Intellectuals speak up for M.F. Husain, Arundhati Roy

Saturday, January 1, 2011

NEW DELHI - The pitch in support of M.F. Husain’s return to India, and the opposition to the gag on writer Arundhati Roy and legal action against human rights activist Teesta Setalvad rose a notch at the 22nd Safdar Hashmi Memorial hosted by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) in Delhi Saturday.

Safdar Hashmi, theatre personality, writer and crusader for communal harmony, was murdered while performing a street play Halla Bol against communal discord Jan 2 1989. He had founded the liberal theatre ensemble Jana Natya Manch, an offshoot of the India People’s Theatre Association (IPTA).

The memorial ceremony, themed on high priest of contemporary Urdu poetry Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a progressive Left wing litterateur, marked the beginning of the poet’s birth centenary celebrations by SAHMAT.

Faiz was born in Sialkot in Pakistan Feb 13, 1911. The writer, who protested against imperialism and colonialism in his works, was known as the voice of protest in Pakistani poetry.

More than 150 writers, performers, activists, intellectuals, artists and members of the media who attended the daylong memorial function linked the plight of the country’s leading contemporary artist M.F. Husain, writer Arundhati Roy and activist Teesta Setalvad to Safdar Hashmi and the brand of poetry championed by Faiz, one of the founding members of the Progressive Writers’ Association.

M.F. Husain as an issue does not end with M.F. Husain. His fate represents a process which is being used against writer Arundhati Roy and anti-communal riot activist Teesta Setalvad. The state forces in both Mumbai (Maharashtra) and Gujarat are mobilising again against Setalvad. She might be arrested any time on funny charges of exhumation of bodies of riot victims, said artist-photographer and designer Ram Rahman, one of the founding members of SAHMAT.

On a personal note, Rahman, who met Husain on his birthday in September, said the artist was keen to return to the country.

His son was seriously ill and hospitalised in India. He could not come to visit his son. He is 95 and is missing the country. He can return any time if the government of India withdraws the legal cases against him - which the government can if its wishes to do so, Rahman told IANS.

Husain, who courted controversy for painting Indian goddesses in the nude, left the country in 2006 after right wing Hindu groups slapped legal suits against him. Since then, he has been in exile and is now a citizen of Qatar.

As a tribute to Faiz, Husain has donated five drawings and a sketch of the poet to SAHMAT which have been compiled into a calendar in the poet’s centenary year.

Calling for change, Safdar Hashmi’s mother Qamar Azad Hashmi said the country was in need of good leaders.

Every politician is tainted by corruption. I am sure that the country has good leaders, they need to come out. Pandit Nehru was a very good prime minister. Indira Gandhi was good too, barring her decisions about Punjab and Sikh terrorism. She had to die for it, Qamar Hashmi told IANS.

Historian and academic Sohail Hashmi, brother of Safdar Hashmi, said: “Anybody who demands for people’s right is persecuted in (our) democracy, is arrested and sent to jail for sedition. He also recounted the story of his brother’s death.

Writer and political editor Manini Chatterjee said the situation “was unfortunate as one of the great things about India was that it was one of the world’s largest democracies and a truly great one.

She said harassing people like Arundhati Roy and M.F. Husain diminished all of us as Indians.

The highlights of the memorial function was a musical performance by Pakistan-based writer Ali Sethi, who said Faiz is relevant to youngsters in his country.

Modern dance exponent Astad Deboo danced to three of Faiz’s poems and renditions of Faiz’s ghazals by Madan Gopal Singh, Rekha Raj and Manu Kohli.

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