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Taslima Nasrin

Born Nasrin Jahan Taslima to Rajab Ali and Idul Ara, Taslima Nasrin (তসিলমা নাসরিন), also spelled Taslima Nasreen and popularly referred to as 'Taslima', her first name, rather than 'Nasreen' (born 25 August 1962 in Mymensingh, East Pakistan) is a Bengali Bangladeshi ex-physician turned feminist author who describes herself as a secular humanist. From a modest literary profile in the late 1980s, she achieved a meteoric rise to global fame by the end of the twentieth century, for her criticism of Islam and of religion in general. As return to Bangladesh was not possible, Taslima settled in Calcutta, India after long stay in Paris and Stockholm. In 2007, in the teeth of social protest, the government of India kept her in confinement in an undisclosed location for several months under tight security cover. Suffocated, she decided to quit India and eventually relocated to Sweden once again. Nevertheless, she continued to urge upon the Indian government for return to India. Finally, on 08 August 2008, she again landed in India. She is reported to be staying with an ex-Swedish diplomat in the suburbs of Delhi at an undisclosed location.

Life and literary career

She studied medicine at the Mymensingh Medical College and after graduating in 1986, she worked as a government physician until 1994.

She began writing poetry while she was still at high school and published a poetry leaflet titled Snejuti (সেজুতি)from Mymensingh in early 1980s. She published her first anthology of poems titled Shikore Bipul Khudha (শিকড়ে বিপুল ক্ষুধা)(tr. Hunger in the Roots) in 1986. It was an anthology of 38 poems composed between 1980 and 1984. She specialized in writing short lyrics based on personal experience.

She succeeded in drawing attention of a wider readership when she started writing columns in the weekly magazine Khabarer Kagoj, encouraged by her second husband Naimul Islam Khan. She married him after divorcing poet Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah. Her alleged anti-Islam writings caused controversy throughout Bangladesh, and her feminist stance began to crystallize during the course of these articles. Her own experience of sexual abuse during adolescence and her work as a gynaecologist where she routinely examined young girls who had been raped, influenced her a great deal in writing about the treatment of women in Islam.

Her literary debut in the genre of fiction began with the publication of a 76 page novella titled Lajja, (a Bangla word meaning shame) where she, through graphic description of the rape of a Hindu girl by a Muslim man, purported to symbolize marginalization of the Hindu community in Bangladesh. Taslima subsequently revised the novella, restructuring and substantiating with more information. It is now more than 200 pages long.

The Government banned the book and, allegedly an Islamic fundamentalist group declared a death sentence. In 1993, she was charged with blasphemy. An arrest warrant was issued and Taslima went into hiding. After two months she surrendered to the High Court and immediately left Bangladesh after receiving bail. Since 1994 she has lived in many countries in exile including France, Sweden and India. In the meanwhile, she has published a number of fictional and autobiographical accounts, in addition to poetry. Her autobiographical writings have also proved to be provocative and have faced governmental sanctions in India as well as Bangladesh. Taslima was penning her sixth autobiographical book, Nei Kichu Nei (There is nothing), but the continued movement against her through 2007 and expulsion from Calcutta disrupted further writing.

The author's other autobiographical works are Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), Dwikhandito (Split up into Two). Sei Sob Andhakar (Those Dark Days) and Ami Bhalo Nei, Tumi Bhalo Theko Desh (I am not well, stay well my homeland).

Public perception

While Taslima enjoys support of some liberal thinkers and scholars , she has been accused of writing "heinous and false facts about the most revered figure of Islam", Muhammad. She has been criticised as "an attention-seeker who is compulsively provocative and over-simplistic in her formulations on Islam and women." Many of her pro-Islamist critics condemned her for seeking trouble in India. Renowned Bengali novelist and short story writer Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, commented that Taslima used her pen recklessly and hurt the sentiments of people. Also, Nasrin is an atheist.

Controversy surrounding book Ka

Autobiographical books of Taslima raised controversy not only because of her criticisms of Islam but also for narratives involving the private lives of people. Taslima candidly described her sexual relationship with a number of named persons. She also touched upon her relationship with her four Bangladeshi husbands. Published in 2003, Ka, her third autobiographical book, was the first to raise such issues.

