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Monday, July 19, 2010

Taslima’s deportation would be India’s shame

By Swapan Dasgupta

In a month from now, on August 17 to be precise, the newly-opened Terminal 3 of Delhi airport could witness a disagreeable sight calculated to shame all Indians: the deportation of the Bangladesh-born writer Taslima Nasreen, presently living in Delhi.

Earlier this year, when her residence permit (issued first in 2003) was extended by a niggardly six months, the Home Ministry informed Taslima that this was the final extension and she must leave the country by August 17. She could, of course, re-apply for a residence permit at any Indian Embassy overseas but there was no surety it would be granted. Senior officials have told me in private that the basis of the decision is completely "political".

That Taslima can be a damned nuisance for politicians is undeniable. A writer who can best be described as feminist and secular-humanist (in the Western sense), she has angered conservative Muslims with her scepticism of faith, irreverence and candid approach to sexuality. In the Indian context this isn't unusual and Taslima has things in common with the atheistic, Dravidian rationalism of 'Periyar' E.V. Ramaswami Naicker, a man venerated by the DMK. But whereas Periyar confined his rationalism to an assault on the Brahmanical religion, Taslima has been preoccupied with Islam and its theology—not surprising because Muslims constitute a simple majority of the Bengali-speaking universe.

Taslima's critique of Islam and particularly Islamic dogmatism has been relentless but never outlandish, even though it touched many raw nerves among the believers. In 1991-92, militant Islamists mounted a vituperative campaign against her in Bangladesh after two volumes of her essays became bestsellers. Her works had enough literary merit to be awarded the Ananda Purashkar, India's most prestigious prize for Bengali writing, in 1992.

The irony is that despite her literary credentials, Taslima today finds it difficult to get her writings published in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. Many booksellers have been threatened for her stocking her writings and in this year's Kolkata Book Fair, self-appointed vigilantes—perhaps the same one who organised a violent bandh in 2007 against her living in the city—tried to make the occasion Taslima-free. Even those who published Hindi translations of her columns have developed cold feet.

The comparisons between Taslima and painter M.F. Hussein whose paintings are constantly targeted and who had to flee India, are striking. Hussein's plight outraged the intelligentsia. Tragically, the same people haven't up for Taslima. Even double-standards carry an eloquent message: All religions are sacred but some are more sacred than others.

If self-publicity was the only thing driving Taslima, she would probably have been glad to escape this tension and set herself up as an exotic exile in Paris—where her views on the anti-women bias of Islam would draw an appreciative audience. After all, she travels on a Swedish passport which was graciously given to her after Bangladesh withdrew her citizenship.

Taslima is unique in that she wants to live in India because it provides her creative nourishment. She seeks Indian nationality, views Kolkata as 'home' but is agreeable to living in Delhi till the dust settles. So far the authorities have grudgingly given her a toehold in India. In a month's time even her nominal status as an intellectual refugee is set to be undone.

On Novermber 28, 2007, Pranab Mukherjee had assured the Lok Sabha that "India has never refused shelter to those who had come and sought our protection…This civilisational heritage, which is now the government's policy, will continue, and India will provide shelter to Ms. Nasreen," Five months later, replying to an overseas Indian's plea on her behalf, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conceded "Taslima has been a victim of the politics of hate that a small section of extremists…are now pursuing." Citing the sanctuary given to the Dalai Lama, Manmohan Singh gave an assurance: "We recognise Taslima Nasreen's right to remain in a country of her choice, viz India…"

The PM was writing as an enlightened man of letters. Now, as a politician, he faces the sorry dismal prospect of not only having to eat his words but worse, mocking at the idea of an India "where the mind is without fear…"



Anonymous said...

Believe it or not Swapan Dasgupta , it was exactly Rabindranath Tagore's " Where the mind is without fear..." that came to my mind as soon as I started reading.

Yes , why should India deport Tasleema back ? She being a Bengali ,it is perfectly understandable her wanting to live in West Bengal.

Javed Akthars , Aparna Sens , MJ Akbars & Shabana Azmis ought to pitch in considering the clout they wield.

Enough of this pandering to x y z votebanks. This dangerous policy of appeasement only serves to perpetuate barbaric obscurantism & gender biases.

Gunnar Gällmo said...

She is not only travelling "on a Swedish passport"; she is a Swedish citizen, with full citizen's rights, and since Sweden is a member of the European Union, she could easily settle down almost anywhere in Europe. India should feel honoured that she prefers to stay there; as an Indian citizen, she would be less privileged.

Kalpana Misra said...

So glad to read what you wrote. When I realised Taslima's visa was about to expire I thought nothing of it, believing it would be extended. And still, there is no news and I fear that perhaps she will have to leave the country.
Not only does my heart go out to her, such a strong and honest writer, but I find myself questioning what the country is up to.
Must we always calculate how something will benefit us. Can we not just do the right thing and know that it will all work out eventually.

Siddhartha Prakash said...

Some secularists are more secular than others!!

Anonymous said...

Her visa extension will not appease to any section of society that can generate vote but denial will surely can go for claiming cause of community. govt had bargained Bharat bhumi's spirit of providing shelter to anyone in need at any cost for their vote bank politics. Her visa can be issue in up coming bengal election where congress/mamata alliance will have to face muslim and taking chance on them may cost heavy, so taslima good bye

Anonymous said...

dear sd
yes tasleema should not be deported.but the shame forbrave shikhs,mms can go to any extent to save his chair,to save few corrupted politicians even upto starving crores of poors indians by not bringing swiss etc funds he not a biggest shame on brave shikh community,india?a son of politician told me that time is given to divert those funds under the pretext of modalities with those countries.
politicians,media,stars enjoy fooling is sad for gujarat that namo can be blackmailed by likes of amit shah,police officers in jail,which is why he has to protect them.gujaratis know the crimes of amit shah&co.,and it is an insult of gujarat voters that namo did not dismiss him but gone to an extent of protecting him,by his foolish statements,which gave bad name to gujrat.namo better realise that gujrat support qualities and not seems that money has reached to delhi bjp in this matter which is why backing likes of amit shahs..the top bjp cadre is sold out in various manners hence not capable of opposition..sad for india.

nonsensewares said...

There are several contrasts between Taslima's case and Hussain's as well. First, government has failed to provide a safe shelter to Hussain in India. His living abroad absolves GOI from any responsibility for his security whatsoever. Second, the literary merit in Taslima's work is arguable, notwithstanding the Ananda Puroskar. However, that must not be held against her request for what you call intellectual refuge. Hers is an important voice, if not the most literary around. In their hunt for Amit Shah, who prima facie appears to be no angel, the media and the literati has decided conveneintly to push Taslima's plea for asylum to the background. I wish you spelt out in greater detail the political considerations prompting GOI to refuse to renew her asylum appeal.