Shame! Insult business of Taslima ‘Bharati’

By Sampathkumar Iyangar

Move over, Umajee and Mamatajee! We’ve discovered the true Draupadi who can successfully force a Mahabharat-style war to avenge the insult of defeat five centuries ago at the hands of Zahir ud-Din alias Babar. The ‘refugee’ is only too willing to be pawn in the great political gamble of Bharat!

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People’s Book Society, the Kolkata-based publishing company is on cloud nine. Its jubilant spokesperson Shibani Mukherjee declares that the company has sent out fresh print orders for one of the books Dwikhandito as the entire stocks of the old edition got sold out. The company had resigned itself to a big loss on account of this autobiographical fiction. It had attracted poor reviews as being drab writing and there were no takers till a month back. The dramatic turn of fortune is due to the grand publicity grabbed by Taslima Nasrin, doctor-turned-authoress-turned-fugitive from Bangladesh last month.

Taslima had “sagaciously” agreed to expunge controversial portions of the book after ugly demonstrations from Muslim “fundamentalists” protesting some insulting remarks by her on Islam. Malini Dutta of Crossword too confirmed that the demand for ‘Lajja’, the Bengali novel that first catapulted Taslima to fame has picked up significantly after the fresh controversy.

Capitalising on the somewhat exaggerated sense of outrage exhibited by Muslims is not something new. In the Bangladeshi writer’s case, the gimmick is particularly shameful to India as she managed to expose the bankruptcy of intellect at the highest levels.

“It is a shame for the entire nation that a woman is made to run for her life,” lamented the honourable MP and deputy leader of the Bhartiya Janata Party in Lok Sabha, VK Malhotra on Nov 26. He was keen that the 45-year-old lady be allowed by the Central government “to stay wherever she wants” in India.

The campaign by honourable MPs of BJP had been initiated in the Kolkata conclave of the Party attended by LK Advani, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, and other top bosses including party president Rajnath Singh. It noted, ”Mass scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh has served both the Congress and the CPI(M) as a convenient vote bank even though it may have hurt India’s security concerns.” The leaders ironically considered Taslima to be a ”political refugee in India, with a right to live with dignity and security. She is entitled to all rights which have been given to the Tibetan refugees.”

In Delhi, a leading light of this movement CH Vidyasagar Rao reasoned, “Nasrin did not hurt the sentiments of any community, it were characters through which she exposed the plight of women in her novels and it was not her personal views. The Centre should consider to give Taslima Indian citizenship, if such a request comes from her.

Of course, there is a pending request from her for citizenship, or at least an extension of her tourist visa beyond Feb 2008, when it expires. BJP leader Prakash Javdekar is reportedly brokering a deal between the West Bengal government and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, ignoring formidable legal lacunae in the case.

The authoress pleaded, “I have no place to go. India is my home and I would like to keep living in this country until I die.” However, BJP’s unholy pressure to grant asylum to her flies in the face of the facts of the case. For, her submissions look to be as fictional as scripts of her novels. She got an entry into India in 2004 based on a Swedish passport, because she did not want to go to the place she did have in Bangladesh for renewing her old passport.

The latest round of trouble started for the high profile socialite when her agents decided to leverage a demonstration in Kolkata for promoting her image as a humanist-activist. The demonstration had been organised to protest against the shoddy handling by the West Bengal State government of the vexed problem of evicting villagers to facilitate a Special Economic Zone at Nandigram. Her participation in it was resented by local Muslims, opposed to her tactic of gaining popularity by maligning Islam. Violence erupted when the crowd went out of control at her refusal to go away. She had to be shifted out of Kolkata in the larger interest of public peace.

Whatever may be one’s assessment of WB government’s handling of Nandigram issue, there can be no two opinions about the admirable swiftness, with which the officials defused the explosive situation by removing the trouble personified from scene. It is rumoured that some Marwari industrialists of the city footed the bill for her air travel to Jaipur. Their “selfish” motive in doing so was to preserve industrial peace in the city. And they did succeed.

