They do not believe in freedom of expression

 

 

“It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don’t have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don’t have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That’s all I have to say on that subject.” — Philip Pullman, the author of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.

 

American Historian Peter Heehs is facing expulsion from his home of 41 years.   He wrote a  book on Indian spiritual Guru  Sri Aurobindo.  The disciples of   Aurobindo claim that the  book is  blasphemous because Heehs wrote Aurobindo was schizophrenic and  had a romantic  relationship with  one of his disciples.

Aurobindo was  a  talented man, a  freedom fighter, philosopher,yogi, guru, and a poet. If he were alive today, he would probably  not have allowed his disciples to expel  Peter Heehs from his ashram.

We are now witnessing a gradual Islamization of  Hinduism.

 

The   disciples  or the believers or the worshipers  create  problems. They can’t stand the truth.

They could not stand  the truth Pakistani Dr. Sheikh Yunus  said. During his  lecture at a medical college, he said that  Muhammad did not become a Muslim  until the age of 40 when  he received his  first revelation  from God, and also that Muhammad’s parents were non-Muslims because they died before Islam was created, and  that Muhammad  married his first wife when he was 25, without an Islamic marriage contract, and that he  was not circumcised.

Sheikh Yunus  was sentenced to death by hanging.

 

We have been  paying  the price  for their  collective ignorance big time.

 

 

 

Homeless Everywhere

( Dwikhandito ( A life divided or Split in  Two), the 3rd part of my autobiography    caused a furore in [East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and West Bengal, India]. I was accused of having written  my sexual relationship outside of marriage. The book was later banned for hurting religious feelings of people in  India.  $4 million dollar  demanation lawsuits were  filed against me for writing  Dwikhandito by two male writers both in Bangladesh and  India . The Indian high court lifted the ban on my book.  But the book is still  banned in Bangladesh. I wrote this article when some media and male-writers were spreading hatred  against me in 2003. )

“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”.  — Rosa Luxemburg

 
When I look back, the years gone by appear dry, ashen. Suddenly, a half-forgotten  dream tears itself from that inert grey mass and stands before me, iridescent, obtrusive. Odd memories tiptoe into my solitary room. Confronting me, they make me tremble, they make me cry; they drag me back towards the days left behind. I cannot help but walk down the serpentine, shadowy alleys of my life, foraging for remembered fragments. To what use? The past is past, irrevocably so. The dreams that are long dead are unrecognizably dead. What good can it do to dust the cobwebs off them with tender fingers? What is gone just isn’t here anymore. I know, yet my life in exile makes me reach back into my past, again and again. I walk through the landscape of my memories like someone possessed. Each night brings  with it nightmares, its own thick blanket of melancholy. It is then that I start telling the story of that girl.

 

 

A shy, timid girl, who grew up in a strict family, uncomplaining, constantly humiliated; a girl encircled by boundaries, whose every desire, every whim was thrown away as garbage; whose small, frail body was prey to many dark, hairy hands. I have narrated the story of that girl. A girl with modest adolescent dreams, who fell in love and married in secret, hoping  to live the ordinary life of an ordinary woman. I have told her story. A woman betrayed by her dearly beloved husband, whose convictions came crashing down like a house of straw, a woman who knew sorrow, pain, mourning, and bereavement; a woman who was tempted to follow the terrible road to self-destruction. I have simply told her agonizing tale. A woman who then gathered up the broken pieces of her dreams and tried to live again, to make a little room of her own in the midst of a cruel, heartless society; who surrendered to a guardian called ‘man’ because society demanded it of her. But the hurt, the pain kept growing, the traumatic pain of losing an unborn child, wounds that left her bloodied and sore, onslaughts of malice, distrust and unbearable humiliation.

All that I have done is to tell the story of that trampled and bruised girl. That girl who, with whatever strength remained in her body and mind, stood up again, without anyone’s help, turned away from all shelter, trying to be her own self once more, her own refuge; a woman who refused to renounce and retreat from the world that had deceived and rejected her, a woman who refused to heed people’s taunts and sneers I have narrated the story of this girl, of this woman standing upright. A woman who  refused to obey society’s diktats, its rituals and traditions. A woman whose constant stumbling, falling, being thrown, taught her to stand straight. Whose stumbling steps taught her to walk, whose wanderings showed her the way. Slowly, gradually, she witnessed the  growth of a new consciousness within her, a simple thought took hold of her – “This life was her own and no one else’s. She was the one who could rule over it, no one else”. I have told the story of that girl, of the circumstances that shaped her. It is the story of a girl who came out of the furnace of patriarchy, not reduced to ashes, but as burnished steel. Have I done wrong? Even if I don’t think so, many people think today that it was wrong of me to tell this story. Today, I am standing in the prosecution box waiting for the verdict. It wouldn’t have been such a terrible crime if I had not disclosed the identity of that girl. The girl was I, Taslima.

 

Had I used my imagination, I could have done whatever I pleased – written page after page of fancy and all would have been forgiven. But it is forbidden to stake my claim in this real world to being a flesh and blood woman and announce audaciously – “I am that girl; after those turbulent years of sorrow I am standing up again; I have vowed to live my life as I see fit”. Why would the world accept this bold stance? No woman should have this kind of  courage. I am completely unfit for a patriarchal society. In my own country Bangladesh, in  my very own West Bengal, I am a forbidden name, an outlawed woman, a banned book. Nobody can utter my name, touch me, read me; if they do so their tongues will rot, their hands will become soiled, a deep disgust will overwhelm them. This is the way I am. This is  the way I have chosen to be. Yet even if the publication of Dwikhandito  shatters me into a thousand pieces, I will still not confess to any wrongdoing. Is it wrong to write the story of one’s life? Is it wrong to expose the deep, secret truths of life as you have lived it? The unwritten rule of every autobiography is – ‘Nothing will be hidden, everything shall be written about’. An  autobiography’s subject is the unknown, the secrets of a human life. I have simply tried to follow this rule honestly. The first two volumes of my life story, Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood)  and Utal Hawa (Strong Winds) have not raised the kind of controversy Dwikhandito has. In any case, I have not started the controversy, others have. Many have said that I have deliberately chosen sensational subject matter, incapable of generating anything but controversy.
This question should not be raised in the case of an autobiography. I have described the years of my childhood, my adolescence, my youth, living and growing through all kinds of experiences. I have spoken about my philosophy, my hopes and despairs, my beauty and my ugliness, my happiness and sorrow, my anger and tears, my own deviation from my ideals. I have not chosen a titillating or sensitive subject. I have simply chosen my own life to write about. If this life is a stimulating and exciting life, then how can I make it less so? I am told this volume has been written to raise a hue and cry. Does every conception have to have a petty motive? As if honesty, simplicity cannot be adequate reasons. As if courage, something that I am told I have in abundance, cannot be a good enough reason. Controversy about my writing is nothing new. I am familiar with it from the very time I was being published. Actually, isn’t the truth rather simple? Just this: if you don’t compromise with a patriarchal society, you will find yourself at the centre of a storm?  There are many different definitions of what makes an autobiography. Most of us easily accept those autobiographies that are idealistic and describe only good and happy events. Generally, great men write about their lives to inspire other lives, to reveal the truth and the path of righteousness. I am neither a sage, nor a great, erudite being, and I write not to show light to the blind. I am simply unmasking the wounds and blights of an ordinary human life.