Taslima received criticism by several progressive writers and intellectuals who described Ka as a book written with the "business aspect in mind". The 400-page book was described as nothing but pornography or "autobiographical Kama Sutra" by commentator and writer Masuda Bhatti. On 9 November 2003, poet Syed Shamsul Haque filed a suit against Taslima Nasreen and six others, claiming compensation for what he claimed were defamatory remarks against him in her book Ka. His complaint is that Taslima mentioned in the book that the plaintiff had taken her and her sister to Comilla Shalban Bihar and stayed in the guesthouse of Comilla Bonunnayan Daftar. He also complained that Taslima Nasreen, then living in the United States, wrote that during their stay in a guesthouse in Kaptai, he had visited the bathroom many times and she had found him throwing up in the toilet, as he was drunk. Taslima asserted that she was too scared to stay with him in the same room. According to the complaint, Taslima wrote in her novel that he had an illicit relationship with his sister-in-law and had suffered heartbreak, when she married another person. The plaintiff, described such remarks as defamatory and appealed to the court for seizure of all copies of the book and measures to halt its further sale. Barrister Ziaur Rahman Khan and advocate Monwar Hossain moved the suit on behalf of Syed Shamsul Haque.

Ka, published in Bangladesh, is a self-censored version of Dwikhonditp published in India. Dwikhonditp is said to contain critical comments on the prophet Muhammad. The latter was also banned in India by the Calcutta High Court in the state of West Bengal on 18 November 2004.

Censorship

Apart from Lajja, Taslima's first four autobiographical volumes have been banned in Bangladesh. Police were told to confiscate all copies of Wild Wind. The Home Ministry in Bangladesh claimed that they "contain anti-Islamic sentiments and statements that could destroy the religious harmony of Bangladesh." While talking to the BBC Bengali service, Taslima claimed that there was no freedom of expression in the country. "It is a democratic country but there is no real democracy in Bangladesh". Wild Wind is the sequel to My Girlhood, published in 1999, which was also banned in Bangladesh for blasphemy. In November of 2003, the West Bengal government in India banned the sale, distribution and collection of Taslima's Dwikhandito, the third part of her autobiography. However, the ban was lifted by the High Court in September 2005.

Attacks

Since 1993 Taslima has faced several death threats from Islamic fundamentalists for her criticism of Islam. In 2004, Syed Noorur Rehaman Barkati, the Imam of Kolkata's Tipu Sultan Mosque, admitted offering money to anyone who "blackened" Taslima's face. He also accused her of being a "Jewish spy. In 2005, her attempt to read an anti-war poem titled "America" to a large Bengali crowd attending the North American Bengali Conference at Madison Square Garden resulted in her being booed off the stage.

In March 2007, the "All India Ittehad Millat Council" of Bareilly U.P. offered 500,000 rupees for her beheading. The group's president, Tauqir Raza Khan, said the only way the bounty would be lifted was if Nasreen "apologises, burns her books and leaves."

On August 9, 2007, Taslima was attacked at the Hyderabad Press Club in the state of Andhra Pradesh. She was there for the launch of her novel Shodh in the Telugu language. Three MLAs of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party were among the 100 male protesters who physically attacked her for what they claim her repeated criticism of Islam Akbaruddin Owaisi, also an MLA and MIM floor leader in the Assembly, justified the attacks by saying, "We are not bothered about our MLA status. We are Muslims first. And it's our responsibility to test those who have said anything against Islam in whichever way possible." Ahmad Pasha Quadri, one of the lawmakers, said: "Our protest is against Taslima Nasreen because of her writings ridiculing Islam."

Taslima, who was backed into a corner, said the attack was barbaric but pledged she would not be cowed.

Compromise

Until November 22, 2007, Taslima lived in the city of Kolkata, India, but was forced to leave the city in a rush, following security concerns raised by a violent agitation by several Muslim groups in the city that were demanding a stay on further extension of her Indian visa. Possibly urged on by the Bengal government, she flew to Rajasthan where she stayed in a hotel in Jaipur for one night. Due to threats by Islamic groups in Rajasthan, she was moved to New Delhi from where she was allegedly moved again to an undisclosed location.

India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee assured Nasreen a "shelter" in India, but urged her to "refrain from activities and expressions" that may hurt the sentiments of Muslims in India and harm relations with friendly countries. Recognizing the mounting social pressure, Taslima apparently agreed to a compromise formula. On November 30, 2007 Taslima agreed to remove three pages from her book Dwikhondito (Split up into Two). The book has been criticized by Muslims as "anti-Islamic". Taslima made a statement saying: It had not been her intention to "hurt anybody's religious sentiments...Now that some people in India have said they are upset with what I have said, I have decided to drop the controversial portions of the book and have told the publisher to take necessary action...After these portions are removed, I think there will be no more scope for controversy and all the tension so far caused should die down." Leading writers of India welcomed the move.