After being removed from Kolkata, Taslima Begum enjoyed two days of Royal comfort, provided by Rajasthan’s BJP CM Vasundhara Raje Scindia. She was accorded the status of a State guest at substantial expense to the public exchequer. Nasrin praised the Rajasthan queen and her State officials for “taking very good care” of her. She told the media that she expected the WB government to get in touch with her and invite her back to the State, as “Taslima the writer will die if she misses Kolkata!”

The facts however speak differently. The erstwhile doctor was perfectly enjoying herself in the company of cultural glitterati in US and Europe for about 10 years in her youth after running away from Bangladesh in 1994. Only when she could not afford that type of lifestyle, apparently due to advanced age, did she obtain a Swedish passport and think of settling in India!

The reason why all the doddering old men of BJP are so excited about the opportunity to come to the helpful of the damsel in distress is not far to seek. The saffron outfit is badly in need of a decadent female celebrity to brainwash its captive audience. After all, whipping up communal passions has been discovered to be surefire way to electoral victory. But, its bosses have alienated the Uma Bharati, capable of pouring out venom in abundant quantities. She was piqued at the top leadership demanding too high a share in the spoils of power, when she was CM of MP. She has already started extorting BJP candidates for refraining from nibbling into their hard-core Hindutva vote bank.

The BJP cannot depend on the only Parliamentarian of Trinamul Congress Mamata Banerjee in their plans either. She is ever capable of betraying them and going back to Congress anytime. Appareling the socialite from Bangladesh in saffron after once obliging her, they calculate, will be worth their while. That will get them a perfect look-alike for sexy Sanyasin Ritambara, the party’s long-lost darling. Chief Minister Narendra Modi has already extended a hearty invitation to the self-styled humanist to help him guarantee human rights in the State! Apparently he will instruct the saffron ruffians banding themselves as Bajrang Dal not to disturb her. Incidentally, he let the goons loose more than once to ransack the innovative Hussain-Doshi Gufa in Ahmedabad and destroy the paintings of MF Hussein!!

Taslima Nasrin was a physician in government employ until some of her Bengali stories and poems got noticed. She was noted for the novel ‘Lajja’, which gave a bold treatment to the subject of harassment faced by women, particularly the Hindu minorities, in Bangladesh. She left medical practice completely upon getting notice in literary circles for her writing prowess. She was sued for profanation in her writings and a court in that country ruled she had “deliberately and maliciously” hurt Muslims’ religious sentiments.

After attracting huge street protests by angry demonstrators, she fled Bangladesh.

While abroad, she collected numerous prizes in nondescript clubs. The only notable awards she got were the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and Humanist Award by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. None of the half a dozen books she wrote other than ‘Lajja’, and an equal number of autobiographies written in Bengali, made the grade. The quality of writing is reported to be just about average and she is known to monotonously parrot one single theme – on the way women are constrained by religions, particularly Islam.

In an obvious attempt to improve her public visibility and mass appeal, Nasrin has been mouthing extremely provocative statements since over a year. In early 2007, she said in Kerala, “The Islam religion and their scriptures are out of place and out of time. It still follows 7th century laws and is hopeless. The need of the hour is not reformation but revolution.” Again, she came alive and kicking, even more vigorously than the psychotic Pravin Togadia, in a Karan Thapar show Devils’ Advocate: [
in April 2007] “I can’t accept this religion. Islam completely denies human rights and is of venomous nature.”

While the lady may have her own reasons to come to these conclusions, even a Bal Thackarey will not deny that such incendiary speeches will only undermine communal harmony in a country torn by religious hatred! And BJP honchos want her given asylum for disrupting peace!