 

Even though I am not a great litterateur, momentous things  have happened in my life. Certainly it is no ordinary life, when, because of my beliefs and ideals, thousands take to the streets asking for my death; or when my books are banned because they carry my opinions; or when the state snatches away the right to live in my  own land for speaking the truth!  When it is all right for others to constantly describe my life, and add color to their  portrayal, why shouldn’t it be all right for me to take the responsibility to describe it myself, fully, truthfully? Surely no one else can know my life the way I know it?  If I don’t reveal myself, if I don’t depict the whole of myself – especially those events  that have shaken me — if I don’t talk of all that is good and bad in me, of my weaknesses  and my strengths, my happiness and sorrow, my generosity and cruelty, then I don’t think I can stay true to the responsibility of writing an autobiography. For me, literature for literature’s  sake, or literary niceties for their own sake, cannot be the last word; I place a greater  value on honesty.
Whatever my life may be, however contemptible or despicable, I do not deceive myself  when I sit down to write about it. If the reader is disgusted or appalled by my tale, so be it.  At least I can be satisfied that I have not cheated my reader. I am not presenting a fictitious  narrative in the guise of an autobiography. I narrate the truths of my life, the ugly as  much as I do the beautiful, without hesitation. I can’t change my past. The ugliness and the  beauty must both be accepted; I won’t lie and say, “It didn’t happen”.  The sharp arrows of mockery come flying from every direction. The mud of slander  and humiliation is flung to soil me. There is only one reason for this assault. I have spoken  the truth. Not everyone can bear the truth. The truths of Amar Meyebela   and Utal Hawa   can  be borne; Dwikhandito’s is insupportable. In Amar Meyebela, when I described my ignoble  childhood, people said sympathetically, “How terrible!” In Utal Hawa, when I described being  cheated on by my husband, they expressed their sympathy. But in Dwikhandito, when I  spoke openly of my relationships with various men, they began to point fingers at me. We  can draw only one conclusion from this: As long as a woman is oppressed and defenseless,  people like her and sympathize with her. But when she refuses to remain exploited or  suppressed, when she stands up, when she straightens her spine, establishes her rights,  breaks the oppressive social systems that chain her so as to free her body and mind – she is no longer admirable. I knew this character of our society; even then I was not afraid to speak freely about myself.
One of the main reasons for the controversy regarding Dwikhandito is sexual freedom. Since most people are immersed neck-deep in the traditions of a patriarchal society, they  are irritated, angry and outraged at the open declaration of a woman’s sexual autonomy. This freedom is not something that I simply talk about; rather, I have established it  for myself, in and through my life. But this freedom is not license; men cannot touch me  whenever they please. I decide.  Our society is not yet ready for such freedom in a woman. It refuses to accept the fact  that a woman can sexually engage with and enjoy any man she desires, and yet rigorously  decide where to draw the line in any encounter. Our renowned, famous, well-heeled writers delight in slandering me by calling me a fallen woman, a whore. In doing this they only prove themselves to be the figureheads of  this disgusting, dirty patriarchal society! They first use ‘whore’ for their enjoyment and then deploy the words ‘whore’ as a term for abuse! There is really nothing novel  in the use of women as sexual slaves.  Although in this volume of my autobiography I have spoken about my personal struggle   against patriarchy, and religious fundamentalism, spoken about the torture meted out by society on women and religious  minorities, nobody talks of the fact that I have spoken of such things. They only notice my relationships  with men. They notice the audacity that I have in opening my mouth about the deep,  secret, ugly and repulsive subject of what happens to sexuality in a patriarchal society.

 

Whenever, in the history of the world, in times of darkness, a woman stands up against  patriarchy, speaks about emancipation, tries to break free from her chains, she gets called a  ‘whore’. Many years ago, in the preface to my book, A Fallen Woman’s Fallen Prose‚ I  wrote about how I delighted in calling myself a ‘fallen woman’. It was because I knew that whenever  a woman has protested against oppression by the state, by religion, or by society, whenever  she has become aware of all her rights, society has called her a whore. I believe that in  this world, for a woman to be pure, to be true to herself, she has to become a ‘fallen woman’.  Only when a woman is called a ‘whore’ can she know that she is free from the coils of society’s  diktats. The ‘fallen’ woman is really a pure and pristine human being. I truly believe that if a woman wants to earn her freedom, be a human, she has to earn this label. This title, coming from a fallen, degenerate society, should be seen as an honour by every woman. Till now, of all the prizes I have received, I consider this honour to be the greatest recognition of what  I have done with my life. I have earned it because I have given a mortal blow to the decaying,  rotten body of patriarchy. This is the true measure of the worth of my life as a writer, of my  life as a woman and the long years of my struggle to be the person I am.
A writer in Bangladesh has sued me for defamation after Dwikhandito came out.  Another in West Bengal has also followed suit. Dissatisfied with that, they have demanded  a ban on my book. I really cannot understand how a writer can demand this about another  writer’s work. How can they fight for freedom of speech and thought and then behave like  fundamentalists. I believe every word of what Evelyn Beatrice Hall said – “Je ne suis absolument pas  d’accord avec vos idées, mais je me battrais pour que vous puissiez les exprimer…” – (“I  do not agree with your ideas, but I will fight for your right to express them”.)  So many people have written about their lives. If it is a human life, it is full of errors, mistakes, black marks, and thorns, even when those in question are saints. St. Augustine   (335-430 AD) wrote about his life, talked openly about his undisciplined, immoral, reckless  youth in Algeria, his illegitimate son, his sexual exploits. Mahatma Gandhi spoken of how he  tested his celibacy by making women sleep in the same bed with him. Jean Jacques   Rousseau (1712-1774) in his Confessions narrates every incident of his life, without holding
back the ugly and the bad. Benjamin Franklin (1709-1790) confesses how he brought  up his illegitimate son, William. Bertrand Russell and Leo Tolstoy have been equally frank  about their lives. Why did these men talk about things they knew were unacceptable by  society? It is because they wanted to let their readers know their real selves, and because
they felt that these experiences were important in their lives. Does anyone call them names  because they have been indiscreet? Rather, these admirable men remain exactly in the  position of honor they have always occupied, and it is reinforced by their telling of the   truths of their lives. Catherine Millet’s La vie sexuelle de Catherine M (The sexual life of  Catherine M) describes the sexual freedom of the sixties, her life with many men, vivid  descriptions of sex. Hasn’t this book occupied a place among other literary works? Gabriel  Garcia Marquez in his Vivir Para Contarla talks of other women with whom he had relations.  Will someone run to court to ban Marquez’s book?

