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
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
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
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.