The issue of eminent Bangladeshi freethinker and progressive writer Taslima Nasreen’s stay in India is gathering momentum. This truly depicts an example how Islamic fundamentalist forces work unconstitutionally, unlawfully and unethically by taking law in their own hands to penalize a person who merely has availed her human right of freedom of speech and expression, whereas, on the other hand, Indian government is undergoing the stranglehold of various religious fanatics, and has ordered Intelligence Bureau to incarcerate her to a “safe home” in the name of security. Making the law a mockery, these “blameworthy-before-law” fundamentalists are still at large and openly threatening her.
Born on August 25, 1962 in Mymensingh, Bangladesh, Taslima saw many ups and downs in her life parallel to a success as a writer. She made her career in medicine and served as a doctor in various government hospitals untill 1994 in Bangladesh. However, she was fond of literature and she started her extra-medical career in late seventies when she started writing poetry.
Her first collection of poetry was published in 1986 under the title Shikore Bipul Khudha (Hunger in the roots). Her second poetry book Birbashito Bahire Ontore (Banish Without and Within) published in 1989 was a huge success. She penned many books principally favoring women’s emancipation and their human rights, portraying the true situation of women in male dominated and religious fundamentalist society.
She always remained truthful in her writings. In her autobiography she candidly mentioned that she was sexually abused by her relatives and other acquaints in her early years. She, in her writings and life, stands for freedom, secularism, liberalism, progress and spirit of enquiry – the values of a modern world. She’s been honored with various international awards including ‘Distinguished Humanist Award’ from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in 1996.
She suffered for her fiery thoughts expressed in the newspapers as a columnist. In the late eighties, she declared herself to be an atheist. Her critical views on religion and her exposure of the treatment of women under Islam lead her life into a knotty phase.
Bangladesh government banned her popular novel Lajja (Shame) in which she described atrocities on the Hindu minority. She maintains, as quoted in ‘The Statement’ newspaper, that “…the Koran should be revised thoroughly.” According to Taslima, “the religious scriptures are out of time, out of place. Instead of religious laws”, she maintains, “What is needed is a uniform civil code that accords women equality and justice”. Unwilling to bear the weight of her thoughts, the Bangladeshi government, finally, expelled her from Bangladesh in 1993.
Ever since, she has led an expatriated-life, moving from one country to another. 2008 marks the 14th year of Taslima’s exile. About a year ago, she obtained an Indian visa and started to live in Kolkata, an area of her own Bengali community. Meanwhile, she has requested the Indian government to grant her Indian citizenship.
But, this didn’t put an end to her bad days. She was removed from Kolkata by the Government officials, after street riots erupted over her ‘anti-islam’ writings in November 2007. Islamic fundamentalists already have issued a fatwa offering a bounty for her death. Recently, an Islamic body “All India Ittehad Millat Council” of Bareilly (India) awarded Rs. 5,00,000 for her beheading. And this is only the top of the pile of threats she received from various Islamic organizations. Presently, she’s been living in Delhi with round the clock protection.
Indian officials have clearly stated her that she can either continue to stay in New Delhi confined to a room or leave the country.
She is very much upset now, and is in a pitiful state. Hers is a totally restricted life. Neither she is allowed to meet anyone nor any like-minded fellow can come to see her. Meetings are arranged at a third place, if necessary. She is leading a lonely life now, which is really breaking her from within.
“I am only breathing. I don’t think I am alive like you are. Can anybody live like this? It was beyond my imagination that in a secular democracy this can happen to a writer”, Taslima told IANS (Indo Asian News Service) from her room in an undisclosed location in New Delhi on New Year’s Eve. She adds, “What do you think? Will they let me go? You are a journalist, you can tell better. They want to break me psychologically and they might succeed also since my confidence and mental strength are flagging already. I can’t live like this any more”. This vigorous woman went on to add: “But I also want to see how long they can keep me like this. I have decided not to move out of India on my own.”
But, in such a situation how long can a person uphold a psychological balance? Her self-confidence is trembling. A serious question ahead of us is, how in a democratic country one can be force to live like this? Taslima said, “Under this circumstance, one cannot write. I have never ever lived in such misery. I am still in a state of shock.”
Taslima is still confused about that day on Nov 21, 2007 when Kolkata burst into flames over a protest against her continuing stay in the city and she was hastily sent packing – first to Jaipur and then Delhi. She said in a bemused way, “Those who participated in street riots that day did not even hear about me before, they were a small section of people. I don’t think my plight would fetch any number of votes to anybody. And this heightened security is also meaningless since I don’t think my life is so threatened that I would have to live like a prisoner.” Shattered from inside, she says, “On Nov 30, 2007, Taslima had agreed to expunge the controversial portions from her biography Dwikhandita (Split in Two), which shows how scared she is of being uprooted this time from India.
Like-minded artists, writers and social activists of Kolkata are coming up now to mobilize support for the writer whose plucky expressions on the state of women in Islam and the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh alienated the minister and governments, forcing her to live in exile and under heavy security.
Now, Indian progressive writers and humanist organizations have started a campaign supporting her Indian citizenship, permanent abode and protection from fanatic forces. This campaign should be boosted with International humanist organizations in an active way before it is too late.
Gurinder Singh Azad
Board Member IHEYO
Tarksheel Society Punjab (India)