Life in Exile

Taslima's life in exile commenced when she left Bangladesh in 1994 to avoid arrest. As of 2008, Taslima has been living in exile for more than 14 years. Though she is still a citizen of Bangladesh, she has in the meanwhile been awarded Swedish citizenship. She enjoyed living in developed countries like France and Sweden where she had the freedom of speech and could choose a life style that she preferred. But as time passed by she became eager to return home. But she could not return to Bangladesh since she did not have a valid Bangladeshi passport anymore. In 1993, when she appeared at the airport for traveling to India, her passport was confiscated by the Bangladeshi immigration department on a charge of attempting to hide her real profession. However, when after she left Bangladesh in 1994, Bangladesh Embassies abroad declined to renew her passport and at once stage the validity of her passport expired. In this circumstances she decided to move to Calcutta, a city in India very close to Bangladesh. She enjoyed living in Calcutta where she could speak in her mother tongue. The government of India extended her visa to stay in India on a periodic basis. visa given by the Indian government although Taslima requested the Indian government to grant her Indian citizenship. After a huge agitation in spread over October and November, she was forced to leave Calcutta and the government of India kept her in an undisclosed location near New Delhi. In March 2008, Taslima decided to leave India and returned to Sweden. Incidents in India during 2007 prompted Taslima to begin writing a new book to be titled ''Narir kono desh nei” (tr. A woman has no country).

Expulsion from Calcutta

The latest blow came in September 2007 when a movement was initiated in West Bengal by Islamic extremists and communist sympathizers demanding expulsion of Taslima from India. As a consequence, she has been forced to leave Calcutta and seek refuge in New Delhi.

A protest, called by the militant Islamist "All India Minority Forum", against granting of Indian visa to Bangladeshi origin writer Taslim Nasreen turned Kolkata into a scene of flaming vehicles and scampering school children on 21 November 2007, forcing the deployment of army in the city after nearly 15 years. A call for a road-blockade went out of control as thousands of frenzied people from central Kolkata's Muslim-inhabited areas unleashed a free-for-all for hours. Taslima was first moved from Kolkata to Jaipur, a day after violent protests rocked Kolkata over her stay in India. She was then shifted to New Delhi the following day. The Intelligence Bureau kept her in a 'safe house' within a National Security Guards complex in Delhi.

The author's defenders, including some Muslim figures such as Dr. Mansoor claim she is being used by the West Bengal government as a way of diverting attention from the dispute between the state and Muslim farmers in the rural district of Nandigram. Fourteen people were killed and reports of further violence have continued to shock India. Taslima said: "I'm writing a lot, but not about Islam, It's not my subject now. This is about politics. In the last three months I have been put under severe pressure to leave Bengal by the police.".

Life in safe custody for 110 days

Since the last week of November 2007 Taslima was kept in 'safe custody' somewhere in New Delhi by the government of India. On 9 January 2008 she was selected for the Simone de Beauvoir feminist award in recognition of her writing on women's rights . However she declined to go to Paris to receive the award, fearing that she would not be allowed to re-enter India. She explained that 'I don’t want to leave India at this stage and would rather fight for my freedom here.’ She had to be hospitalized for three days with several complaints. In a letter to London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International India’s former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey urged to exert pressure on government of India so that the Bangladeshi author’s current predicament gets over and she can return to her home in Calcutta.
In an email interview from the undisclosed location of safe custody, Taslima said that she was unable to bear the “deathly silence” on what is to be her fate in India. She is under serious mental pressure and cancelled the publication of the sixth part of her autobiography ‘’Nei Kichu Nei’’ (There is Nothing). Taslima informed, “I get food and necessities, but I don’t have freedom even to step out of where I am being confined. I have no freedom to receive friends. If it is urgently necessary to meet someone, and if after requesting I am allowed this, I am transported in a vehicle from which I cannot see clearly outside, to a third and secret place controlled by the government. The person I have asked to meet will also be brought to the third place in a similar car with blackened windows. There I will be able to talk with my friend for a specified period of time,” On 20 January 2008 she wrote a poem which was published in the daily The Statesman published from Calcutta :
Was a poet ever kept in house arrest?
Taslima Nasreen

Was a poet ever kept in house arrest?
May be she has been a subject of politicking
True she caused clashes once in a while
May be an arson, too.
But no, a poet was never taken to safe custody.
This India, this civilization, this 21st century
They all had welcomed the poet
Ignoring its childish religionism, its merciless politics.
But today, the poet languishes in house arrest.
She has done no offense.

Having been deprived of the view of the sky
No longer she can tell how does the sky look like;
Deprived of the sight of men, no longer can she say how are folks today.
They have left leaving a world of darkness before the poet
They won't return ever, they informed.

Today for the one hundred and fiftieth day, the poet languishes in safe custody
For one hundred and fifty days the poet is unaware
If this earth yet hosts any creature with a human soul
For one hundred and fifty days the poet is unsure
If she is alive or dead.

Whom she will approach to ask back these days for?
Facing darkness the poet ponders
Who will restore sunrays into her life?
Who is there to bring her back the song of life?

