I read in today’s newspapers that the long term VISA of the famous Bengali writer Taslima Nasrin has been extended for two months. She is a celebrated writer and her contribution to the literature has been immense. It is not only an insult to her but is a blot on the secular fabric of India which appeared to have been caved in the pressure of Islamic fundamentalists. I have gone through one of her novels ‘Lajja’ (Shame). It is a marvelous piece of literature. Its narrative is unique, full of empathy, sorrow, pain, suffering and heart-rending at places. She has vividly pictured in the novel the mindset of the bigots and fanatics of the Muslim community perpetrating atrocities on the Hindu minority of Bangladesh. Although it has been written in the background of anti-Hindu riots that broke after the demolition of the disputed structure of Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, yet it provides the glimpse of the over-all pitiable conditions caused by fear and terror under which the Hindus have been living in Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan, after partition of India in 1947.
The Hindus, living in Bangladesh from time a memorial, generation after generation have been made to live like second rather third class citizens. The Hindu community of Bangladesh has to suffer indescribable barbarities by goondas belonging to the Muslim community. Their properties have been plundered, houses have been burnt, women have been raped, children have been maimed, men have been killed and family after family have been forcibly converted to a religion in which they did not have even a iota of faith. Those wearing dhoties were targeted and forced to wear lungies, those celebrating Durga pooja were asked to become iconoclasts and the worshippers of cows were compelled to become beefeaters. Humanity has got ashamed of the savagery of such a scale. Lajja is, therefore, a very apt title of the novel.
The novel is very realistic one and is based on facts. The description might have some fictional touches here and there to make it readable but largely it is a true story. In the novel the main character Sudhamoy, a patriarch of the Hindu family feels that the Bangladesh is his motherland. He has been living under the impression that his motherland (Bangladesh) would not let him down. His wife Kiranmoyi stood by her husband, his son Suranjan also believed that nationalism will be stronger than communalism and he used to have more faith and trust in his Muslim friends then Hindu friends. Nilanjana is the young daughter, who asks her brother Suranjan to shift the family to the house of any Muslim friend for the safety. However, her all hopes were shattered when men, including the friends of his brother, turned into wolves in the wake of horrendous communal riots.
There are nearly 20 to 25 million illegal Bangladeshis living in India. Communal riots often break out in Assam, other Northeastern states, Bihar and Bengal because of illegal migrant Bangladeshis. All major cities of India are inundated with these illegal Bangladeshis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been saying during his election campaign that his government would see to it that illegal Bangladeshis are sent back to their country. Although, no tangible efforts seem to have been made so far to expatriate the Bangladeshis, yet what we find is that a famous writer like Taslima Nasrin’s, long-term visa has been extended only for two months. She is, without doubt, an epitome of courage, conviction and secularism. India must stand by like a rock behind her.
Taslima Nasrin’s stay in India will strengthen the roots of secularism. She is a victim of the fatwa of zealots even in India. She is arguably the most controversial writer of South Asia. Her grandfather was a Hindu, who converted to Islam not by choice but under compulsion. She is a medical doctor by education but has taken to full-time writing and is an acclaimed across the world. Meyebela, My Girlhood: A Memoir of Growing up Female in a Muslim World is Nasrin’s heart-wrenching account of a desperate childhood in Mymensingh, a relatively small town in Bangladesh. In this memoir (one of two volumes), Nasrin openly questions her religion, Islam, and its discrimination against women. Her sad and depressing childhood was an unfortunate byproduct of a unique combination of cruel elements, one of which was a repressive society where she says “I was simply supposed to accept without asking questions whatever the grownups decided to bestow on me, be it punishment or reward.” Her uncles horrifically abused this woman. Taslima Nasrin’s books are banned in Bangladesh but read with the great interest throughout the world. Even in India she has to live in anonymity because of the threat of religious tyrants. She is welcome to live in western countries but she longs to live in India, particularly in Calcutta because here she finds the affinity of the people and homogeneity of culture, language and eating habits.
It may be possible that this short sighted decision of extending the Visa only for two months might have been taken by bureaucracy without the knowledge of political leadership. However, now since the matter has become known to everybody, the Government of India must step in to grant her the status of a permanent citizen to Taslima; so that she may not have to face any further ignominy and insult.