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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > April 26, 2008 > On Taslima Nasreen: A Rejoinder to Shahabuddin’s Letter

Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 19

On Taslima Nasreen: A Rejoinder to Shahabuddin’s Letter

Sunday 27 April 2008



A statement on Taslima Nasreen’s departure from India, signed by several persons, was published in Mainstream (April 5, 2008). Reacting to it Syed Shahabuddin wrote a letter which was published in Mainstream (April 19, 2008). The following is a rejoinder to the letter by some signatories of the statement.

We have not mentioned anywhere in the statement that Taslima Nasreen is a “stateless person” or a “political refugee” or a “guest of the government”. Shri Shahabuddin’s reference to her status in India in these terms is, therefore, a non-issue so far as we are concerned. We do not know what is the purpose behind his raising these extraneous issues. It is true that Taslima Nasreen did not come to India as a “stateless person” or as a “political refugee”, but it is also true that she did not come to India for touristic purpose. She came to live here and pursue her vocation in peace and in a conducive environment, just as J.B.S. Haldane, Ruskin Bond and several other eminent foreigners came and lived in India. Many of them ended up by becoming Indian citizens. We have advocated the same for Taslima Nasreen.

Shri Shahabuddin has stated that in our statement we have defined democracy in a manner which violates the cultural ethos of India. There is no such implication in our statement. In our view, the cultural ethos of India lies in tolerance, co-existence of different beliefs and points of view and spirit of freedom. Shri Shahabuddin apparently has a different notion of “cultural ethos”.

He has also stated that Taslima Nasreen is not a crusader for freedom. We beg to differ from him on this point. That she has been a crusader for freedom, particularly women’s liberation, is evident from her writings not from the time of the publication of Dwikhandito, but from the early 1990s. The least that we would have expected from Shri Shahabuddin to do before coming to the conclusion that she is not a crusader for freedom or that she is a “writer of sorts”, is to read her work, particularly her poems, many of which are available in English translation.

Shri Shahabuddin has made the gratuitous suggestion that Taslima Nasreen should have stayed in her native land and faced her situation valiantly. How Taslima Nasreen should carry out her campaign for freedom is entirely her judgement and not something which can be decided by others. There is no reason why her commitment to freedom must be tested by her willingness to rot in jail in Bangladesh, or be lynched by a mob or executed by the court’s order. Pursuing freedom and secular values by staying in one’s native land and facing the situation valiantly is generally possible in a liberal and secular state like India and not in a theocratic state or a state based on religious fundamentalism.

So long as Taslima Nasreen has a valid visa, she has every right to return to India. Besides, we have advocated that her visa should be extended and she should be allowed to stay in India as long as she wants. We agree with the Minister of External Affairs, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, that during her stay in India she should in her conduct, particularly in her exercise of freedom of expression, follow the conditions prescribed in the Indian Constitution. We believe that during her stay in India from 2004 to 2008, she did not say or do anything which amounted to an abuse or violation of the conditions under which she was given the permission to stay. She did not, as alleged by Shri Shahabuddin, “engage in public activities and make statements which hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community and provoked their protest and thus created disorder”. There is not a shred of evidence to substantiate these allegations. If Shri Shahabuddin has such evidence, we challenge him to produce it. The attack on her in Hyderabad and the violence and the disturbance of public order in Kolkata were totally unprovoked. Taslima Nasreen did not say or write anything on or just before these events to justify unlawful activities. In fact, they were the religious extremists who, without any provocation, attacked her in Hyderabad and who brought out a well-planned and orchestrated protest rally against her and in the process indulged in loot, destruction, arson and violence. They did this to serve the extraneous purpose of particular political leaders and particular political parties. In our view, the law of the land should have been enforced in these cases and these religious extremists should not have been allowed to indulge in these activities with impunity.

We agree with Shri Shahabuddin that foreign nationals staying in India cannot claim some of the rights in the Indian Constitution, which are available to Indian citizens. At the same time, according to international law, there are certain inalienable rights which inhere in a person by virtue of his or her being a human being. These include the right to life in its various forms, protection against torture and incarceration etc. According to several judgments given by our courts, foreigners visiting or staying in India are as much entitled to these rights as Indian citizens.

Shri Shahabuddin has stated that “none of her friends came forward to take her under their wings or persuade her to stay on or guarantee her security, even if the government did not”. This statement is factually wrong. Many of her friends, including signatories to the statement published in Mainstream, persuaded her to stay on in India when she was under tremendous pressure both by the Government of West Bengal and the Central Government to leave the country. Besides, she did not need any friends to keep her in India. She had her own home in Kolkata where she stayed for several years and she had enough means to maintain herself. The main issue was providing security during her stay. And this arose only after she was physically attacked and threatened by religious extremists in the second half of 2007. Shri Shahabuddin should know that security, in the ultimate analysis, can be guaranteed only by the State and not by individuals. That this responsibility devolves on the State is clear from the fact that the West Bengal Government refused to allow her to return to Kolkata until the Central Government assumed the responsibility for her security, and the Central Government itself accepted this responsibility by keeping her in the so-called “safe house” in New Delhi.

Lastly, Shri Shahabuddin has again gratuitously given his opinion that by being a Muslim by birth, bearing a Muslim name and having talents of sorts, Taslima Nasreen has marketable assets for the West and, therefore, she is likely to be more comfortable and feel at home there. This would apply to thousands of liberal Muslims in India. Would he suggest that they should also leave the country?

Mahasweta Devi, Tarun Sanyal, Bibhas Chakravarty, D. Bandyopadhyay, Muchkund Dubey, Sailendra Nath Ghosh, Sunanda Sanyal, Sujato Bhadra, Giasuddin, Golam Yajdani, Meher Engineer, Dilip Chakraborty, Sumit Chakravartty.

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