 

In every country, biographies are written about famous men and women. Biographers  conduct research for years to unearth some hidden aspects of the life under examination.  Even innermost secrets no longer remain so, and we have seen this even in the case of  Rabindranath Tagore’s life. In spite of being a passionate spokesman against child marriage,  why did he allow his daughter to marry so young? We now know the reason. But the  question remains: Why does a reader need to know all this? Why do researchers spend  years finding out the most intimate details of a person’s life? It is because in the light of  these hidden facts we can analyze and understand the writer and his work in a new way.  Many Bengali writers love playing games with women, and even if they hesitate to mention  these escapades in their autobiographies, the characters they create boldly commit  such acts. Nobody has ever questioned them, but if a woman talks of sexuality, in a fictional  work or in her autobiography, eyebrows are raised. Sexuality is a man’s prerogative, his  ancestral’ patrilineal property. I can’t possibly write like men. I must write more discreetly. I am a woman after all. Only a man possesses the right to discuss a woman’s body, her  thighs, her breasts, her waist and her vagina. Why should a woman do it? This patriarchal  society has not given me that right, but since I have thumbed my nose at this rule and have  written about it, however sad or poignant my tale may be, I have crossed the limits.

 

 

For a man, a playboy image is something to be proud of.  When a woman writes about  her love and sexuality with honesty, she becomes a suspect, a ‘characterless’ woman. I  have talked of certain things in my autobiography that I should not have. I have muckraked;  I have crossed the limit allowed to me.  One should not discuss what happens inside the bedroom or between two individuals  because such events are unimportant. But I consider them important because all those  incidents have shaped the Taslima that I am today – this woman with her beliefs and  disbeliefs, mores and thoughts, and her own sense of her self. The world around her has  created her brick by brick, not as a chaste domesticated angel, but as an ardent, renegade,  disobedient brat.  Then they say: I can destroy my own reputation, but why do I have to destroy the reputation  of others? This question has come up, although I am writing about what is after all my  own life. I fail to understand why those who are so self-consciously respectable do things that  they consider contemptible? They say that I have broken their trust. But I never promised anyone  my silence. People tell me there is an unwritten rule, but only those afraid my revelations  will destroy their saintly images uphold this code of discretion. And then they try to intimidate  me with their furious wrinkled brows! But what if I want to reveal whatever I consider important?  What if I decide that what I am talking about is not obscene, at least to me?  Who creates these definitions of obscenity and sets out the limits? I decide what I  should write in my autobiography, how much to reveal, how much to conceal. Or should I  not? Should I wait for instructions from X, Y, and Z, from some Maqsud Ali, some Keramat  Mian, or from some Paritosh or Haridas Pal? Should I wait on them to tell me what to write,  how much to write?
Critics want to characterize my freedom as self-indulgent license. This is because our  likes and dislikes, our sense of right and wrong, sin and virtue, beauty and ugliness are  moulded by thousands of years of patriarchy. So, patriarchy has taught us that the true  characteristics of a woman are her diffidence, her timidity, her chastity, her lowered head,  and her patience. Therefore, the critic’s habituated, controlled perceptions are afraid to face  harsh truths, and quickly shut their ears in disgust. “Is she a real writer? Does she have the  right to an autobiography?”, they ask in anger.  I think that everyone has a right to talk about their lives, even the pompous critic who  regards a pen in my hands as an outrage! I have been called irresponsible. I may be irresponsible, I may be irrational, but I refuse to give up the right to be so. George Bernard  Shaw once said, “A reasonable man adapts himself to the world. An unreasonable man  persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends upon the  unreasonable man”.  Taslima Nasreen is one of those unreasonable human beings. I do not claim that  progress depends upon me; I am simply an insignificant writer. In the eyes of wise men, I  am happy to be labelled an unreasonable or imprudent person. It is because I am foolish  that I have not kept my mouth shut, I have stood my ground even as an entire society has  spat upon me. I have remained firm when patriarchy’s ardent supporters have come to trample me. My naïveté, my unreasonableness, my irrationality are my greatest assets.
The question of religion has also come up. Those who know me also know that I  always speak up against religious conventions. Religion is thoroughly patriarchal. If I insult  religion or religious texts, why should men tolerate it, especially when these same men use  religion and religious texts to suppress others? It is these pious gentlemen who have forced  me to leave my country. I have paid the price for truth with my own life. How much more should I pay?  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, the  conflicts between shitte and Sunni 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, color, 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.

 

Mother’s Story

 

1

My mother’s eyes became yellowish, egg-yoke like.
Her belly swelled out rapidly like an overly full water tank
ready to burst at any moment.

No longer able to stand up, or sit down, or even move her fingers, she just lay there.
At the end of her days, she did not look like Mother any more.
Relatives appeared each morning, every evening,
telling Mother to be prepared,
telling her to be ready to die on the holy day, Friday,
uttering la ilaha illallah, Allah Is One!

 

They warned her not to disappoint the two angels—

Munkar and Nakir.

 

The relatives wanted to make certain that the room

and yard would be clean
that the perfume atar  and the blue eye shadow surma

would be present when Death would finally arrive.

 

The disease had nearly devoured her entire body;
it had stolen her last remaining strength;
it had made her eyes bulge from their sockets,
it had dried her tongue,
it had sucked the air from her lungs.

 

As she struggled to breathe,
her forehead and eyebrows wretched with pain.

The whole house demanded— shouting—
that she should send her greatest respects and reverence

to the Prophet.
Not one doubted that she would go to Jannatul Ferdous,

the highest level of heaven.
Not one doubted that she would soon walk hand-in-hand

with Muhammed, on a lovely afternoon,

in the Garden of  Paradise..


No one doubted that the two would lunch together

on pheasant  and wine.
Mother thus dreamed her lifelong dream:
She would walk with Muhammed

in the Garden of Paradise.