O man, tell me, all who suffered in house arrest
Most of them were poets, a big consolation will that be,
It will relieve the burden of my aloneness.
(Translated by Faizul Latif Chowdhury)

Back to Sweden

Nasreen, secluded in secret government custody in Calcutta, India since November 2007, announced on 17 March 2008 that she was planning to leave India due to failing health. In an email to supporters she revealed that she was suffering from very high blood pressure and as a consequence had developed cardiac distress. Her Indian visa was extended in February 2008 on condition that she would "respect the sentiment of Indian citizens in writing and speech". According to a statement posted on her official website, she conceded defeat to popular pressure and alleged that Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee had exerted "great mental pressure" on her to leave the country. Taslima, who had not been allowed to see any visitors for nearly four months, described her confinement as living in "a chamber of death". Taslima, who holds a Swedish passport, arrived in Sweden on 18 March 2008 and was admitted to a cardiac clinic. Earlier, while transiting through Heathrow Airport, London, she declined to divulge any details, saying, "If I disclose my destination my security will be compromised. My face has now become recognisable and I could be target of religious fundamentalists". Nasreen has been awarded a free furnished apartment in Uppsala, Sweden. She does not have to pay rent and she also receives 5.000 SEK/month from the Uppsala community.

In December 2007, Taslima Nasreen wrote a piece that was circulated through internet groups. It was titled The Vanishing. The post began; "Where am I? I am certain no one will believe me if I say I have no answer to this apparently straightforward question, but the truth is I just do not know". In this post, Taslima alleged safe custody in India was "a conspiracy to murder my essence, my being, once so courageous, so brave, so dynamic, so playful." With reference to her living in India she said, "I am a guest in this land, I must be careful of what I say. I must do nothing that violates the code of hospitality. I did not come here to hurt anyone’s sentiments or feelings." "...It is like a slow and lingering death, like sipping delicately from a cupful of slow acting poison that is gradually killing all my faculties." It remains unascertained who wrote or translated this piece on behalf of Taslima. On 18 March 2008, prior to leaving India, in a piece titled Need to escape from death chamber published in a Calcutta daily, Taslima complained that, finding it pointless trying to destroy her mind, the Indian government attempted to destroy her physically. From Delhi she flew to London and while transiting through Heathrow Airport, she declined to disclose her destination. She told the press that since her face was now recognisable, she could easily become a target of fundamentalists. Disclosing the destination would affect her security. On 20 March 2008, she was reported to have landed in somewhere in Europe. Eventually, Taslima, who holds a Swedish passport arrived in Sweden on 19 March 2008, Wednesday, and was admitted to a cardiac clinic in Uppsala. The Swedish media has been silent about her and it is alleged that they are not allowed to communicate with her. She under the care of the Svenska Pen (Swedish Pen Club). When inquired about her well being, from the hospital bed Taslima said, "Just that I am fine... I feel fine... and, I am really enjoying myself.

Return to India

Taslima Nasreen returned to India on 08 August 2008. Immediately after arrival at the Indira Gandhi International airport, she was whisked away by security agencies to an undisclosed destination. Taslima has been requesting for permanent Indian residentship, but the government has not obliged yet.

Awards

Taslima has received a number of international awards in recognition of her uncompromising demand for freedom of expression. However, the Ananda Purashkar was awarded in 1992 to her as a recognition of her literary achievement. Awards and Honours given to her include the following:

Books by Taslima Nasrin

Poetry

  • Shikore Bipul Khudha (Hunger in the Roots), 1986
  • The Game in Reverse: Poems and Essays by Taslima Nasrin 1995
  • Nirbashito Bahire Ontore (Banished Without and Within), 1989
  • Amar Kichu Jay Ashe Ne (I Couldn’t Care Less), 1990
  • Atole Ontorin (Captive In the Abyss), 1991
  • Balikar Gollachut (Game of the Girls), 1992
  • Behula Eka Bhashiyechilo Bhela (Behula Floated the Raft Alone), 1993
  • Ay Kosto Jhepe, Jibon Debo Mepe (Pain Come Roaring Down, I’ll Measure Out My Life for You), 1994
  • Nirbashito Narir Kobita (Poems From Exile), 1996
  • Jolopodyo (Waterlilies), 2000
  • Khali Khali Lage (Feeling Empty), 2004
  • Kicchukhan Thako (Stay For A While), 2005
  • Bhalobaso? Cchai baso (It's your love! or a heap of trash!), 2007
  • Bondini (Prisoner), 2008

Essay collections

Novels

Autobiography

See also

Further reading

  • Taslima Nasreen and Others, a colleciton of poems by women poets of Bangladesh compiled by Faizul Latif Chowdhury, 1999, Dibya Prokash, Dhaka.

References

External links

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