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Home > News > Report

Taslima Nasreen: Writer on the run

Indrani Roy Mitra | November 27, 2007 19:02 IST

Taslima Nasreen
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Firebrand Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen [Images] is in the news, and how.

Kolkata, a city she made her home for the last few years, has seen violent protests over her living in the city, and she was 'shifted' -- it is as yet unclear whether of her own volition or not -- to Jaipur and then to New Delhi.

Last heard, she was taken away by sleuths of central security agencies late Monday night to an undisclosed location. And latest reports say an election-bound Narendra Modi has 'invited' her to Gujarat.

So, if you want to know a little more about the writer in the eye of what is fast becoming a political storm, Read on.

Who is Taslima?

She is a doctor-turned-writer from Bangladesh, better known for her staunch feminism and bold statements against Islamic fundamentalists than her literary prose.

She was born in August 1962 in Mymensingh, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). She writes in Bengali, her native language. Many of her books have been translated into languages like Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Assamese, Kannada, Oriya, Nepali, English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Italian, Icelandic, Finnish, Serbo-Croatian, Arabic, Persian, etc.

Why did fundamentalists in Bangladesh turn against her?

Her novel Lajja (1993), in which she described the atrocities against Hindu minorities by Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh, drew huge protests in Bangladesh, and the book was banned.

Why is she in exile?

Lajja was not the beginning of her ordeal in Bangladesh. Fundamentalists launched a campaign against her in 1990. They broke into newspaper offices that she used to regularly write in, sued her editors and publishers for her alleged 'anti-Islamic' stance.

In 1993, a fundamentalist organisation calling itself Soldiers of Islam issued a fatwa against her, and a price was set on her head because of her perceived criticism of Islam.

Thereafter, the Bangladesh government confiscated her passport and asked her to quit writing if she hoped to retain her job as a doctor in the Dhaka Medical College hospital. Nasreen had no choice but to resign.

A case was filed against her for 'hurting people's religious feelings,' and a non-bailable warrant issued. In 1994, when fundamentalist groups demanded her execution after she was quoted in Kolkata daily The Statesman as saying that 'The Quran should be revised,' Nasreen went into hiding, and fled to Sweden.

She returned to Bangladesh in 1998 (where there were some moderate voices defending her right to live in her country), but a fresh campaign gained ground against her.

Didn't West Bengal ban one of her books too?

The West Bengal government banned her memoir, Dwikhandito (Split Apart) in 2003 on charges of hurting religious feelings. A human rights organisation in Kolkata filed a case against the state government for banning the book, contending it was against the freedom of expression.

In September 2005, the ban was lifted by the Kolkata high court. Nasreen hailed the verdict as a 'victory for freedom of expression.'  

What kind of support does she enjoy in Kolkata's literary circles?

Not too long ago, Nasreen was known to be quite close to a group of Bengali intellectuals led by writer Sunil Ganguli. But after her candid recounting in Dwikhandito of 'experiences' with a few of them, many snapped ties with her.

Before the recent turn of events, Nasreen used to lead a reclusive life in her central Kolkata apartment.

What is her visa status? How long has she been in Kolkata?

In 1999 and 2000, she shuttled between Sweden and Kolkata on tourist visas. In the same period, she sought asylum in India. She has been living in Kolkata since 2003, where she was welcomed by the Left Front government. Her Indian visa is valid till February 2008.