But now, at the very time that she was about to depart from this earth, what a surprise

She hesitated.

Instead of stepping outside, and entering that Garden,
she wished to stay and boil Birui rice for me.
She wished to cook fish curry and to fry a whole hilsa.
She wished to make me a spicy sauce with red potatoes.
She wished to pick a young coconut for me
from the south corner of her garden.
She wished to fan me with a silken hand-fan,
and to remove a few straggly hairs from my forehead.
She wished to put a new bed sheet upon my bed,
and to sew a frock with colorful embroidery—

just for me.
Yes, she wished to walk barefoot in the courtyard,
and to prop up a young guava plant with a bamboo stick.
She wished to sing sitting in the garden of hasnuhena,


“Never before, had such a bright moon shone down,
never before, was night so beautiful.. .” 

 

My mother wanted so desperately to live.

 

 

 

 

2

There is, I know, no reincarnation,
no last judgment day:
Heaven, pheasant, wine, pink virgins —
these are nothing but traps

set by true believers.

 

There is no heaven for mother to go.
She will not walk in any garden with anybody whatsoever.
Cunning foxes will instead enter her grave;

they will eat her flesh;
her white bones will be spread by the winds…

 

Nevertheless, I do want to believe in Heaven
over the seventh sky, or somewhere—
a fabulous, magnificent heaven—
somewhere where my mother would reach

after crossing the bridge,

the Pulsirat— which seems so impossible to cross.
And there, once she has passed that bridge

with the greatest ease,

a very handsome man, the Prophet Muhammed,
will welcome her, embrace her.

He will feel her melt upon his broad chest.
She will wish to take a shower in the fountain;
she will wish to dance, to jump with joy;
she will be able to do all the things

that she has never done before.
A pheasant will arrive on a golden tray.
My mother will eat to her heart’s content.
Allah Himself will come by foot into the garden to meet her;
he will put a red flower into her hair,

kiss her passionately.

 

She will sleep on a soft feather bed;
she will be fanned by seven hundred Hur, the virgins
and be served cool water in silver pitcher

by beautiful gelban, the young angels.
She will laugh,

her whole body will stir with enormous happiness.

She will forget her miserable life on Earth…

 

An atheist,

How good I feel
just to imagine
somewhere there is a heaven!

 

(The original poem was written  in Bengali.  It  was published in  Bengali literary  weekly magazine ‘Desh’. Bangladesh government  banned the magazine on April 4,1999, and seized all copies from the news stands. I was accused of personifying  God.)

 

 

The House of Termites

…………..Ma had a wooden cupboard. One shelf was packed with books, the other shelves were crammed with clothes, tossed in any old how, not a single one neatly folded. Among the books were some called  Maksudul Momenin, Neamul Quran, a book of poems by Amirullah, Tajkeratul Awlia, and even a book called Who Am I? So Amirullah knew English, too! Ma had often enough said to me, “Huzur is most knowledgeable. He speaks fluent English!” When she uttered these words, her eyes would light up. Why did he  study the worldly things, the question came to my lips, but I swallowed it whole before it could slip out. Ma would no doubt have found it impertinent. The truth was that in the matter of Allah and the Prophet, logic and reason had no meaning whatsoever for Ma. The same applied to Amirullah. If I simply went along with whatever she said, making appropriate noises, she was happy.

 

Since I was her child, it was my duty to make her happy or, at least, that was what I had been brought up to believe. Besides, if I could make her happy, it saved me from her slaps and punches. In fact, when I sat down to eat, she herself served me pieces of meat. To gain her affection I kept my lips together, sealed with invisible glue.Those who did not follow the Quran and the Hadith were not Muslims, Ma was very clear about that.  Those   would burn in hell.  No one would be spared.  It was as simple as that.  The basic rules were all very simple.  The fire in hell would roast you alive if you did not pray, or fast during Ramadan.  Or if you went out without draping a burka, and talked to a men, who was not your relative.   If you laughed too loudly, that fire in hell would get you.  Or, indeed, if you cried noisily.  No matter what you did, there could be no escape from that fire. Fire, fire and fire.

 

I wanted to ask Ma why everyone was so scared of fire, especially in this day and age.  Why, in cold countries, people lit fires in all their rooms!  And what about the circus?  So many of their exciting shows involved playing with fire.  Minor burns were easily treatable nowadays.  Then why did Allah have to terrorize everyone with the threat of fire?  There were so many other ways of hurting people.  Surprisingly, Allah did not seem interested in any of them. Wicked people like causing physical pain. However, those with real cunning  enjoy causing mental anguish.  A battered mind is so much harder to bear than a battered body.  But Allah, it seemed to me, was more wicked than cunning.  No different from Getu’s father.  Or, at times, very much like Baba, who did not hesitate to thrash me black and blue if I did not obey his every command.  The difference between him and Allah was simply that he wanted to give me an education in this mundane world, so that I could be successful in life, and Allah wanted me to study the Quran and Hadith.

 

To me, Baba was as distant as Allah.  I felt a lot happier when he was not around.  Any mention of Allah — formless and shapeless as He was, poor thing — also caused me much discomfort.  The truth was that I wanted both to stay away from me, their absence was far preferable.  They pushed me in two different directions, so much so that I ceased to have an existence of my own.  All that remained was a corpse lying in a morgue, divided in two. If Baba was pleased with me he brought me large boxes of sweets, telling me to help myself to the best pieces of fish at dinner. Allah, I heard, behaved in a similar fashion. If He was pleased with anyone, the best food was provided in abundance—the flesh of exotic birds, grapes, wine, and many other things. Beautiful pink  women, their skin glowing, poured wine into men’s glasses.

 

 

Grandpa, having returned from Haj, was convinced that he would go straight to Heaven. And there, after a good heavenly meal, when he belched, he would emit a wonderful smell. I couldn’t stand anyone belching, wonderful smell or not. What would happen to less fortunate people, I wondered, who might be denied such a meal? Would they simply stand around to smell someone else’s belching? In my mind, I cast Getu’s father in the role of the unlucky man, Grandpa the fortunate one. I took the book of Hadith on my right,   and put the two men on my left. One continued to belch, the other continued to smell. I felt  part of the scene, too; at the same time, however, I was not. I was in the letters, in the belching, in the smelling,   but I was not anywhere. There was no belching and smelling, but they were. The termites and the words were with me,   with the belching too. I did not wish to vanish any of them, even in my imagination.  There was a house of termites in the book of Hadith. Our house was damp. Termites often attacked books if they were not regularly aired and their pages. Seeing big fat termites I felt uneasy. As I was sitting on the floor, got a black shoe near my reach, Baba’s black torn shoe, no use anymore, pressed the shoe on the book of the Hadith and smash some termites. One of my eyes remained fixed on the dead termites, the other read the half eaten words of the holy book.