In August 2007, Nasreen had a harrowing experience at the Hyderabad Press Club in Andhra Pradesh where she was present at the launch of the Telegu translation of one of her books. Bouquets, flowerpots and chairs were used in a free for all at the function. Legislators belonging to a conservative Muslim outfit MIM were among the rioters, who accused her of humiliating Islam. The writer made matters worse when she said the attack was barbaric but pledged she would not be cowed by the bigots, “who were merely a minority”, forgetting that she was an alien on temporary visa. While the government accused her of trying to get publicity mileage by tactless remarks, the MIM worthies declared, “We are Muslims first. We are not bothered about our MLA status. It’s our responsibility to engage those who have said anything against Islam in whichever way possible.”

This explains why the Muslims of Kolkata did not want Taslima’s presence to debase the solemn protest in November. Rather than appreciating the State law and order authorities, who averted an explosive cauldron, BJP decided to gain mileage out of this woman’s characterless greed.

Taslima is reported to have said that there is no scope of emancipation of Muslim women within the Shariat. But, is that not an open secret known to everyone? The stark reality is: The status of women in society, had there not been a drastic overhaul of mindset vis-à-vis the standards prevailing in Manu’s or Jesus’ days, would just have been equal to any other commodity. Perhaps, some religions would have treated the commodity as somewhat more precious, but still only as commodity! Be that as it may, it is impossible to preach reform in any multi-religious society by cultivating hatred and inciting violent reactions. Even the Pope recognises that it could be done only with subtlety, as could be seen last year from his retreat after he made some unbecoming remarks.

Javeed Alam, the noted political scientist based in Hyderabad accedes to Taslima’s right as an individual to reject Islam or any other religion. He says, “What the Muslims don’t understand is that there is a difference between criticism and insult.” Like Islamic fanatics, fanatic sects like Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and BJP comprise of confused anti‐Semitists, who openly worship Adolf Hitler. This school of Brahminical Hindus subscribes to the theory of a master Aryan race, destined to rule the world, claiming common ancestry of India’s Brahmins and the Nordic Nazis. Nevertheless, the zealots glorify Israel just because Muslims – supposed enemies of Hinduism – consider it enemy!

Taslima’s reported grouse, shared with the Press while being lodged in Rajasthan House, that she was being attacked whereas “nothing happened to MF Hussain who had done so many things” is an example of hokum. Maqbool Fida Hussain is a world renowned painter, acclaimed as the Indian Picasso by art collectors, who have paid USD 2-plus million for a single canvas of his. The octogenarian is basically an artist and never fancies himself as anything else, least of all, being an ‘activist’. Comparing Taslima to Hussain is like comparing this writer with Rabindranath Tagore!

Another ludicrous comparison often raked up is the asylum granted to Dalai Lama in India. Here, it must be noted that he has been accommodated with all his treasure and his group has been a significant contributor to India, in monetary and spiritual spheres. He never indulges in cheap protests or utters anything that may remotely affect communal harmony or India’s relations with China. He lives here with dignity with the tacit approval of China. Had that country shown the slightest disapproval, New Delhi would not tolerate him for a day in its territory.

Taslima’s impassioned plea, “Please allow me to return to Kolkata in peace If you pride yourself on your democratic traditions do not refuse me asylum or the extension of my visa. I wish to return home to my friends. I am sure Kolkata wants me back just as much” has hoodwinked many intellectuals and laypersons to show sympathy to her. There have been appeals by readers in numerous magazines and newspapers, including in the Milli Gazette, to let her live in peace.

It is however worth noting that, like Vishwa Hindu Parishad functionary Pravin Togadia, Taslima Nasrin is a nonpracticing medico, who has chosen to be a provocative activist rather than be a languishing doctor. Her plea for visa extension deserved to be considered, had she wanted to lead a peaceful life in Kolkata as a refugee-writer. It is an entirely different matter when she admittedly entertains ambitions of becoming an activist. In that case, she must be encouraged to go back to her home country and try to become the Suu Kui of Bangladesh! Granting asylum to her will not be a humane act. It will only amount to be a deliberate affront to rational humanism.