[Reader-list] The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad

Shuddhabrata Sengupta shuddha at sarai.net
Sat Aug 11 22:46:59 IST 2007

Dear All (apologies for cross posting on Kafila.org and the Sarai Reader 

The recent attack on Taslima Nasreen has again shown how fragile the 
freedom of expression is in India today. It breaks whenever a 
sentimental reader or viewer has their 'sentiments challenged'. Are all 
these worthy gentlemen who go about obstructing screenings and readings 
suffering from some early childhood trauma that makes it difficult for 
them to countenance growing up and acquiring the ability to listen to 
contrary point of view? How long are we to be held hostage to their 
infantile suffering?

What is worse is the fact that the people who attacked her, and have 
made public threats to kill her - activists and elected representatives 
belonging to MIM, a leftover of the Nizam's hated Razakars, were 
arrested and then let off on bail. So, the message that the state sends 
out to these goons is - "threaten to kill, be taken to a police station 
to have a cup of tea, have your picture taken, be splashed in the media, 
go home and make some more threats"

see - http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=90746

In fact, according to a report in the Indian Express today, it is Ms. 
Nasreen who is now being booked under section 153 - the same section of 
the penal code that was earlier used to detain the unfortunate art 
student in Baroda who had offended 'Hindu and Christian sentiments'. So 
as far as the Police in the state of Andhra Pradesh is concerned, person 
who makes a public threat to kill a writer - a prominent politician is 
innocent, and the writer herself, who has never threatened to kill 
anyone, nor has asked others to kill people is guilty of inciting 
hatred. Both are to be treated equally. There can be no greater travesty 
of justice than this incident, and it once again demonstrates how 
willing state power in India is to dance in tandem with bigots. It 
happens in BJP ruled Gujarat, it happens in Congress ruled Andhra 
Pradesh. It happens (see below)in Left Front ruled West Bengal.

Once again this demonstrates that bigotry and cussedness is not the 
monopoly of the self appointed representatives of any one community or 
political tendency. If the self appointed representatives of the 
Kashmiri Pandit community and their allies pour venom on Sanjay Kak on 
this list and elsewhere, they are matched in their ardour by the 
viciousness of those who have appointed themselves the guardians of 
Islam in Hyderabad, and the protectors of Hindu and Christian dignity in 
Baroda. And lest we forget, (we do have short memories) let us remember 
that the last time Tasleema Nasrin was vilified and hounded and her 
publication banned in an Indian state, it just happenned to be in West 
Bengal, where she has her largest readership, and this happenned because 
the secular progressive left front regime, led by the Contractors Party 
of India (Monopolist) deemed her a threat to the sanitized cultural 
landscape that they so vigorously uphold and maintain in that state.

The CPI(M)'s party organ 'People's Democracy' found it necessary to 
publish the official 'party line' on the ban in its issue dated November 
7, 2003 (Vol XXVII, No 49). It said (apologies for this lengthy quotation)

"THE Bengal Left Front government has decided to ban Bangladeshi author 
Taslima Nasreen’s latest book, Dwikhandita (‘Split in Two’) because it 
was feared that the book would incite communal violence.  At no point of 
time has the book been proscribed on political or literary grounds.

In a government notification issued on November 28, the state LF 
government has formally invoked the ban under section 95 of the code of 
Criminal Procedure, read with Act 153 of the Indian Penal Code (where it 
is considered a criminal and punishable act to create enmity, rivalry, 
and hatred amongst religious communities.

State secretary of the CPI (M), Anil Biswas said that there was 
apprehension expressed widely that the book would spark off communal 
tension, and that very many experts in the field supported this view. 
The LF government has banned the book for the sake of the upkeep of 
democracy in Bengal. Several newspapers, too, have expressed similar 
feelings. Biswas pointed out that “from the time the Left Front has been 
office in Bengal not a single book or publication has been proscribed on 
political grounds.” However, said Biswas, it was a different matter 
altogether if a publication or a book incited terrorism and communalism.

