Taslima Nasreen

Taslima Nasreen
Taslima Nasreen was born in August 1962 in a Muslim family in Mymensingh, East

Pakistan. Because the area became independent in 1971, her city of birth is now in the

country called Bangladesh.

Growing up in a highly restrictive and conservative environment, Taslima was fond of

literature while she also excelled in science. She started writing when she was 15 years

old, beginning with poetry in literary magazines, and afterwards herself editing a literary

periodical called SeNjuti (1978 – 1983). She was the president of a literary organization

while in medical college, where she staged many cultural programs. Earning her medical

degree in 1984, she worked in public hospitals for eight

years.

Her first book of poetry was published in 1986. Her second became a huge success in

1989, and editors of progressive daily and weekly newspapers suggested that she write

regular columns. Next she started writing about women’s oppression. With no hesitation

she criticized religion, traditions, and the oppressive cultures and customs that

discriminate against women. Her strong language and uncompromising attitude against

male domination stirred many people, eliciting both love and hatred from her readers.

In 1992 she received the prestigious literary award Ananda from West Bengal in India for

her Nirbachito Kolam (Selected Columns), the first writer from Bangladesh to earn that

award. Despite allegations of jealousy among other writers about this, the topmost

intellectuals and writers continued to support her.

Islamic fundamentalists started launching campaign against her in 1990, staging street

demonstrations and processions. They broke into newspaper offices that she used to

regularly write from, sued her editors and publishers, and put her life in danger, a danger

that only increased over time. She was publicly assaulted several times by fundamentalist

mobs. No longer was she welcomed to any public places, not even to book fairs that she

loved to visit. In 1993, a fundamentalist organization called Soldiers of Islam issued a

fatwa against her, a price was set on her head because of her criticism of Islam, and she

was confined to her house.

The government confiscated her passport and asked her to quit writing if she hoped to

keep her job as a medical doctor in Dhaka Medical College Hospital.. She was thus

forced to quit her job.

Inasmuch as she had become a best-selling author in Bangladesh and West Bengal in

India, she managed to survive the hostility. The government, however, banned Lajja

(Shame), in which she described the atrocities against Hindu minorities by Muslim

fundamentalists, her main message being “Let humanism be the other name of religion.”

According to Taslima, the religious scriptures are out of time, out of place. Instead of

religious laws, she maintains, what is needed is a uniform civil code that accords women

equality and justice. Her views caused fourteen different political and non-political religious

organizations to unite for the first time, starting violent demonstrations, calling general

strikes, blocking government offices, and demanding her immediate execution by hanging.

The government, instead of taking action against the fundamentalists, turned against her. A

case was filed charging that she hurt people’s religious feelings, and a non-bail-able arrest

warrant was issued. Deeming prison to be an extremely unsafe place, Taslima went into

hiding..

In the meantime two more fatwas were issued by Islamic extremists, two more prices were

set on her head, and hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists took to the streets,

demanding her death. The majority who were not fundamentalists remained silent.

Regardless, some anti-fundamentalist political groups did protest the fundamentalist

uprising, but did not defend Taslima as a writer and a human being who should have the

freedom to express her views. Only a few writers defended her rights.

But the international organization of writers, and many humanist organizations beyond the

borders of Bangladesh, came to Taslima’s support. News of her plight became known

throughout the world. Some western democratic governments that endorse human rights

and freedom of expression tried saving her life. After long miserable days in hiding, she

was finally granted bail but was also forced to leave her country.

Wherever she lived, she fought for Human Rights and Women’s Rights. In 1998, without

the government’s permission she risked a return, to be with her ailing mother. Again,

fundamentalists demanded she be killed. When her mother – a religious Muslim – died,

nobody came from any mosque to lead her funeral, her crime being that she was the

mother of an ‘infidel’. A case again was filed against her on the charges of hurting

religious feelings of the people. After a few weeks of staying, Taslima was forced to

leave her country once more. Taslima was desperate to see her father when he was ill,

but the government did not let her go to Bangladesh. Her passport was not renewed, her

rights as a citizen had constantly been violated by the governmental

authority.

Taslima has been living in exile in Europe. She has written more than thirty books of

poetry, essays, novels, and short stories in her native language of Bengali. Many have

been translated into twenty different languages. Her applications to the Bangladesh

government to be allowed to return have been denied repeatedly. One Bangladesh court

sentenced her in absentia to a one-year prison term. The Bangladesh government has

recently banned three other of her books, Amar Meyebela ( My girlhood), Utol Hawa (Wild

wind) and Sei sob ondhokar(Those dark days).

Writers and intellectuals both in Bangladesh and West Bengal went to court to ban her

autobiography Ko( speak up) and Dwikhandito( Split in Two). Two million-dollar

defamations suits were filed against Taslima by her fellow writers. The West Bengal

government finally managed to ban Dwikhandito on the charges of hurting religious

feelings of the people. A Human Rights organization in Kolkata flied a case against West

Bengal government for banning a book that is against freedom of expression. After two

years, the ban was lifted by the Kolkata High Court, which, Taslima says, is a victory for

freedom of expression.

The numerous prestigious awards she has received in western countries have resulted in

increased international attention to her struggle for women’s rights and freedom of

expression. She has become a symbol of free-speech. Taslima has been invited to speak

in many countries and at renowned universities throughout the world. Her dreams of

secularization of society and secular instead of religious education are becoming

increasingly more accepted and honored by those who value freedom.

Taslima was forced to leave Bangladesh for Europe. After a decade, when she was

granted a visa, she visited India, her second home. When she was granted residence

permit, she moved there. But only after 3 years of living in West Bengal, because some

Muslim extremists wanted her to leave India, the West Bengal Government and the Indian

Government forced her to live under house arrest and put pressure on her to leave the

country. She was forced to leave India after being confined for seven and half months.

The real tragedy is that two countries which give her the oxygen of language have cut her

off. It’s not the geography alone, but the languagescape also. That’s the real crime… a fish

being made to live on land.

She does not have home. She is homeless everywhere.

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