The Delhi High Court has sent a strong message against ‘competitive intolerance’ by disposing off charges (of offending religious feelings) against the renowned painter M. F. Hussain.
Here are some excerpts from the verdict by High Court Justice Sanjay Kaul:
“In a free and democratic society, tolerance is vital. This is true especially in large and complex societies like ours where people with varied beliefs and interests mingle.”
“India’s new Puritanism, practised by a largely ignorant crowd in the name of Indian spiritual purity, is threatening to throw the nation back into the Pre-Renaissance era.”
“Criminal justice system should not be used as an easy recourse to ventilate against a creative act.”
“Art and authority never had a difficult relationship, until recently…Our greatest problem today is fundamentalism, the triumph of the letter over the spirit.” [source]
I cherish each and every word quoted above, and hail this verdict by Justice Kaul. I do feel that our society should become more tolerant and learn to appreciate the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression. As I have argued earlier (here), I believe that protecting the fundamental right of freedom of expression should be one of the main goals of a liberal, democratic and morally healthy society.
Many examples come to mind while we’re on the topic of cultural intolerance: Banning Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses (India was the first country to do so), trying to get cheerleading banned from IPL, burning the movie theaters that showed the movie Fanaa after Aamir Khan made a controversial remark about those unfortunate displaced families, filing police complaints against Mallika Sheravat for wearing a provocative dress in a function – are just some of the many such incidents.
What’s different in M. F. Hussain’s case though (from the above mentioned and many other such examples) is that this was actually a communal/religious fervor & hatred wearing a mask of cultural intolerance. Justice Kaul didn’t address this facet of the charges in his well-worded verdict (I couldn’t find a full transcript, so I am speculating from the quotes I read so far.) I wonder if such charges were filed against a Hindu (let’s say for drawing a cartoon of prophet Mohammed), would the court had been able to mete out justice in similar fashion? May be not! But that doesn’t mean that the M. F. Hussain verdict is wrong. You can’t fight intolerance with intolerance, right?