Salil Tripathi in the New Statesman:
A year ago, a group of Hindu activists attacked two paintings by Maqbool Fida Husain, India’s best-known painter. The artist, now aged 91, had offended their sensibilities by drawing Hindu goddesses in the nude. Judging the zeitgeist – the attack happened during the time of the dispute about the Danish Muhammad cartoons – the organisers hastily closed the exhibition. It was not the first attack on Husain’s work; for nearly a decade, he has borne the brunt of Hindu nationalists’ anger. Today he lives in self-imposed exile, dividing his time between Dubai and London. What was unusual about this particular act of mob censorship and vandalism, however, was that it occurred in the heart of central London, at Asia House.
A sale at Bonhams and Asia House this month will include 85 works by major Indian artists, including Husain. The profits from “Art for Freedom” will go towards another champion of freedom of expression, the Indian weekly newspaper Tehelka, which is backed by such luminaries as V S Naipaul and Arundhati Roy, and for which I also write. Since its launch in 2000, the publi cation has used investigative guile, outright subterfuge and spycam techniques to break several stories in India – betting scandals in international cricket, corruption in defence deals and, most recently, unlawful killings of Muslims in Gujarat. The paper was closed down by the government after breaking a story on corruption, only to relaunch in 2004. Appropriately, the word tehelka means sensation.
The defence of free speech seems particularly important this year, as India marks the 60th anniversary of her independence.