Autobiography: “My girlhood” (1999) and “My youth” (2002)
Taslima Nasreen is an author in exile. She is a feminist and has received several death threats for her anti-religious writings.
Born Nasrin Jahan Taslima to Rajab Ali and Idul Ara, Taslima Nasrin, also spelled Taslima Nasreen and popularly referred to as ‘Taslima’, her first name, rather than ‘Nasreen’ (born 1962 in Mymensingh, East Pakistan) is a Bengali Bangladeshi ex-physician turned feminist author who describes herself as a secular humanist. From a modest literary profile in the late 1980s, she achieved a meteoric rise to global fame by the end of the twentieth century, for her criticism of Islam and of religion in general. As return to Bangladesh was not possible, Taslima settled in Calcutta, India after long stay in Paris and Stockholm. In 2007, in the teeth of social protest, the government of India kept her in confinement in an undisclosed location for several months under tight security cover. Suffocated, she decided to quit India and eventually relocated to Sweden once again. In August 2008 she was allowed to return to India but was asked to quit in October again.
She studied medicine at the Mymensingh Medical College and after graduating in 1986, she worked as a government physician until 1994. She began writing poetry while she was still at high school and published a poetry leaflet titled Snejuti from Mymensingh in early 1980s. She published her first anthology of poems titled Shikore Bipul Khudha(tr. Hunger in the Roots) in 1986. It was an anthology of 38 poems composed between 1980 and 1984. She specialized in writing short lyrics based on personal experience.
She succeeded in drawing attention of a wider readership when she started writing columns in the weekly magazine Khabarer Kagoj, encouraged by her second husband Naimul Islam Khan. Her alleged anti-Islam writings caused controversy throughout Bangladesh, and her feminist stance began to crystallize during the course of these articles. Her own experience of sexual abuse during adolescence and her work as a gynaecologist where she routinely examined young girls who had been raped, influenced her a great deal in writing about the treatment of women in Islam.
Her literary debut in the genre of fiction began with the publication of a 76 page novella titled Lajja, (a Bangla word meaning shame) where she, through graphic description of the rape of a Hindu girl by a Muslim man, purported to symbolize marginalization of the Hindu community in Bangladesh. Taslima subsequently revised the novella, restructuring and substantiating with more information. It is now more than 200 pages long.
The Government banned the book and, allegedly an Islamic fundamentalist group declared a death sentence. In 1993, she was charged with blasphemy. An arrest warrant was issued and Taslima went into hiding. After two months she surrendered to the High Court and immediately left Bangladesh after receiving bail. Since 1994 she has lived in many countries in exile including France, Sweden and India. In the meanwhile, she has published a number of fictional and autobiographical accounts, in addition to poetry. Her autobiographical writings have also proved to be provocative and have faced governmental sanctions in India as well as Bangladesh. Taslima was penning her sixth autobiographical book, Nei Kichu Nei (There is nothing), but the continued movement against her through 2007 and expulsion from Calcutta disrupted further writing.
The author’s other autobiographical works are Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), Dwikhandito (Split up into Two). Sei Sob Andhakar (Those Dark Days) and Ami Bhalo Nei, Tumi Bhalo Theko Desh (I am not well, stay well my homeland).
Autobiographical books of Taslima raised controversy not only because of her criticisms of Islam but also for narratives involving the private lives of people. Taslima candidly described her sexual relationship with a number of named persons. She also touched upon her relationship with her four Bangladeshi husbands. Published in 2003, Ka, her third autobiographical book, was the first to raise such issues.
Taslima received criticism by several progressive writers and intellectuals who described Ka as a book written with the “business aspect in mind”. The 400-page book was described as nothing but pornography or “autobiographical Kama Sutra” by commentator and writer Masuda Bhatti. Ka, published in Bangladesh, is a self-censored version of Dwikhondito published in India. Dwikhondito is said to contain critical comments on the prophet Muhammad. The latter was also banned in India by the Calcutta High Court in the state of West Bengal on 18 November 2004.
Apart from Lajja, Taslima’s first four autobiographical volumes have been banned in Bangladesh. Police were told to confiscate all copies of Wild Wind. The Home Ministry in Bangladesh claimed that they “contain anti-Islamic sentiments and statements that could destroy the religious harmony of Bangladesh.” While talking to the BBC Bengali service, Taslima claimed that there was no freedom of expression in the country. “It is a democratic country but there is no real democracy in Bangladesh”. Wild Wind is the sequel to My Girlhood, published in 1999, which was also banned in Bangladesh for blasphemy. In November of 2003, the West Bengal government in India banned the sale, distribution and collection of Taslima’s Dwikhandito, the third part of her autobiography. However, the ban was lifted by the High Court in September 2005.
Taslima’s life in exile commenced when she left Bangladesh in 1994 to avoid arrest. As of 2008, Taslima has been living in exile for more than 14 years. Though she is still a citizen of Bangladesh, she has in the meanwhile been awarded Swedish citizenship. She enjoyed living in developed countries like France and Sweden where she had the freedom of speech and could choose a life style that she preferred. But as time passed by she became eager to return home. But she could not return to Bangladesh since she did not have a valid Bangladeshi passport anymore. In 1993, when she appeared at the airport for traveling to India, her passport was confiscated by the Bangladeshi immigration department on a charge of attempting to hide her real profession. However, when after she left Bangladesh in 1994, Bangladesh Embassies abroad declined to renew her passport and at once stage the validity of her passport expired. In this circumstances she decided to move to Calcutta, a city in India very close to Bangladesh. She enjoyed living in Calcutta where she could speak in her mother tongue. The government of India extended her visa to stay in India on a periodic basis. visa given by the Indian government although Taslima requested the Indian government to grant her Indian citizenship. After a huge agitation in spread over October and November, she was forced to leave Calcutta and the government of India kept her in an undisclosed location near New Delhi. In March 2008, Taslima decided to leave India and returned to Sweden. Incidents in India during 2007 prompted Taslima to begin writing a new book to be titled Narir kono desh nei” (tr. A woman has no country).
Taslima Nasreen returned to India on 08 August 2008. Immediately after her arrival at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, she was whisked away by security agencies to an undisclosed destination. Taslima has requested permanent Indian residency, but as yet the government has not obliged. Most unexpectedly, the government of India asked her to leave the country and she quietly left for Europe on 15 October 2008. Currently she is staying in an undisclosed location in Europe.
Taslima has received a number of international awards, some are listed here: