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Battle for Taslima’s return, says Mahasweta Devi


Kolkata : The campaign to bring exiled Bangladeshi writer and gender crusader Taslima Nasreen back to Kolkata, her adopted home, is gaining momentum.

Magasaysay award winning writer Mahasweta Devi has urged Hindi and other vernacular language writers to campaign for the Bangladeshi author’s freedom so that she can return.

The ruling communists shunted out Taslima Nasreen after street riots over her writings broke out Nov 21 last year. The Indian government has kept Nasreen in a “safe house” in New Delhi.

“At this moment, there cannot be a more pressing issue than the return of Nasreen to Kolkata. There should be a nationwide movement to bring her back to Kolkata,” writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi said Monday evening.

Nasreen has received one important international award recently – the Simon de Beauvoir feminist award.

“I urge the entire literary community, especially the Hindi writers, to launch a campaign. Post campaigns on the Internet and shove the governments because what has been done to her is a gross violation of human rights and an attack on freedom of expression,” the firebrand writer and social activist said.

“It is preposterous to think that banishing her would fetch Muslim votes to communists in West Bengal.”

The litterateur shared a platform with “Dharmamukto Manabbadi Mancha (DMM)”, (Secular Humanist Forum), an organisation of “secular” Muslims in West Bengal.

“A wrong campaign is doing the rounds. It is being circulated everywhere that Muslims want her out the city. But those who took part in the street riots Nov 21 that triggered her ouster from the city were hired goons. It was not that every Muslim locality of Kolkata had taken to the streets,” said Giyasuddin, president of DMM.

“It is an insult to the Muslim society when it is said that Muslims want her out of Kolkata or India. Some self-declared representatives of the Muslims should not have the last word,” he said.

A Muslim organisation earlier moved the organisers of Kolkata’s annual book fair demanding that no books written by Nasreen should be allowed to be sold at the fair.

Earlier, 45-year-old Nasreen told IANS over the phone from the “safe house”: “I am only breathing. I don’t think I am alive like you are. Can anybody live like this? It was beyond my imagination that in a secular democracy like India, such a thing could happen to a writer.”

In a delicate balancing act, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has promised to “shelter” Nasreen, but urged her to “refrain from activities and expressions” that may hurt the sentiments of Indian people and harm relations with friendly countries.

His party colleague and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi has asked Nasreen to apologise to the Muslims with folded hands for her writings.

On Nov 30, 2007 Nasreen had agreed to expunge controversial portions from her biography “Dwikhandita” (Split in Two).

Though patriarch of the state’s ruling Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) Jyoti Basu said on Dec 25 that Nasreen was welcome to return to Kolkata, the Left Front government has chosen to remain silent on her plight, keeping Muslim sentiments in mind.

Artistes, writers and human rights activists of Kolkata continue to mobilise support for the writer whose fearless expressions on the state of women in Islam and the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh antagonised clerics and governments, forcing her to live in exile and under heavy security.