‘Everything in the world is for  enjoyment. The best thing to enjoy is the virtuous wife.’

 

‘Whatever you see in this world is for consumption by pleasure-seekers. The

most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman.’

 

I was half-reclining on the floor, one hand under my chin, the other clutching the book.

 

‘If I were to order anyone to bow, I would certainly order all women to do so for their husbands.’

‘If a wife ever tells her husband that she is dissatisfied with whatever he does,

she will lose all the virtue she may have gained over a period of time, even as

long as seventy years. She may have her fast  during the day, and done her

pray at night, but every virtue earned thereby will be lost.’

 

‘A husband has the right to beat his wife in four different cases, if (a) he tells her

to dress well and come to him, and she disobeys his command; (b) she rejects

his invitation to have sexual intercourse; (c) she ignores her duties,

and fails to perform her pray; and (d) she visits someone’s house without

her husband’s permission.’

 

‘Women who do not get jealous when their husbands take a second wife, but

accept it with patience and fortitude, are treated as martyrs by Allah and granted

the same honor.’

 

‘If pus and blood are  oozing from a mans body and his wife licks all that ,

still it is not enough to to pay him back what he deserves.’

 

‘The man who would get the  lowest rank in the heaven, even he would

have eighty thousands servants and seventy two wives.’

 

‘If a husband orders her wife to do something, and even though she is

running from one mountain to another, she is bound to follow the order of her husband’.

 

Some  insects left the book and began crawling toward me. Were they going to eat me as well? This house was being taken over by termites and woodworm. At night, the woodworm ate through all the woodwork, making clicking noises. The termites devoured all our books in absolute silence. They even ate the words of the great Prophet Muhammad. Were these termites Muslims? No, they couldn’t possibly have a specified religion. They seemed to enjoy the complete works of Saradindu Bandopadhyay, a Hindu writer, as much as the holy Quran.

 

After Dilruba’s departure, books became my only companions. I had finished most of what our school library had to offer—books by Bankimchandra, Saratchandra, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore. Whatever I could lay my hands on. I took to the roof or sat on the stairs, or read at my desk and   at times even in bed. When Baba came home, I hid these “unsuitable” books behind my school books, holding the latter in front of me without reading a word. When everyone went to sleep at night, I lit a lamp under my mosquito net and read every word of the “unsuitable” ones. Yasmin lay next to me, fast asleep.

Ma sometimes said to me, “What rubbish do you read all the time? Mubashwera died. You saw that, so you should think of Allah now. We have all got to die, haven’t we?”

I made no reply. Ma’s commands and instructions hung over my head like the sun in June—waiting, as if to burn me to a cinder.

 

 

Many times I was warned that if I did not follow the precepts laid down in the Quran and the Hadith, there would be Hell to pay on the Day of Judgment. However, until now, I had no idea what “Hadith” meant. Now that I knew, I did not wish to delve any deeper. I knew shit remains in the pot of shit, there was no use to search for pearls or diamond in   that pot.   I closed the termite-ridden book. It seemed to move under my hands, as if it was belching; as if it, too, had eaten some food served in the heaven. The sound of Ma’s footsteps made me spring back and quickly replace the book on her shelf. She had no idea that termites were silently eating away her book of the Hadith. She was busy preaching to  uncle Aman. Every night, I could hear whispers from her room, also suppressed laughter. I said nothing to her about the termites. If they were hungry, let them eat what they could. Why should I try to have them killed?

 

 

What I couldn’t understand was why I was supposed to turn to Allah because Mubashwera was dead. I had no wish to think of Allah. All that business about Allah  was just made up, I was   sure. I was   sure that the Quran was written by a   greedy, selfish and sex obsessed man. If the Hadith was the words of Prophet Muhammad, then he was definitely like Getus father, nasty, cruel, abuser, insane. I could not find any difference between Allah and Muhammad and Getus father.

Even after I had put the book back, millions of termites remained deep inside me, silently eating away all the letters and words in my head, and who knows what else…………………..

 

( From ”My Girlhood” by Taslima Nasreen. The book has  been  banned  in  Bangladesh  since 1999 )

Let’s Eroticize Equality

 

“Pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice.”  — Robin Morgan

 

I am against  pornography because it  has  many  harmful effects:   encouragement of  sex trafficking, desensitization, pedophilia, dehumanization, sexual exploitation, sexual dysfunction,  inability to maintain healthy sexual relationships. Pornography is exclusively for men’s pleasure. Women  are used as sex objects. I know some women will   say, ‘we love to be sex objects’. Millions of misogynists are out there to  support the idea of the objectification of women.  I do not have to support this.

 

I am against pornography, because I am against abuse or degradation. But I am not against erotica. The definitions of pornography and erotica come from Diana Russell.

Pornography: Material that combines sex and/or the exposure of genitals with abuse or degradation in a manner that appears to endorse, condone, or encourage such behavior.

Erotica: Sexually suggestive or arousing material that is free of sexism, racism, and homophobia, and respectful of all human beings and animals portrayed.

 

 

I like what  Gloria Steinem says, “Pornography is directly linked to sex trafficking. It normalizes degradation and violence as acceptable and even inevitable parts of sex, and it uses the bodies of real women and children as its raw material. The difference between pornography and erotica is clear in the words themselves — porne means females slaves, eros mean love — and we can see that pornography, like rape, is about violence and domination not sex. Millions of lives depend on our ability to untangle pornography from erotica, violence from sexuality.”

 

Researchers say,   “Most female performers are coerced into pornography, either by somebody else, or by an unfortunate set of circumstances.  Pornography leads to an increase in sexual violence against women through fostering  rape myths. Such rape myths include the belief that women really want to be raped and that they mean yes when they say no. Pornography desensitizes viewers to violence against women, and this leads to a progressive need to see more violence in order to become sexually aroused.”

 

“The pornography industry is a lot bigger, more powerful, more legitimate, more in everyone’s face today than it was a quarter of a century ago. To the degree that it cannot exist without doing real damage, it could still be stopped in its tracks anywhere by this  law. Sexual objectification and violation does not happen all by itself. Real social institutions drive it.”

 

“Pornography, an industry of woman-hating dehumanization,  is implicated in violence against women, both in its production  through the abuse of the women used to star in it , and in the social consequences of its consumption by encouraging men to eroticize the domination, humiliation, coercion and abuse of women.”

We should rather  Eroticize  Equality!

