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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 22, May 21, 2011

Change Is Such Hard Work

Tuesday 24 May 2011, by Taslima Nasreen

Noted writer and novelist Taslima Nasreen wrote the following piece for The Times of India where it was published. However, after its publication she sent the original piece to the Mainstream editor because in the daily’s Delhi edition the last part was abridged. We are carrying the original in full, with the author’s permission, for the benefit of our readers.

It is my conviction that most people who voted for Trinamul voted not because of love for or confidence in the party but from sheer rage at the big guys and petty thugs of the Left and the crimes they’ve been committing. We all know that if there was no killing or rape in Singur and Nandigram and if the media were not constantly publicising these atrocities, it would not have been so easy to defeat the CPM in the 2011 Assembly Elections. Thirtyfour years in power is long enough to make sane people insane. Politicians on the Left now need to take at least five years off to reform, to become wiser and stronger.

I am a Bengali and I wish from the bottom of my heart for Bengal to become a great state; and I fully support the ‘change’ the Opposition leader has promised to bring about. But at the end of the day, even I am not without doubt. This probably makes me like those people in the subcontinent who hesitate to trust politicians, even if they become popular as the leaders of a revolution who will flush all the monsters away in an instant. But even so, a hope has walked hand in hand with a dream since I heard the magic word ‘change’. Talking about change implies that what was before wasn’t perfect— and everyone surely wants things to be better! In a progressive country, should change not be constant? Should change not be inevitable?

A few countries still call themselves ‘communist’, even though genuine communism is not practised anywhere. A tiny little Indian State has long been ruled by people who proudly call themselves ‘Communists’ and support Stalin— one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants in history. With very few exceptions, nothing they did was based on the ideas of true communism. If they had been, poverty, prostitution and the patriarchal system would have been banished. There would have been separation of religion from state, society and education. But instead there has been a mushrooming of madrasas, mosques, temples and shrines. Because they call themselves Communists, not only the whole nation but the anti-communist world stood alongside the Opposition to help crush these ‘Communists’. Fear of a communist takeover of the world is no longer a serious concern, yet hatred and fear of communism remain.

All ‘change’ does not mean evolution, as all movement is not forward. But in the case of West Bengal, even those who do not support capitalism hope for an end of corruption and crime and a real move towards setting up infrastructure and industries. Change is not an easy matter; even change for the better is bound to be accompanied by some discomfort. I am afraid that the winning candidates are not all saints. Villagers’ lives will not be freed from worries starting tomorrow. The poor and the needy will continue to live miserable lives. The homeless will still sleep on the streets. Poverty, illiteracy and oppression will not be eradicated. The lives of sex-slaves will remain the same. The slave trade will continue. Rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, dowry-murders, bride-burning, female foeticide will not cease overnight. If patriarchal structures and anti-women traditions and customs all remain unchanged, then what kind of change are we really looking at? Almost no one is against industrialisation, even the govern-ment of the Left Front was eager to go ahead, repeatedly pleading with investors to invest in development. I don’t believe change is about switching from communism to capitalism, or from Leftist to Rightist power. In India, political parties are neither on the Left nor on the Right. Their policies don’t really differ much.

WILL there be ‘real change’—such as reducing the huge gap between the poor and the rich? Will there be free education and healthcare for all? Will modern, well-equipped hospitals and scientific academies be built to train people to be rational, logical and freethinking minds and promote a modern scientific outlook? Will science join battle with superstition? Will there be rehabilitation, retraining or job creation for the unemployed, or those wretchedly exploited as sex-slaves—right in the capital’s heart? Will there be an end to the slave-trade and sexual slavery that oppress, supress and denigrate women? Will there be a society free from the bigotry, obscurantism and fanaticism that oppose equality and justice for women? Will there be a uniform civil code based on equality and justice instead of the religious law that discriminates against women? Will there be any change of the misogynistic mindset? Is there really any project to proceed towards real change? If none of these things happens, ‘change’ will merely be words spoken by bullies; ‘change’ will merely be a change of ruler.

I am dreamer, yes, but I am also an optimist. Mamata Banerjee is making history by chasing the organised power of the CPM from office after 34 long years and making possible the impossible; I hope she will try to do many things to improve the condition of women. Nobody can deny that it is women who suffer the most. If women are treated as second-class citizens and denied equal rights, it is hypocrisy to call this democracy a true democracy! Women have been fighting to bring about change—and the leader of this change is herself a woman.

I am not a pessimist. As a Bengali writer who dedicates her life to the fight for women’s rights and secular humanism and democracy, I dream of taking my place in Bengal, a Bengal ruled by the most courageous woman in recent Indian history.

Is that too much to dream? People do not ask for much, do not expect much. If they get a few more underground lines, or a few more buses, or a few more factory jobs, or cheap vegetables —then they’ll be more than happy. People often forget that it is not they who should be afraid of the government but the government that should be afraid of them! People who are not politically aware can be easily fooled by those in power.

Everybody is talking about ‘change’—superficial change, not the deeper change of the structure of society or politics. I would prefer to welcome a stagnant society evolving, moving towards enlightenment. What will go down in history as remarkable is not the ousting of a ruler but the banishment of darkness through enlightenment.

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