to deal with matters related to freedom of expression,” Sibal said.
Husain had recently told Hindustan Times on phone from Dubai that “about two-and-a-half thousand cases against me; 900 just from Goa. Everything is sub-judice. I understand.”
Cultural organisation Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, whose exhibition showing Husain’s paintings was recently attacked by activists of a Hindu outfit, welcomed the order and said, “now it is the duty of the government to provide him protection.”
Ram Rehman of SAHMAT said :“The government has failed to recognise Husain’s work and it sponsored an exhibition which boycotted his work. Various ministries have gone out of the way to prove that were in fact opposed to him.”.
The government completely denied the allegation saying it had no bias against the veteran painter.
“No money was given for the India Art Exhibition, it was a private affair. The ministry associates with such events to promote art and culture. We would have been happy had Husain’s paintings also been included,” Culture Minister Ambika Soni said.
“We have no bias against Husain sahib. I have been trying to make him a member of the National Cultural Fund since many months now. I have approached his lawyer to get a response,” she said.
Husain’s friends and supporters have ruled out his early return saying, “how can a man who turns 93 next week defend himself against attacks ?’ they ask.