Writers angry, demand Taslima be set free


New Delhi : Artists and writers in the capital, sharing the anguish of beleaguered Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, have expressed outrage at the treatment meted out to her by the government and demanded she be allowed to live in place of her choice.

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“The entire writing and creative community is deeply outraged by the treatment given to her,” Ashok Vajpeyi, poet, cultural critic and former vice-chancellor of the Indira Gandhi International Hindi University, told IANS.

“How can we restrict a person’s movement? We are doing it just because a few people have some objections to her writing. This is a free and democratic country. We have given her asylum. This is not the way to treat a writer in asylum by putting restrictions on her,” he added.

The 45-year-old writer has been on the run since November when she was forced to leave Kolkata following violent protests by radical Muslims demanding her ouster from India.

Finding it difficult to finish the sixth part of her autobiography “Nei, Kichu Nei” (There is Nothing), which was to be released during the Kolkata Book Fair in January, Nasreen said, “I would not say that I am under house-arrest. But it is a terrible, lonely existence. And how do you expect an author to write under these circumstances?”

She expressed her anguish after the Indian government restricted her movements and refused her entry into Kolkata where she wants to live.

Voicing his anger, Sumit Chakravartty, editor of Mainstream, said, “The Left Front government is duty bound to protect her. She could have lived in any western country, but she wanted to be in Kolkata because its ambience is similar to Bangladesh. Why we are pandering to some fundamentalists?”

Professor of English in Delhi University and well-known Sufi singer Madan Gopal Singh said: “I am opposed to this idea of imposing stringent restrictions like this. It is almost like incarceration. Artists are sensitive people. They need freedom. There is something called freedom of expression.”

“In any case, the hallmark of a democracy is the way it treats its artists, especially its women artists. The government should be more sensitive on such issues,” he said.

He feared her leading a “lonely existence” could result in emotional and psychological problems for her.

“In a situation where she cannot move (about) and is under complete scrutiny, it’s indeed difficult to write,” he said.

Renowned theatre director Bhanu Bharti found it “totally absurd” that in a democracy a person was being prosecuted for expressing her views.

“This should not be tolerated. I strongly feel that she should be allowed to stay as a free person. She should be given back her freedom and should be allowed to live wherever she wants to,” he said.

He agreed that it was “stifling” to live in a place that was not known to anyone, including friends and family. “Such existence is definitely stifling for anyone,” he added.

Citing example of Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death by the former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for his book “Satanic Verses”, Bharti said the British government provided total security to the writer.

“Why can’t we do the same? The worst thing was the way the Marxist government of West Bengal threw her out like a hot potato,” he said.

Well-known writer Geeta Hariharan said, “Of course, it is very difficult to do any kind of work if you are not sure where you are going to be tomorrow, how you are going to live, and if you are prevented from going to a place which you consider home.”

But she also said that writers and artists have produced work in difficult circumstances that challenge their ability to create.

“Difficult circumstances push you to be even more creative against all odds. But having said that, I am not saying that such circumstances should be created,” she said.

Nasreen is living in a “safe house” in New Delhi, She was earlier shifted to Jaipur from Kolkata Nov 22, and then brought to her present location in secrecy and under heavy security.

Since the 1990s, Nasreen has faced numerous threats from Islamic groups for her writings. She has been living in exile for more than ten years now after a fatwa (edict) was issued against her in Bangladesh.