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Book banning helps fundamentalists: Taslima Nasreen

By Pradipta Tapadar | PUBLISHED: 28, Feb 2012, 15:50 pm IST | UPDATED: 28, Feb 2012, 16:29 pm IST

Book banning helps fundamentalists: Taslima Nasreen Kolkata: Robbed of a home and a peaceful life, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen feels that religious fundamentalists apart, the responsibility for her sufferings lies on the "politicians of the Indian subcontinent" who have labelled her anti-Islam and banned her books.

"When the government bans your book, then the fundamentalists are enthused. They feel inspired and take you as a soft target. They feel the government will side with them," Taslima spoke in an interview.

"The fundamentalists won't dare to touch a writer if they are not convinced they will go scot-free after such acts. Actually it is the politicians of the Indian subcontinent who have labelled me anti-Islam by banning my books and calling them controversial," she said.

Taslima's comment comes less than a month after the Kolkata Book Fair authorities cancelled the release of the seventh volume of her autobiography "Nirbasan" (Exile) - which deals with her life after exile from Kolkata in 2007 - at the scheduled venue following protests by religious fundamentalists.

The publishers then released the book outside their stall.

Protests against her book launch are nothing new for the author, a doctor by profession in the mid-1980s, who was forced to leave her country in 1994 after widespread agitation against the writing on women's rights and freedom, which a section of the people saw as an assault on Islam.

"In India also the same thing happened. After the Left Front government in West Bengal banned my autobiography 'Dwikhandito' in 2004-05, the fundamentalists started issuing fatwas," she said.

However, Taslima feels the Indian political fraternity on the whole has the grit to stand up against religious fundamentalists.

Since 1994, Taslima had been living in exile in various parts of Europe and America and even got Swedish citizenship. The writer was later granted a renewable temporary residential permit by the Indian government and moved in 2004 to Kolkata, which she called her adopted home as it shares a common tradition and language with Bangladesh.

But the author had to yet again face the ire of Muslim clerics and was finally forced to leave Kolkata after Muslim groups led widespread unrest across the city demanding her exile from the country.

Faced with a riot-like situation, the then Left Front government called in the army but openly advocated her exile from the state.

Taslima, a strong supporter of freedom of expression, has been repeatedly accused of hurting the sentiments of religious-minded people.

But she retorted: "Everybody is concerned about the feelings of fundamentalists; NOBODY is bothered about my feelings. I am not allowed to enter my own country for more than 18 years. I've been physically attacked. I have been thrown out of West Bengal. I was forced to live under house arrest and leave the country. My book launch has been banned. Nobody thinks about how I feel after all these atrocities."

Taslima reasoned that the right of expression also provides a human being with the right to offend: "If I am pro-democracy and human rights and talk about democracy and human rights then a person who is anti-democracy and human rights is bound to get offended. This is the way the society, the world has changed over the years by overcoming religious radicalism and conservative attitude."

"Nobody has the right to spend their entire life without being offended," Taslima maintained.

When asked whether she held that feminism is an outdated phenomenon in this twenty-first century as women are claiming equal rights as men, the 49-year-old author said: "Feminism has not really started in the subcontinent till now. So there is no question of it being outdated. In India incidents of female foeticide, rape, dowry deaths are rampant. Girls are denied the right of education in many parts of the country. Women are still treated as sex objects."

"So just by seeing a fraction of urban women outsmarting men, you can't say that feminism is outdated."

In some cases, the condition of women in Bangladesh was better than their counterparts in India, Taslima said. While poverty and laws based on religion may be big issues in Bangladesh, incidents of dowry deaths and female foeticide hardly occur in that country.

However, Taslima praised Indian democracy for being religiously more tolerant than Bangladesh and Pakistan.

"That India has more religious tolerance has been shown in my case. I've at least been allowed to live here. If it would have been Bangladesh or Pakistan, I'd have been dead," Taslima said.

While asserting that uncertainty and fear of being killed and thrown out of a country are "disturbing elements" for a creative person, Nasreen said no radical fundamentalist can gag her creativity.

"I also want a certain life, just like others."

"While I am writing an autobiography I have to write about everything - from my surroundings to the people around me. When I write about someone's misdeeds they protest against it. I am least bothered," Taslima added.