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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 8

Our Battle

Saturday 9 February 2008, by SC



While the latest events in Mumbai have shocked the conscience of the country with a section targeting non-Maharashtrians in the cosmopolitan metropolis, it is equally shocking that 45-year-old Taslima Nasreen, the exiled Bangladeshi author and poetess, is in virtual detention in an undisclosed ‘safe’ house in New Delhi; this has been ostensibly to “protect” her from Muslim fundamentalists baying for her blood while the authorities are leaving no stone unturned to force her to leave this country. Her health has deteriorated and when it comes to medical assistance she is being meted out the most shabby treatment. At the same time her resident permit to stay in India has not been extended; it expires on February 17. In the wake of such an attitude of the Government of India, which is operating in close consultation with the State Government of West Bengal in the matter, veteran public figures like retired Supreme Court judge V.R. Krishna Iyer and UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh have strongly urged the government and ruling party leaders to extend humanitarian support to Taslima and protect her rights. In a letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi Madanjeet (who, despite being 84 years old, has also threatened to go on fast in case Taslima is not allowed to go back and lead a normal life in Kolkata by February 10) has pointed out that the ugly episode was becoming an international scandal and the UNESCO Director-General too was highly concerned over it; in his opinion, the development was "severely damaging the secular credibility of the Congress and UPA” as well.

Taslima Nasreen has been in exile since 1994. The following piece by the Mainstream editor, which appeared in this journal on June 25, 1994 when Taslima became the target of bigots in Bangladesh, brings out the essence of her struggle which is in reality our battle in defence of secularism. In the light of the latest developments we should not forget that aspect of Taslima’s struggle. As we demand extension of Taslima’s resident permit to enable her to stay on in this country and her free movement with adequate protection, the following piece also brings out the necessity of standing by the creative writer at the present juncture with all the strength at our command.

February 7 S.C.

They had branded the national poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam, one of the leading literary figures of undivided Bengal whose poems still stir the Bengali youth, as a “kafer”. Why? Because Nazrul had the audacity to write:

Are they Hindus or Muslims?—who asks such a question!
- O Helmsman, tell them it is the people
- who are drowning—
- They are all children of my mother.

The same elements are today out in the streets of Dhaka calling for the execution of the young Bangladeshi poetess and writer, Taslima Nasreen. The pretext: Taslima is alleged to have hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims by speaking out against the Holy Quran, a charge stoutly denied by the writer. She insists she had only called for a change in the Shariat laws, as has been done in many an Islamic country, for the benefit of women.

The fundamentalist forces are not amenable to reason. Their attack on Taslima is not only because of her fiercely independent views in defence of the rights of the woman and her emancipation from the age-old bondage to which she is subjected in a patriarchal society. Essentially they are opposed to change—change for the better in any society. And they cannot stomach Taslima’s courage to fearlessly advocate the removal of all barriers in the minds of the citizens of this subcontinent thus pulling down the artificial walls erected by the pernicious two-nation theory.

There is no contradiction between religion and modernity. Only when fanaticism affects one’s thought-processes does fundamentalism propped up by bigotry take hold of one’s consciousness. And that is regressive in every sense of the term.

It was freedom from fundamentalism which had led to the birth of independent Bangladesh twentythree years ago under the banner of linguistic nationalism, democracy and secularism. Today the same fundamentalism is trying to make a back-door entry into the country by organising a so-called popular movement against Taslima Nasreen. The standard-bearers of fundamentalism are emboldened as never before since the powers-that-be are easily acquiescing to their intimidatory tactics. But not the progressive forces of Bangladesh. It is these forces who have decided to resist the fundamentalist onslaught with all the strength at their command. They have vowed to vigorously oppose the June 30 hartal called by the fanatics demanding Taslima’s head. The Bangladeshi nationalists are well aware that the attack on Taslima is basically an attack on Bangladesh’s independence, a conspiracy to turn the nation into a ‘second Pakistan’ with all the trappings of mullah-raj.

There is a striking convergence of the ideas and objectives of Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists. The blood-brothers of those calling for the blood of Taslima in Dhaka had threatened to shoot Nikhil Wagle, the editor of the Marathi publication, Mahanagar, in Bombay for his anti-Shiv Sena pronouncements.

By expressing our full solidarity with Taslima and the forces of progress in Bangladesh today can we redeem our pledge to wage a relentless struggle for rooting out fundamentlism from our soil—fundamentalism that was responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya (which act promoted fundamentalism in our neighbouring states) as well as the wanton assault on democracy and freedom of expression by the senseless bigots. Thereby can we make a real contribution towards reinforcing the bonds of Hindu-Muslim unity in our subcontinent.

Taslima’s battle is, therefore, our own battle.

(Mainstream, June 25, 1994)

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