The Shameful Hounding Of Taslima

Is the fate of Taslima Nasreen also the story of the death of liberalism in India? The Right and the Left have both assaulted liberal freedoms when their political interests have been threatened. SHANTANU GUHA RAY reports on why nobody would do anythingBARI FIRBO Sunilda.. koto din bari jai ni. Koto din bari firey kobji dubiye gorom dal bhaat khai ni. Kichchu bujhte paarchi na ki hochchey (Want to return home, Sunilda. It’s been ages since I went home and ate my favourite plate of steaming rice and dal. I can’t understand what’s happening.)” That was Taslima Nasreen from Munich in 2004 to the Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhyay. She could be saying that once again

As we go to press, the Bangladeshi writer has become a hounded refugee in a country she calls home, tossed around like an unwanted, inconvenient entity nobody seems to want to risk।Taslima had arrived in India believing it to be a place where she could speak and write freely, live openly। India had established enviable credentials as a place of refuge for those fighting for democracy and liberal rights



The Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers, leaders of the Nepali Congress battling for democracy, Pakistani writers such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Fahmida Riaz, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and former prime minister of Bangladesh, Najibullah of Afghanistan — his family are, in fact, still here




So what suddenly happened with Taslima Nasreen? A quite simple and shameful thing: she became politically uncomfortable and was unceremoniously kicked out. And the shoe this time was on the wrong foot — it was the Left turning on liberal rights and freedoms, perhaps exposing its real character: when it comes to the interests of the Party, freedoms be damned, liberties can go to shreds. That happened in Nandigram. That repeated itself with Taslima Nasreen. After a band of Muslims took to the streets protesting against the award-winning writer, she was made a vagabond, shuttled to Jaipur, then to Delhi and eventually to a secret location on the south-western periphery of the capital, under National Security Guard protection.The Left, which has often railed against the intolerance of the Sangh Parivar towards writers and artists, suddenly exposed its own fragility to bigotry: Taslima wasn’t worth protecting because she was going to cost the Left precious Muslim votes in West Bengal. And funnily enough, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi opened his election campaign with an invitation to “Taslimaben” to live in Gujarat. His colleagues in New Delhi took their “protect-Taslima” campaign to a new pitch, if only to embarrass the Left and take the attention off their own excesses.




The illiberalism of the Left had suddenly given moral gut to the illiberalism of the Right. And the Centre mostly just mumbled and fumbled. “This has become a sordid political game,” said a senior Congressman who would not be named, “Nobody is really bothered about Taslima, they are all addressing their vote banks.”Sure enough, the discourse never even veered close to issues of liberal freedom. “Her writings can be a subject of criticism but the way she was sent out is certainly deplorable,” says Joy Goswami, noted writer and features editor, Sangbad Pratidin, a Kolkata daily. His voice finds support from All-India Progressive Women’s Association general secretary Kumudini Pati, who along with Bhasha Singh of the Jan Sanskriti Manch, visited the writer recently: “This is nothing but a witch-hunt. How can creative people be used as political pawns? Nandigram and Rizwanur have hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community in West Bengal and Taslima’s ouster from Kolkata seems to me more like a political move.”




Of course the CPM refuted any such suggestions but it was clear the party was no longer prepared to defend Taslima from the mob and risk a votebank erosion. “The Centre gave her the visa, Taslima is their responsibility,” CPM spokesman Sitaram Yechury bluntly said. In Kolkata, home to Taslima for the past three years, both the state government and top city police officials refused comment. While mandarins in the Writers Building made polite and uncertain noises about Taslima being “welcome to return”, the police made it clear she was not wanted. “I am not making any statement on Taslima. We sent her out because of security reasons on instructions from the state Home Department,” said Kolkata Deputy Commissioner of Police Vineet Goyal, days after his juniors had loaded the writer on board a plane for Jaipur without any extra clothes. “We had orders to pack her off instantly,” Goyal said.




But Taslima Nasreen was never going to be about the minutiae of bureaucratic decisionmaking. The ripples of her renewed distress took little time in reaching the Prime Minister’s Office, then working out of Camp Kampala, venue of the Commonwealth Summit. Almost the first thing the prime minister did upon arriving home was to let it be known that the government will not tolerate the harassment of Taslima Nasreen by what it called “fundamentalist” forces, and that it will ensure her safety at all costs. And External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Parliament that the government would not only extend Taslima’s stay visa but also provide her security (Taslima is a Swedish national and her India visa expires in February 2008).BUT BEYOND that, there was little. On the contrary, even those seeking protection for Taslima were cautioning her to “behave”. Foreign minister Mukherjee said: “It is expected that the guest (Taslima) will refrain from activities that hurt the sentiments of our people.” Clearly, both the government and the Congress too had their eyes on the Islamist street. “This is a hazy stand and could — in some ways — curb her freedom as a writer,” said noted painter Suvaprasanna, adding: “Her long-standing issue is all about her freedom of expression. Now that the government has made a statement, who will decide what will and what will not hurt religious sentiments in India? Will she send her manuscripts to the information and broadcasting ministry every now and then?” Agreed Zoya Hasan, who teaches political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University: “It is sad to see no one taking a stand. She has not done anything to merit this.”Writer Sunil Gangopadhyay was equally enraged: “Someone has to take the responsibility. How can an author be hounded like this?” he asked




……………………From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 47, Dated Dec 08 , 2007



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