Philosopher Akeel Bilgrami, in an online lecture on Wednesday, highlighted the outrage against late painter MF Husain to drive home the “generalisations” about communities as the base for the ongoing conflicts in societies across the world. Bilgrami spoke of “identity politics” as being specific to religion and the need for Hindus and Muslims to find “truth and reconciliation”. Titled ‘Modernity and Disenchantment’, the lecture was organised by the Department of Political Science of MS University in Vadodara.
In order to emphasize “disenchantment”, Bilgrami chose the case of MF Husain who was embroiled in a long drawn controversy for his nude paintings of Goddess Saraswati and Bharat Mata and had several cases filed against him. Bilgrami spoke of the Delhi High Court judgement which quashed the warrants of arrest against Husain and the subsequent Supreme Court verdict upholding the Delhi HC order.
Bilgrami said, “Both the HC and the SC cleared him of the charges under IPC section 298 (Hurting religious sentiments) because one has to establish the intent for the same. The court absolved him… and they could not establish any guilt.”
Although he did not agree with the observation of the court that art should be a “secular space”, Bilgrami said that looking into the inner life of people is an essential part of building a society where one does not get offended by the other simply because of their different religious identities.
He said, “Let us look at the inner life of the religious people, the Hindus, who are said to have been offended or hurt by Husain’s paintings — that is how the mobilisation against him began and he went into exile. The adjective “secular” cannot apply to modern art. You cannot turn the idea of art into a guild. The creativity of art lies in being able to be susceptible to criticisms from outside…”
Stating that Husain was targeted for his “Muslimness” because people only presumed his art to be an “intended insult to the other religion”, Bilgrami said, “What happens in identity politics is that when this conflict between (religions), each sees the other in disenchanted terms, purely objective terms. They do not see the way the person is subjective in specific ways… His (Husain’s) objective identity was that of a Muslim, so his paintings were seen as being done to hurt Hindus. You cannot do science or generalisations when you get into the subjectivities of a person, you cannot get stereotypes and project it on someone if you can separate him or her from the religious identity they carry.”
Bilgrami, who has been an advocate of multiculturalism over secularism in India, referred to the Shaheen Bagh protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as “the winter protest”.
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