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Taslima Nasreen : A Test for India’s Secular Credentials

Editorial, Asian Age

Tuesday 19 August 2008, by siawi

Taslima: A Test Case for India

Editorial, Asian Age, August 14, 2008

Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi-origin writer now forced to hold a Swedish passport due to cultural intolerance in the land of her birth, is back in India after a forced sojourn in Europe. Will her return to this country after five months once again throw the authorities in New Delhi and Kolkata into confusion and despair, as it had done not very long ago? Ms Nasreen’s experience of life in this country might have by now provided her with a true measure of the worth of India’s much-vaunted liberal values and its love of creativity and freedom. And yet she did not hesitate to return. Perhaps her oft-repeated articulation of the desire to live in Kolkata — the nearest thing to living in Dhaka in terms of linguistic and ethnic affinity, and the place she now wants to call home — is no sham. Even before the expiry of her visa six months ago, Ms Nasreen had been bundled out first from Kolkata (of which she had been a long-term resident) by the CPI(M) and then from India by the Congress-led UPA government, at the time only too keen to keep the Left in good humour. It is indeed remarkable how pathetic Indian officialdom can be in spite of the professed national credo of secularism and other grand values of an enlightened society. No sooner had the Bengali writer landed in India than external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee was off the mark with conditionalities: Ms Nasreen, he warned, must be mindful of local susceptibilities and be careful of what she said and wrote. Is this the official policy of the proud democracy Mr Mukherjee represents in the councils of the world?

Taslima Nasreen had left Bangladesh all those years ago after her writings, exposing the hypocrisies of the feudalistic and male-dominated clericalism in Islam, brought upon her the wrath of vested interests in a society where the religious and secular establishment work in tandem. In effect, she had to flee for her life. Were the reasons for her departure from Kolkata, which prides itself on its bhadralok culture, so very different? The CPI(M), under pressure from the minorities in West Bengal after Nandigram, kowtowed to illiberal orthodoxy and its demand for Ms Nasreen’s expulsion from the state. Cracking under the pressure of votebank politics, the leading party of the Indian Left — to the chagrin of some of its allies — met that demand and on that day failed to live up to its espousal of secular values in the public space. Back in the 1930s, Rashid Jahan, a young Muslim woman of Uttar Pradesh, like Ms Nasreen a doctor, had set the Urdu literary scene afire with her short stories questioning the male bastion that her religion had begun, and its consequences for Muslim women. She was closely associated with India’s early Communists. That tradition is clearly no longer extant in the Indian Left. But whatever the distortions of culture embraced by political parties, organisations of Muslim women in different parts of India — notably in Bhopal, Mumbai and Kerala — have already begun to give the hardliners a hard time.

(From: South Asia Citizens Wire | August 13-14, 2008 | Dispatch No. 2551)

South Asia Citizens Wire