 

Survey says, “porn does not stimulate men’s appetites–it turns them off the real thing.  ‘Not tonight, honey, I am logging on’. Internet porn is everywhere, even ‘nice’ guys are hooked.”

A psychotherapist told us about  Myth and facts about pornography.   I find it quite interesting. Porn is fake, girls are real.

I believe Pornography and prostitution are not necessary evils, they are unnecessary crimes.

 

Look what you watch.  Porn1, Porn2, Porn3  ….. Do you want to watch more? Leave it. Let’s listen to  a song . Let’s change the world

 

 

Do women really ‘choose’ to be prostitutes

 

‘We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution.’—VICTOR HUGO, Les Misérables

 

I hope we all Free-thought bloggers believe in freedom of expression. My opinion on prostitution  is nothing new. Most feminists believe prostitution or sexual slavery  must end. I do not want to be misunderstood. But  it looks like a war started against me on  FTB because I said something politically incorrect.  I feel suffocated because I am opposed by a group I proudly belong to, a group of atheists, secularists, humanists, rationalists.

 

I was wondering how many people who claim that women choose to be prostitutes encourage their beloved daughters to be prostitutes. Even prostitutes do not want their daughters become prostitutes. They are desperate to send their daughters to schools, so that daughters can get an education and a decent job.

 

I just want to know whether women and girls would choose this ‘’job’’.   Please read the ad.

 

What is prostitution? Andrea Dworkin was a prostitute. She knows what prostitution is. ‘Prostitution in and of itself is an abuse of a woman’s body.’ Please read  ”Prostitution: what is it? It is the use of a woman’s body for sex by a man, he pays money, he does what he wants. The minute you move away from what it really is, you move away from prostitution into the world of ideas. You will feel better; you will have a better time; it is more fun; there is plenty to discuss, but you will be discussing ideas, not prostitution. Prostitution is not an idea. It is the mouth, the vagina, the rectum, penetrated usually by a penis, sometimes hands, sometimes objects, by one man and then another and then another and then another and then another. That’s what it is.”

”I ask you to think about your own bodies–if you can do so outside the world that the pornographers have created in your minds, the flat, dead, floating mouths and vaginas and anuses of women. I ask you to think concretely about your own bodies used that way. How sexy is it? Is it fun? The people who defend prostitution and pornography want you to feel a kinky little thrill every time you think of something being stuck in a woman. I want you to feel the delicate tissues in her body that are being misused. I want you to feel what it feels like when it happens over and over and over and over and over and over and over again: because that is what prostitution is.”

 

 

 

Somaly  Mam was a prostitute in Cambodia. She is now Human Rights  activist. She is saving children from prostitution.

 

Please read   Nicholas  Kristof ‘s story about saving  5-year-old girls from brothel.

 

Prostitution is an actively unlike any other ‘work’. Gloria Steinem said, ‘While all other occupations have physical, mental and sexual hazards and risks, prostitution is one such vocation that has an inherent risk towards violence against women as it involves penetration, which is an invasion of the human body, unlike in any other vocation. Prostitution cannot be legislated since the dignity of the body is constantly negotiated”

 

Prostitution researchers’   say,  ‘women are in   legal prostitution for the same reason they are in illegal prostitution, a lack of alternative survival options. Most women in prostitution did not make a choice to enter prostitution from among a range of other options. They did not decide they want to be prostitutes instead of doctors, engineers, lawyers, pilots. Instead their ‘options’ were more in the realm of how to get enough money to feed themselves and their children. If prostitution were really a choice it would not be those people with the fewest choices available to them who are disproportionately in prostitution. Such choices are better termed survival strategies. Prostitution is about not having a range of educational and job options to choose from. Most women in prostitution end up there only because other options are not available.’’

 

 

Researchers say, ‘Prostitution is not labor, it is paid sexual exploitation. It is often paid rape. It is intrinsically harmful and traumatic. As a society, we do not allow the sale and purchase of body parts, such as kidneys. This is because we know that it would be the poor and disadvantaged who would exercise their ‘choice’ to sell body parts for cash. Others would be likely to ‘choose’ to live a healthier and longer life.’

 

 

Researchers say, ‘When prostituted women are asked, consistently around 90% say they want out of  prostitution immediately, but the decision is out of their hands and in the hands of their pimps, their husbands, their landlords, their addictions, their children’s bellies. A study of women in street prostitution in Toronto found that about 90% wanted to escape but could not and a 5-country study found that 92% of women, men and transgendered people in prostitution wanted immediate help to escape prostitution. If they are there because they cannot leave, then prostitution is not a freely made choice.’’

 

 

Researchers say, ‘There are a few women who apparently earn large amounts of money in Prostitution, these women are in an extreme minority. Prostitution is a route into poverty for most women. Even women in legal brothels report having to pay extortionate sums for rent and food. They also pay pimps inside and outside the brothels. They are not free to come and go as they wish. Women in prostitution must continually lie about their lives, their bodies, and their sexual responses. Lying is part of the job definition when the customer asks, “did you enjoy it?” The very edifice of prostitution is built on the lie that “women like it.” Some prostitution survivors have stated that it took them years after leaving prostitution to  acknowledge that prostitution wasn’t a free choice because they had to lie to themselves in order to survive.’

 

 

Many women who wear burqa say, they choose to wear burqa. ‘When a woman remains in an abusive relationship with a partner who batters her, or even when she defends his actions, most people now understand that she is not there  voluntarily. They recognize the conditions under which she acquiesced. Like battered women, women in prostitution may deny their abuse if they are not provided with safety or  meaningful alternatives.’

 

 

A small number of women say they choose to be in prostitution, especially in public contexts orchestrated by the sex industry. I am very curious to learn why  they  like to be raped  everyday. Kate Millett, the author of ‘Sexual Politics’  said, ‘Prostitution, when unmotivated by economic need, might well be defined as a species of psychological addiction, built on self-hatred through repetitions of the act of sale by which a whore is defined.

 

Everyday  female children are sold to brothels by their father. Everyday   young women  are sold to brothels   by   their boyfriend, husband, neighbor, acquaintance. Everyday poor  girls and women become victims of sex traffickers. I visited brothels. I saw their terrible lives. Many organizations donate money to make prostituted women  free from diseases. ‘Health examinations for women but not for men make no sense from a public health perspective. Women are not protected from HIV contracted from clients. Clients prefer sex without  condoms. HIV test for women is  to make sure they are ‘clean meat’ for clients.’

