It is significant that no politician of consequence has spoken in favour of M.F.Husain's objectionable paintings of Hindu goddesses. Kapil Sibal insinuates that they represent the "soul of India". Sibal should be taken as seriously about matters of the soul as Charles Sobhraj apropos safety of tourists. This writer knows no Hindu outside of the "liberal/ secular" sect who would hang the originals or prints of Husain's objectionable paintings in his/ her puja room. This does not sanction the violence of those who targeted Husain, whose death in exile is tragic. But equally, artistic freedom cannot be taken for license.

Was Husain willfully hurting Hindu sentiments by making these paintings? Not knowing him personally, this writer can only say, very likely not. You cannot get very far in art if you set out to hurt. You would get controversy, publicity, possibly a fatwa. But you would choke up creatively.

All Husain need have done about his controversial paintings was to apologize. An apology does not demean an artist, even if the hurt caused is unintended. His paintings could not have been unpainted. But it would have put the lid on the controversy, and Husain could have stayed home. What about artistic "freedom", the "secular" critics will rail. Well, in certain circumstances, they have to be curtailed. In today's circumstances of heightened religious sensitivities, everybody has to be on guard about what they speak, write or paint.

These heightened religious sensitivities may seem a curiously Indian phenomenon, producing an alleged illiberality in the arts. But this is far from the truth. These sensitivities are indeed products of developments outside India, and they go back to the decade before the end of the Cold War.

In the Polish Pope John Paul II, in 1978, the West found an unwitting religious instrument to unravel "godless" Soviet Russia. It did not assist Russia that it had persecuted its own Orthodox Church. But at its worst, it still represented a denominational struggle between the East and West.

That changed with the creation, funding and arming of the so-called mujahideen in Pakistan against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. There is reason to believe that the mujahideen operations were commenced by the Jimmy Carter administration (the villain being Zbigniew Brzezinski) to provoke a Soviet intervention.

Subsequent events are well known. The Cold War terminated in 1989 and Francis Fukuyama exulted that the West had won and history had ended. It was nothing quite as simple and triumphal as that.

The mujahideen terrorism incubated and matured in Pakistan radiated worldwide, affecting India in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere, spawned the Taliban and Bamiyan Buddha destroyers, and created an international terrorist organization called the Al-Qaeda with an apocalyptic vision of creating a global caliphate. 9/11 was a product of that insane vision.

In reaction to that, the West led by the US attacked Muslim lands commencing with Afghanistan. Those that speak of the illiberality of India compared to the West miss an essential and obvious point.

At home, the West may be liberal (although, among other things, Muslims by and large are politely refused visas by the US). But it is not only illiberal but savage in its foreign interventions, all of them unfailingly taking place in Muslim lands.

In contrast, when has India invaded and occupied a sovereign Muslim country, aside from the exceptional and extraordinary creation of Bangladesh, provoked by the refugee crisis? Indeed, it was a BJP-led NDA government under A.B.Vajpayee that refused to deploy troops in Iraq staving off US pressure.

Many of those who attack India for illiberality in arts spouted anger at the refusal to toe the US line on Iraq.

This magazine and this writer consistently wrote against any Iraqi deployment, and the Vajpayee government had the wisdom to take that position. The point is, since the end of the Cold War and the heightened tension among faiths (itself the consequence of the death of secular ideology, chiefly communism), all countries have been at risk of uncontained religious identification. Suicide bombing is a manifestation of it. And yet, besides the Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh suicide bombings, why has there been no other here?

India has been saved from the worst ravages of post-Cold War Islamist terrorism (26/11 is Pakistani terrorism) because of its culture of tolerance. All religions are allowed freedom of worship. But there is an unwritten understanding, a tradition, that no faith will denigrate another. Which is why you do not have the equivalent of the Danish Prophet's cartoons here.

The government did not proscribe the publication of the Danish cartoons.

But India's civilizational culture/ code/ ethos does not permit the insulting or hurting of the deeply held religious beliefs of another religion.

When school books cast aspersions on one of the Sikh gurus, this writer and this magazine supported the government's decision to censor the text. This writer has also supported the ban on Satanic Verses for the simple reason that no book can be the cause of potential violence.

Given all this background, Husain as a non-Hindu should have been sensitive to the feeling of Hindus. Art and artistic freedom cannot be put on a higher plane than civil peace, especially not in these fraught post-Cold War times.

To start with, Husain was very likely innocent of seeking to cause hurt with his controversial paintings. But once they became controversial, all he needed to say was a heartfelt sorry. He did not.

This does not justify the violence against his paintings. All violence is condemnable. But we hardly live in a perfect world.

A sad chapter has ended with Husain's death in exile. But it would be perilous to ignore the circumstances and the forces of history that made him an exile. The "secular" firebrands who have woken to life after Husain's death are so deracinated (an awful but appropriate word) that they do not have the smallest understanding of these issues or of this country.

Religious sensitivities need the tenderest handling, and art, like it or not, cannot expect to find exclusion from this.