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Asset-stripping notice against Husain over nudes
- Attachment documents pasted on flat to force artist to return from abroad and heed court summons
M.F. Husain

May 6: Maqbool Fida Husain had fled India fearing arrest or attacks over a few nude paintings — now he runs the risk of his property being sealed if he doesn’t return.

After targeting the Shilpa Shettys and Richard Geres, India’s newly energised culture police today got its hands on the country’s best-known painter, with police pasting an attachment notice on the door of Husain’s south Mumbai flat.

A Hardwar judge had ordered attachment of all his properties in India after the 91-year-old artist ignored several summons in a case relating to his nude paintings of Hindu goddesses and a notional Bharatmata. Mumbai police received the April 13 order last week.

Husain’s nudes are said to have offended sensibilities — the argument used recently by a Rajasthan magistrate to issue an arrest warrant against Hollywood actor Gere for kissing Shilpa in public in Delhi.

The artist’s best option is to quickly move the Supreme Court and argue, from his self-imposed exile in London and Dubai, that the case be transferred from Hardwar and clubbed with several similar ones pending against him in Delhi. He can then seek a stay on the attachment order. Some legal sources said Husain may have already moved the apex court.

“This is a dark hour… when the government has started capturing the property and goodwill of artists,” Bhopal-based artist Akhilesh said.

“He (Husain) raised the status of Indian contemporary art internationally,” said Delhi-based artist Arpita Singh. “We give undue importance to things that do not count. Husain is in Dubai now. He is 90-plus, yet he cannot return to his own country.”

The Cuffe Parade building which houses Husain’s apartment. (Fotocorp)

Husain has been under fire from the Hindu Right over his nudes, and a series of criminal cases have been filed against him. Last year, he had got some of these moved to Delhi from courts in Indore, Bhopal and Rajkot but the Hardwar case was filed after that.

On the petition of lawyer Arvind Srivastava, special judicial magistrate K.S. Shukla had issued a bailable warrant against the painter on January 2 this year, and summoned him on February 20. This was followed by a non-bailable warrant and finally, the April 13 order.

The police found the first-floor flat at Jolly Maker-III, Cuffe Parade, locked though Husain’s son Shafat is believed to be staying there. The police will find out if the painter owns any other property in the city.

For over a year now, Husain has been shuttling between London and Dubai. One of his sons, Owais, who directed the film Meenaxi – A Tale of Three Cities with his father, lives in the Gulf while daughter Raisa is in the US.

Exile hasn’t saved him from Hindutva vandals entirely -- two of his works at a London exhibition were sprayed with red paint. Nor has the heat come only from the Right.

A Union home ministry source lent credence to Husain’s fears of arrest if he returns. Last year, following an Intelligence Bureau report that his paintings could cause communal tension, the ministry had told all the states to arrest him if he appeared within their borders. “The advisory still holds,” the source said.

Amid the accusations of Husain denigrating Indian culture, novelist Shashi Tharoor told the Boston Globe: “As an artist, he has delved into Indian culture further than [into] his own faith. His inspirations cut across Indian culture…. It’s far more authentic to display in art Hindu goddesses without clothes than to impose a post-Victorian morality.”

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