 

‘Women in prostitution should not be punished for their own exploitation. The seller of sex should be decriminalized. But governments should not decriminalize pimps, buyers, procurers, brothels or other sex businesses.’ Swedish Law on Prostitution

 

There are hundreds  of  non-faith-based anti-prostitution organizations all over the world trying to save women and children. A very few links are here : Say NO to prostitutionCaptive daughters,   Arguments against prostitution , Coalition against trafficking in Women, Trafficking, prostitution and inequality , Protection project  Selling of innocents, End demandDEMAND documentary

 

 

 

Sex Slavery must be abolished.

Bill Gates foundation donated a huge lot of money to improve prostituted women’s health in India. Now, the son and daughter-in-law of Warren Buffet have come to India to help the organizations that are working for the abolition of sexual slavery. Finally! some sane people! The idea of making buffet family visit some of India’s prostitutions came from feminist icon Gloria Steinem. She also believes sex trafficking and sex slavery must be abolished.

 

There are more slaves today than any time in human history. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today.

 

The Indian government says, there are more than 3 million prostitutes in India. Human Rights Watch says, there are more than 20 million prostitutes in India. I believe there  are more than 20 million prostitutes in India.  In India, like many other countries, most people are for legalization of prostitution. They call prostituted women sex workers. But sex slavery is not sex work. Sane people do not call prostituted women  sex workers, because sex is not ‘work’.

 

2.5 million people are being trafficked around the world, 80% of them women and children. The sex industry generates billions of dollars.  Will it ever be possible to abolish prostitution? Actually it is  not difficult to abolish prostitution. Criminalize clients. Where there is no demand, there will be no supply. Swedish abolitionist law is working very well in Scandinavia. You can sell  body, but you  can not buy body. This law saves poor women.

 

People all over the world believe in some lies about prostitution but they should know the truth.   After research on prostitution for years, we now know the truth.

 

 

Lie1. Prostitution is an oldest profession.

Truth1. Prostitution is the oldest form of patriarchal oppression, not oldest profession.

 

Lie2. Prostitution is sexual freedom. /Prostitution is sex.

Truth2. Prostitution is sexual exploitation./ Prostitution is not sex, it is sexual violence.

 

Lie3. Legalizing prostitution gets rid of sex traffickers and pimps.

Truth3. Legalizing prostitution benefits sex traffickers, pimps,clients,sex industries.

 

Lie4. Men need sex therefore prostitution must exist. Prostitution is a natural
form of human sexuality.

Truth4. The sex of prostitution is not “sex” for women in it. Most men who use women
in prostitution have other sexual partners.

 

Lie5. Women choose to enter prostitution.

Truth5. Prostitution is not an acceptable job for women. They are forced to enter prostitution. Prostitution is an abusive institution and women stay poor in prostitution.  It  is not a vocation choice, it is human rights abuse.

 

Lie6. Legal prostitution protects women in prostitution.
Truth6. Legal prostitution does not protect women in prostitution from harm. All prostitution , legal or illegal, harm women.

 

Lie7. Social Stigma is most harmful aspect of prostitution

Truth7. Not social stigma, Harmful aspects are rape, beatings, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and other violence from clients and pimps.

 

 

Lie8. Prostitution is deterrent to sex crimes.

Truth8. Prostitution is associated with increased rate of sex crimes.

 

 

Lie9. Legalization of prostitution is an entirely separate issue from human trafficking.

Truth9. Prostitution is the destination point for trafficking.

 

 

Lie10. Legalized prostitution would control the sex industry.

Truth10. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution expands the sex industry

 

 

Lie11. Opposing prostitution means prostitutes would be arrested.

Truth11. We have to decriminalize poor prostituted women but criminalize their predators: clients, pimps, traffickers.

 

 

Let’s Burn The Burqa

(I feel so honored, so grateful to the Free thought Bloggers for giving me a warm hearted welcome. I truly feel at home. A million thanks to everyone for showing their  support and solidarity)

 

Because of this article,   cities were burned and 2 people were killed in India.

 

 

My mother used to wear a burqa with a net over her  face. It reminded me of the meat safes in my grandmother’s house. Meat safe’s  net was made of metal, my mother’s  net was made of linen.  But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe. My mother was put under a burqa by her family. They told her that wearing a burqa would mean obeying Allah. If you obeyed Allah, He would be happy with you and not let you burn in hellfire. My mother was afraid of Allah and also of her father. He would threaten her with grave consequences if she did not wear the burqa.

My mother was also afraid of the men in the neighborhood; even her husband was a source of fear, for he could do anything to her if she disobeyed him.

 

As a young girl, I used to nag her: ‘Mother, don’t you suffocate in this? Don’t you feel all dark inside? Don’t you feel breathless?   Don’t you ever feel like throwing it off?’ My mother kept quite. She couldn’t do anything about it. But I could. When I was sixteen, I was presented a burqa by one of my relatives. I threw it out.

 

The custom of veil is not new. It goes as far back as 13th century B.C.E in Assyria.  The women of aristocratic Assyrian families used veil. Ordinary women and prostitutes were not allowed to wear veil. In the middle ages, even Anglo-Saxon women used to cover their hair and chin and hide their faces behind a curtain. This veil system was   not religious. The religious veil  was used by Catholic nuns and Mormons, though for the latter only during religious ceremonies and rituals. For Muslim women, however, such religious veil  is not limited to   rituals, but mandatory for their daily lives.

There are people who say that the Quran doesn’t say anything about wearing a burqa. They are mistaken. This is what the Quran says:

”And command the Muslim women to keep their gaze low and to protect their chastity, and not to reveal their adornment except what is apparent, and to keep the cover wrapped over their bosoms; and not to reveal their adornment except to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or women of their religion, or the bondwomen they possess, or male servants provided they do not have manliness, or such children who do not know of women’s nakedness, and not to stamp their feet on the ground in order that their hidden adornment be known; and O Muslims, all of you turn in repentance together towards Allah, in the hope of attaining success. (It is incumbent upon women to cover themselves properly.) ”(Sura Al Noor 24:31)

 

‘O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.’[Surah Al Ahzab 33:59]

 

Even the Hadith –a collection of the words of Prophet Muhammed, his opinion on various subjects and words about his work, written by those close to him– speaks extensively of the veil. Women must cover their   body before going out, they should not go before  strangers, they should not go to the mosque to pray,  they should not attend any funeral, they should not  go to the graveyards!

