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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2828

Taslima Nasreen: The Daughter of Eternal Bangladesh on the run in India -2

- Rajen Thakur for Asian Tribune

Dhaka , 27 November, ( : Something is acutely disturbing in India as it crosses the 60th milestone of Independence. Communalism and intolerance are rising in a country that is found on the bedrock of secularism. Clearly, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musalmeen legislators and their army of hoodlums who barged into a press conference hall in Hyderabad on August 9 to vent their ire on the exiled Bangladesh novelist and social commentator, Taslima Nasreen, represent the elements, who are bringing a bad name to Islam at a very inopportune time.Taslima NasreenTaslima Nasreen

That a woman, a foreign guest, can be assaulted before an assembly of media persons and television cameras makes the event even more shocking, displaying as it does the MIM’s disregard for the law of the land Granted that some of the literary outpourings of Taslima Nasreen ended up grating the sensibilities of the practitioners of orthodox Islam, as has the work of another internationally known author from the sub-continent, Salman Rushdie. Anyone who offers their scalp can expect a bounty from the clergies who have issued fatwas for their head. But headhunting as a pastime does not exactly go very well in the present age. Besides, there is the question of allowing room for dissent, howsoever, distasteful it may be.

This is not to say that acquiescing with the views of writers like Taslima Nasreen is de rigueur for acceptance among the ‘enlightened’. Their prose can be provocative but that does not necessarily make it readable in the opinion of all readers and, as stated, there is no obligation not to criticize their controversial views. The objectionable part is the violent way of expressing disagreement, especially by legislators.

The attack on Taslima Nasreen by an Indian group will probably bring to attention a sordid chapter in the history of the nascent state of Bangladesh, her home country. One of the ‘objectionable’ subjects she has touched upon in her writings is the fact that after emerging from the shackles of the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh had baptized itself under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman as a ‘secular’ country but has since forgotten about it. During the last days of Pakistani occupation of Bangladesh, an astonishing number of two million Hindus were massacred by the Pakistani forces. But after the birth of the new nation, avowedly ‘secular’, the pain in the minority community began to subside.

Not for long though. The founder of the ‘secular’ nation, Sheikh Mujib, was assassinated along with most members of his family by forces who were not reconciled to the secular character of Bangladesh. The persecution of minorities was resumed after Mujib. From being nearly the quarter of the country’s population, the minorities in Bangladesh today constitute less than 10 percent of the population.

Some of Taslima Nasreen’s works depict the reality of this tragedy (as also some aspects of social practices that have religious sanction). Dhaka is naturally upset and would prefer to see her live in exile. Those in this country who denounce her accounts of atrocities on the minorities seem to share their ire against her with the authorities in Dhaka and endorse the reasons for her virtual banishment from her motherland.

A day before the Kolkata clerics called for the expulsion of Taslima Nasreen, a huge gathering of free-thinking Muslims assembled under the banner of Secular Humanist Forum, to support the Bangladeshi writer of Lajja (Shame), Dwikhandito (Divided), Aamar Meyebela (My Girlhood). ''It is these rational voices that should represent the Muslims of a secular democratic India'', Taslima, a qualified doctor, tells Ratnottama Sengupta:

Why are your writings hurting your co-religionists?

I was born Muslim but became an atheist at 13. I cannot accept any religion that keeps women in slavery, people in ignorance, and prescribes persecution of the people of a different faith. I have always written for human rights, women's rights and secular humanism. I want no Hindu, Muslim, Christian or any other religious law that is anti-women. I demand a uniform civil code based on equality and justice for all. This has been my fight for decades.

Is freedom of expression above all else?

I will continue to speak, and if there is democracy in this country, my freedom of expression will be protected. My issue shows up how many are in favour of secular thinking, how few for fundamentalism. The bulk of Muslims are underprivileged - economically, educationally. They need to be enlightened. When i wrote against domestic violence, chauvinistic males and patriarchs protested, but verbally. To dilute the impact of my content some said i can't write; some attributed commercial motives; some character-assassinated me. But the fundamentalists want to end my life. My writings are not literary works, they stand for an idea. And that is what these men want to kill. I'm saying, secular laws of civilised societies should be based on gender equality, not on religious constructs that put one sex above another. But i find that every religion is against women. Should i be silenced for saying this?

Is exile in India better than in Germany?

