Bangalore International Centre had arranged a Lecture on “Offensive Expression: MF Husain and Indian Democracy” by Prof. Peter Ronald deSouza, Professor of Political Science, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies(CSDS), New Delhi and Former Director of Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, on Saturday, 5th September,2015 at 6.00 PM. The event was chaired and moderated by Prof. Chandana Gowda, Professor of Sociology, School of Development, Azim Premji University.
As part of a larger study titled, “Offensive Expression: The ‘Threshold’ Question in Indian Democracy”, which Prof. Peter Ronald deSouza is doing as the Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Chair of the Rajya Sabha, he has chosen to look at certain difficult cases of expression that have prompted calls for censorship and punishment. There have been several such cases, over the last 60 years, that cover film, fiction, academic works, cartoons, satire, songs, drama, photos and art. Indian democracy has responded to these demands in a rather ‘hasty’ way. Prof. DeSouza expressed that a more finely argued public debate on the place of ‘offensive expression’ is needed for strengthening our democracy and not ceding public space to the heckler demanding a veto on expression.
One of the more difficult cases which he chose is that of MF Husain whose oeuvre covers a wide range of creative works, from film to billboards to the representation of the epics. This talk placed his work within the philosophy of art initiated by the Progressive Artist Group, explored the inspirations that motivated him, examined the paintings considered offensive, discussed the nature of such alleged offense, and inquired what sort of verdict we, as educated citizens, should make on Husain the artist.
The interactive session was lively, but civilized. While opinions were sharply divided, there seemed to be a consensus that a lot of misinformation often clouds public impressions and stands taken by the Government on creative expressions in the public domain.