Chief minister of Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee whose department 
issued the notification banning the book, said that he had himself read 
the book “several times over.” that he has “persuaded at least 25 noted 
specialists to go through the book critically” and that they have 
recommended the book to be not fit for circulation among the reading 
public.  In particular, the pages 49-50 of the book contain very 
derogatory and provocative references that go against the grain of the 
tenets of Islam and of Islamic beliefs.

  Several noted authors including the poet Sunil Gangopadhyay, the 
novelists, Dibyendu Palit, Nabanita Deb Sen, and Syed Mustafa Siraj, the 
Bangladeshi novelist, Sams-ul Huq, the singer Suman Chatterjee, as well 
as the Trinamul Congress leader and Kolkata mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, 
among others, have come openly out against the book and have supported 
the decision by the state LF government to get the book banned.

Pradesh Congress leader Somen Mitra who has called Taslima Nasreen a 
blot on the world of women, has described the book as having no 
difference with a piece of pornography and has said that nobody ought to 
assume rights to hurt the sentiments of a religious community.

The book which forms a part of Nasreen’s multi-volume autobiography has 
been charged by the reading public of Kolkata and Bengal with obscenity 
and has come under fire for its maligning and falsified personal 
references to the lives of several noted scholars of Bengal and 
Bangladesh as well.

However, the book, as Anil Biswas made clear while speaking to the media 
in Kolkata recently, was banned because of the fact that portions of the 
book would cause religious disharmony to break out, with the religious 
fundamentalists utilising the book to fan the flame of communal fire.

True to form, the BJP chief Tathagata Roy has supported Taslima 
Nasreen’s derogatory references to Islam and has opposed the 
proscription of the book.  Mamata Banerjee has chosen to hold her 
silence, as she is wont to do of late on very many other matters as well."

It appears that if there is one thing that religious fundamentalists, 
communal, nationalist, secular and leftist politicians agree on is the 
necessity to curb the freedom of expression in Inda.

There is only one possible ethical response to this pathetic display of 
arrogance by the self appointed representatives of Hindu, Muslim, 
Christian and Communist sentiment, and that is to ensure the widest 
possible circulation of these materials in the public domain. It is to 
organize as many screenings as possible of a film like 'Jashn-e-Azaadi' 
(or any other film that is attacked in a similar fashion) and to hold 
public readings and distributions of the books of someone like Taslima 

In 'Homeless Everywhere:Writing in Exile' an essay by Taslima Nasreen 
that had been first published in English in Sarai Reader 04: Turbuluence


She wrote -

"Just like in West Bengal today, my books have been banned earlier in 
Bangladesh on the excuse that they may incite riots. The communal 
tension raging through South Asia is not caused by my books but by other 
reasons. The torture of Bangladesh’s minorities, the killing of Muslims 
in Gujarat, the oppression of Biharis in Assam, the attacks against
Christians, and the Shia-Sunni conflicts in Pakistan have all occurred 
without any contribution from me. Even if I am an insignificant writer, 
I write for humanity, I write with all my heart that every human being 
is equal, and there must be no discrimination on the basis of gender, 
colour, or religion. Everyone has the right to live. Riots don’t break 
out because of what I write. But I am the one who is punished for what I 
write. Fires rage in my home. I am the one who has to suffer exile. I am 
the one who is homeless everywhere."

If we want to ensure that writers, filmmakers and artists are not 
'homeless everywhere' then we have to ensure that they receive the 
hospitality that enables the conditions that allow their work, thought 
and expression to continue to have a public life. This means making sure 
that their work lives and continues to breathe in society, by any means 

For those who are interested, and can read Bangla, some of Taslima 
Nasrin's work is available in the form of downloadable pdfs from 
www.talimanasrin.com. When the venerable Buddhadev Bhattacharya decided, 
after consulting twenty five eminent intellectuals to ban her book, I 
decided to download the said book, make twenty six photocopies of the 
entire book bind them and distribute them free.

That is one method to deal with censorship (formal or informal) I am 
sure that there are other, more creative methods out there as well. I 
would welcome practical suggestions from those in the community of the 
people who are reading this post
about how these attacks on the freedom of expression may be confronted 
and made irrelevant. Let us try and make some time for peaceful film 
watching and reading.



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