I have never come face to face with death like this: Taslima

By Sujoy Dhar, IANS

Kolkata : “For half an hour death stared at me from close as I locked myself in a room and those men tried to break in and kill me,” a traumatised Taslima Nasreen said Friday, a day after the controversial Bengali author was attacked in Hyderabad during a book release.

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Nasreen is not new to either controversy or attacks by fundamentalists for her writings against Islam. But Thursday’s vicious attack by members of the Hyderabad-based Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) was different.

“I was attacked earlier too but it was never like yesterday. There was no police for help because the organisers had not foreseen anything of this kind. If I have returned alive to Kolkata it is because of mediapersons who fought those men for half an hour and got injured to save me,” Nasreen told IANS in her first interview after the incident at the Hyderabad Press Club Thursday.

A shaken Nasreen arrived in Kolkata late Thursday from Hyderabad where she had gone to release a Telugu translation of her novel “Shodh”.

“I was wondering how they would kill me. Would it be with a knife or a gun! Or would they simply beat me to death. They had encircled us. After I escaped from a back door and took shelter in a room, they even broke down one of the doors. I thought I would be dead,” said the 45-year-old writer.

“I have never come face to face with death like this.”

Though Nasreen managed to escape unhurt, many others were injured.

“They were hurling chairs, bags and thick books at us. What you have seen on television was nothing compared to what happened yesterday (Thursday),” said the writer at her Rawdon Street apartment in an upmarket Kolkata locality.

“The organisers were a small group and so they had not arranged for police. They hardly expected this to happen, I don’t blame them. They were surprised but I knew who these people were and so I asked to call the police. But before police came, journalists fought them off and saved me,” said Nasreen.

Nasreen, who has penned several volumes of her seven-part autobiography, had attracted the ire of fundamentalists in Bangladesh for stance against Islam, its treatment of women and atrocities on the Hindu minorities in that country in her novel “Lajja” (The Shame). She first went into hiding in 1994 and then fled Bangladesh with support from international human rights organisations like PEN and Amnesty International.

She was given asylum in Sweden. Since then she has lived in Germany, France, the US and later Kolkata in India, where she got a tourist visa though her requests for citizenship have been repeatedly turned down by the Indian government.

The attack on Nasreen came on a day when her visa, scheduled to expire this month, was extended by six months till February next year.

She is living in Kolkata following a fatwa issued against her by some Islamic groups in Bangladesh for her book “Lajja”.

“If I were a citizen of India perhaps people would not have thought that I could be killed just like that. The truth is that I cannot return to Bangladesh while returning to Europe is like courting death too. I can only live here in Kolkata,” said Nasreen.

“I am happy that the people who attacked were actually a minority while there are so many people who supported me. The photographers could have just clicked as they killed me but they chose to save me.”

“A similar incident had occurred in a book fair in Bangladesh but then thankfully police was near. In fact, the release of the book Thursday had nothing to do with Islam. This is the translation of an old book of mine,” said the hunted author, who is now penning a sequel to “Lajja”.

The new book continues on the fate of the Hindu family, who was the focus in “Lajja”, and their life in Kolkata. A book on her columns is also awaiting release.

Though the Left Front government in West Bengal condemned the attack on Nasreen Thursday, it had banned her book “Dwikhandito” (Split in Two), the third volume of her seven-part autobiography, till a court order lifted it.