I write to raise awareness against sexual exploitation. The north European countries have attained a greater degree of equality between sexes. Where that is lacking, i have a role to play. Besides, i write in Bengali, so my readership is in this corner of India that is now my home - although I'll always fight for my right to be in Bangladesh.

I wouldn't have had to fight if we were living in a just society. My fight is for an idea, and ideas cannot be restricted by boundaries - historical, geographical, political or religious. I see humanity as a multicoloured mosaic of societies. I firmly belong to the family of rational humans. From Christianity to Judaism, every religion has separated state laws from repressive practices. Only Islamic rulers won't hear of reforms. Why isolate the liberal Muslim by saying, "It's their internal matter?"

Why Taslima left Bangladesh?

"The charging of the Government of Khaleda Zia at the publication of a short novel Lajja by a medical doctor Taslima Nasreen in February 1993 depicting the plight of a Hindu family is understandable. The book was promptly proscribed and the passport of the author impounded, which made her an international celebrity overnight, Mr. Borhanuddin Ahmad, a former secretary to the Bangladesh Government wrote (Borhan, p-323)

A letter from Mulk Raj Anand entitled "Freedom's daughter" said: "Taslima Nasrin! Freedom's daughter! …. so deep is your sense of common humanity in your novel, Lajja (Shame), that you show the horror perpetrated by the Muslims on the Hindus of Bangladesh in the fanatical destruction of thousands of temples in answer to the Hindu fundamentalists' wanton destruction of the early 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhaya. In your novel about the family of Dr Sudhamoya, his wife Kironmoyee, son Suranjan and daughter Maya,….

Old healer Dr. Sudhamoy stubbornly clings to Bangladesh soil. After deep resistance to going away to India, he ultimately agrees with his son, Suranjan, a forward youth defeated by the Muslim terror, to leave for India, after their daughter Maya has been abducted by some fundamentalist's gang and, they reckon, raped to death Kironmayee, devoted mother, accepts this. Taslima, you have been asking for a change of the family law of Bangladesh which is against women…… The Bangladesh Government under a woman Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who has not changed the family law against woman, inclines on the side of the fundamentalists and has issued a warrant for your arrest for causing a disturbance of peace. She has not taken any steps to revise the Constitution devised by General Ershad, who made Islam the state religion of Bangladesh. And the Government has banned your book Lajja. Even Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the valiant Mujibur Rahman, is silent with her Awami League followers in cowardly retreat before fanatics. .…. We are the older colleagues of the women writers, Ismat Chughtai, Rashid Jahan, Kamla Das and Mahasweta Devi…. And we defend your right to say…. Uncle Mulk, Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi of India and Laureate of the International Peace Prize.(Frontline, 12 August 1994).

The security forces stormed the Jagannath Hall, Dhaka University’s dormitory for non-Muslim students, majority of who were Hindus, on 31 January 1996 which was reminiscent of 1971 repression on the members of the minority community. The AL failed to act properly in protecting the Hindus at Bhola and some other places as backlash of Babri mosque demolition in 1992. In 1993, happened Tasleema Nasreen fiasco; not only the AL failed publicly to come in support of the writer, it finally accepted the Jamaat as a "political reality'.

From the Jamaat's stand point, the AL's departure from its stand against religious political parties and support for Justice Badrul Haider Chowdhury, who was not AL's presidential nominee, presented Jamaat with the greatest opportunity to gainful legitimacy in the post-nineties politics. That is why Jamaat, the killers of 1971, attended Shahid Minar and Swadhinata Smrity Soudha and National Armed Forces day functions.

The minority community in Bangladesh looks vacantly, as a scapegoat, although they had sacrificed everything at the altar of Liberation. For it was finally accepted by the AL, the ultimate champion of the liberation war, secularism, Bengali nationalism and almost every thing that the Jamaat stands against. On her second term journey as Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the US State Department's country report on Bangladesh in 1993 and 1994 could be repeatedly produced only changing the dates and years. The wave of attacks against the Hindu community began before the general elections of Ist October 2001. The backlash after the elections was systematic and severe. A sense of insecurity was prevailing among the members of minority community in the post-poll period. The Hindus decided to celebrate the "Durga Puja" without festivity in October 2001.

- To Be Continued –

Rajen Thakur, an author, researcher and columnist.

- Asian Tribune –

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Taslima Nasreen: The Daughter of Eternal Bangladesh on the run in India- But Why?

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