I am no fan of Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi author who has been banished from her own country for her controversial writings. But I defend her right to stay in this country, one she would rather make her own. A chance read of her thoughts in a leading daily on why she should be given extended refuge after her visa expires after February 17, inspired my pen.
About being hounded by those who have been baying for her blood in this country for the past few months, she writes, and I quote, “A greater tragedy, arguably, is that I have to endure in progressive India, what I had to endure in Bangladesh.”
Different parties have been giving statements that are politically correct for their constituencies. Therefore I would like to completely de-politicize my opinion.
Let me begin with what set in the storm.
Considered persona non grata in Bangladesh because of her book Lajja and her controversial views on the Quran, Taslima Nasreen has been living without a fuss in India for nearly eight years now.
In 2003, some trouble had brewed over her autobiography called Dwikhondito, where she makes certain references about the Prophet vis-à-vis his wives. However, the storm blew over and the book stayed on racks.
But then suddenly, just as violence in Nandigram began to boil over, a Muslim group in West Bengal picked up the campaign against the book again and asked for her ouster.
Rabble-rousers need an opportunity. Mobs took to the street in large numbers. And suddenly all hell broke loose. In the same period during a visit to Hyderabd, Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen activists stormed into her press conference and attacked her, smashed flower pots, furniture and glass panes. The hapless woman was then chased out by the men and warned that she would be killed if she stepped into the city again.
The foremost upholders of the freedom of speech and expression, the Left, blind to their ideology, shunted her out of West Bengal.
She was packed off to some decrepit hotel in Rajasthan, with one guard. The BJP government, which had been one of her most vociferous supporters, too washed its hands off her. She now lives in an undisclosed location in the Capital in a sort of solitary confinement.
A way out
Each community has a right to an opinion. And while one can empathize with their rile, certainly not with their actions.
All the while no party involved suggested a dialogue. For sure, some representatives from the Muslim community would have agreed to sit across the table with her and sort matters out in an amicable way. The fact that several Muslim thinkers have come out in her favour gives credence to this view.
In the Doha debate, held last year by the BBC, it was discussed whether al Qaeda should be invited for talks rather than engaging them in a cycle of bloodshed.
If hardened terrorists can be given such an opportunity, surely Taslima stands a chance. That is the way of the civilized world
Instead, the government bullied her into an apology. The petrified lady even agreed to delete the contentious portions from her book.
If there is a genuine grouse it is understandable. But when issues swell into tempests suddenly, it raises doubts whether ulterior motives are at play.
Kolkata saw one of most violent protests of recent times. One did wonder if such large scale demonstrations could be held in a city, where each cobbled stone is painted red, without the tacit support of those in power. Our philosophy
India has a history of giving asylum to the tormented.
In the early days, the Raghuvanshi King Dilip agreed to give up even his own life to protect a cow, Nandini, who he had vowed to give shelter. Indian tales are full of such outstanding examples of sacrifice. They have been the staple of bedtime stories narrated by our grannies. These values have been ingrained in us by caring hands and passed on from generation to generation.
In recorded history, the example of Zoroastrians is worthy of note. When the community fled the persecution of Iranian rulers, it found refuge on the shores of Gujarat, even though the canton was going through its own woes of overflowing population and limited wherewithal. Zoroastrians, in turn, have enriched our culture and contributed beyond their size to our progress. But that they will lend something to this land was not a precondition when they first set foot. More recently, when we were struggling with the throes of partition and newly found independence, when there were a million mouths to feed here, we opened our doors to the Dalai Lama and his people. Turning away the Tibetans at that time would have been our opportunity with China. We made our borders more vulnerable, but didn’t bat an eyelid when it came to lending a helping hand.
Today a lone woman implores her case. India should not disappoint.
The government seems to be dithering. It says that it may permit her stay as long as she respects the sentiments of our people.
Over the tumultuous years of India`s history, we have been attacked, plundered, made slaves in our own land by Colonial masters and our territory fragmented. There, we have lost something.
Set out to protect the freedoms of our people, we have sporadically pulverized our ideals. But again in our own tenacious way, pulled back on course. Politics should not become such a compulsion, that we compromise on the essence of our character. For then, we will lose much.