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Commentary / Vir Sanghvi

The campaign against Husain makes every Hindu feel small

M F Hussain Iam not going to bore you with the traditional liberal case for M F Husain and his paintings of Indian goddesses. By now, we all know that the paintings are not obscene-- nudity is not the same as vulgarity -- and are unlikely to cause offence to anybody except perhaps for those VHP/Shiv Sena members who believe that the approved dress code for heaven is khaki knickers.

As for the arguments for freedom of artistic expression etc., we've been through all that too often before. All you need to is dig out any of the articles that my colleagues and I have written about The Satanic Verses over the last five years. Substitute 'paining' for 'book' and 'Husain' for 'Rushdie' and the case remains the same.

My point this week is entirely different. I object to what the Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar are doing not because I'm a liberal (any liberal who expects better from this lot must be an idiot) but because I'm a Hindu.

It is difficult to say this without sounding politically incorrect: but there is no doubt that in some deep, almost subconscious sense, we Hindus regard ourselves as being followers of the world's greatest religion. It isn't just that Hinduism predates Christianity by thousands of years (and Christianity predates Islam) or that its essential themes of the primacy of the soul and the universality of creation are far more complex than the our-messiah-showed-the-way approach of most other religions.

It is more that Hinduism-- despite such medieval developments as the caste system-- remains in individualistic religion. We are content to let each other be. There is no crusading church, there are no mad mullahs, and there is no hysterical clergy to lay down the law. Our beliefs are personal, not congregational.

With the individual approach comes a certain kind of tolerance. it is almost a truism to say that the reason why India remains one of the few populous democracies in the Third World is because it is largely Hindu. Democracy is about tolerance, about respecting the other person's right to be and to believe. Hinduism is about the same things.

The greatness of the Hindu approach is that it can shape a secular political tradition without narrowing its scope. What could have been more Hindu than Gandhiji's movement? And yet, there was not a single element of sectarianism or communalism in his appeal.

When he died it was because of narrow-minded Hindus who objected to this absence of sectarianism. Nevertheless, with his last words -- Hey Ram, Hey Ram -- he affirmed his faith in the greater Hindu tradition.

M K Gandhi It is no secret that there have always been those -- followers of the Hindu Mahasabha or Nathuram Godse, for example -- who reject the tolerance and individualism of Hinduism and want it to take on a narrower, more militaristic form.

Six years ago, Dr Karan Singh memorably described the organised hysteria of the anti-Babri Masjid movement as an example of the semitisation of Hinduism. It is one of the lasting ironies of sectarian conflict in this country that many of those who attack Islam regret only that Hinduism is not more like Islam itself.

There is a reason for this. An organised religion, with a clergy or a church, also lends itself more to political organisation. It was easy enough for Iran's Shia mullahs to make themselves the focus of opposition to the Shah. And in Northern Ireland, the division between the Catholic and Protestant churches has made it easier for the political battle to be conducted.

Vir Sanghvi Continued

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