 

There are many views on why and how the Islamic veil started. One view has it that Prophet Muhammed became very poor after spending all the wealth of Khadija,  his first wife. At that time, in Arabia, the poor had to go to the open desert for relieving themselves, and even for sexual needs. The Prophet’s wives, too, had to do the same. He had told his wives t  “You are allowed to go out to answer the call of nature.’’(Bukhari Hadith first volume book 4 No. 149). Accordingly, this is what his wives started doing. One day, Prophet Muhammed’s disciple, Umar, complained  that these women were very uncomfortable because they were instantly recognizable while relieving themselves. Umar proposed a cover but Prophet Muhammed ignored it. Then the Prophet asked Allah for advice and he laid down   the verse  (33:59) (Sahih Muslim Book 026 No. 5397).

 

This is the history of the  veil, according to the Hadith. But the question is: as Arab men, too, relieved themselves in the open, why didn’t Allah start the veil for men? Clearly, Allah doesn’t treat men and women as equals,  else there would be veil for both! Men are considered superior to women. So women have to be made walking prisons.

 

Another view is that the veil was introduced to separate women from slaves. This originates from stories in the Hadith. One story in the   Hadith goes thus:   After the fall of Khyber, people described the beauty of Safia Bint Hui, the new bride of a slain enemy soldier. The Prophet chose her for himself. On the way to Madina he stopped and had intercourse with her. His companions did not know if she was a wife or a concubine/slave. Later, a veil was drawn between her and the men-folk and they came to know that she was a wife (Bukhari, Book of Sales and Book of Nikah 3:59).

 

The third view comes from this story. Prophet Muhammed’s wife Ayesha was very beautiful. His friends were often found staring at her with admiration. This clearly upset the Prophet. So the Quran has an verse that says, “Oh friends of the prophet, never go to the prophet’s house without an invitation. And if you do go, don’t look at his wives or ask them for any favour.”  It was to resist   friends, and disciples that  the veil system came into being. First it was applicable to only the wives of the prophet, and later it was extended to all Muslim women. Now, some women practice the veil  by only covering their hair. That is not what is written in the Quran and in the Hadith: covering just the hair is not Islamic veil.

Why are women covered?  Because they are objects for sex. Because  when men see  unveiled women, they are aroused. But men are not covered for this.    Why should women have to be penalized for men’s sexual problems? Women also have sexual urges!  But men are not penalized for ir.  In no religion created by men are women thought of as human beings.  The rules of veil   humiliate not only women but also men. If women walk about  without veil, it’s as if men will look at them with lustful eyes, or pounce on them, or rape them. Do men lose all their senses when they see any women without a burqa?

 

My question to  people who argue that the Quran says nothing about veil is: If the Quran advises women to wear  veil, should they do so? Really, No. Irrespective of which book says it, which person advises it, whoever commands it, women should  not wear veil,  no veil, no chador, no hijab, no burqa, no headscarf, not any of them! They  are instruments of no respect. These are symbols of women’s imprisonment. Through them, women are told that they are  but the property of men and society: things. These coverings are used to keep women passive, submissive. Women are told to wear them so that they cannot exist with their honor, confidence, separate identity, respect – with their own opinions and ideals – intact; and so that they cannot stand with their heads held high and their spines strong and erect.

 

Some 1,500 years ago, it was decided for an individual’s personal reasons that women should wear veil, since then millions of Muslim women   have had to suffer it. So many old customs have died a natural death, but not veil. Instead, of late, there has been a mad craze to revive it. Covering a woman’s head means covering her brain to ensure that it will not work. If women were not massively brainwashed or their  brains worked properly, they would have long ago thrown off these veils  imposed on them by a religious and patriarchal regime.

 

 

What should women do?  They should proclaim a war against the ill-treatment meted out to them.  They should snatch back from the men their freedom and their rights; they should throw their head-scarves out.  They should take off their burqas and burn them.

Similarities and differences


There are many who utter the names of Salman Rushdie & Taslima Nasreen  truly in the same breath. However, if there are great differences between one individual and the other, this co-vocalization may naturally become a matter of discomfiture. When I am referred to as the ‘Female Rushdie’, these days I ask back, why aren’t you calling Salman Rushdie the ‘Male Nasreen’ instead? Barring the fatwa, everything else is different between us – I know that very well. Rushdie is a man; I’m a woman. This is a huge dissimilarity. He enjoys certain advantages by virtue of being a man; I, on the other hand, am always at a disadvantage because I am a woman.   After the fatwa was issued, Rushdie had begged the fundamentalists for forgiveness, and declared that he had  become a born-again Muslim. I never asked for a pardon. I didn’t even want to become a Muslim. I have been an atheist since childhood – I held my head high to remain one, weathering all tumultuous storms. Rushdie never lived in Iran, the country that brought out the fatwa in his name. In contrast, the country where extremists have marched year after year demanding that I be hanged till death, the country in which intolerant Muslims went berserk trying to silence me forever, the country which took out an arrest warrant in my name because of a lawsuit filed by the government – because of which I was forced to go into hiding for months on end, the country where the fundamentalist terrorists would have torn me apart if they could lay a hand on me – I have been physically present in that country during those harrowing times. I, alone, had to bear the brunt of all the torture meted out by the fundamentalists and the government alike. No one expelled Rushdie from his country as a result of the fatwa; he didn’t have to suffer banishment. England is his country; he lived there, and still does. Rushdie had only a single fatwa against him; there were, against me, three fatwas from Bangladesh, five from India, each with a price on my head. Rushdie never had to budge; I was thrown out from two countries because of my writings. Rushdie had one of his books (The Satanic Verses) banned; I had five – Lajja (Shame), Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), Utol Haowa (The Tempest), Dwikhondito (Split in Two), and Sei Sob Andhokar (All Those Darkness). Rushdie may criticize religion, but he is not associated with any atheist-humanist group or Human Rights organization – whereas I am, actively. In his personal life, Rushdie is highly conceited; I am its exact opposite. Rushdie is gallivanting with one young woman after another, his playthings many years his junior. His senile pranks are not considered pranks; rather, he is regarded as a strong, virile, bodacious lover-boy – an object of envy to many younger men. In contrast, despite my spending life without a male companion, there is no dearth of people calling me a ‘whore’ or a ‘deviant woman’, and whipping up various sex scandals involving me. Only a man has the right to enjoy a sex life. If a woman does so or talks or writes about women’s equal right to enjoy a sex life, she is labeled a whore. Ever since I started writing, I have received criticism and contempt from people: advocating sexual freedom for women, I am apparently destroying the society. Even though I believe Sexual freedom is not about saying YES to sex always. It is also about saying NO to sex. There is another excellent similarity or difference between Rushdie and me. Many of those who consider Rushdie a good writer have not read his books. Many of those who call me a bad writer have not read a word of my writings.

I took risks of my life  to support  Rushdie publicly in 1989  in Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country. Rushdie’s name has been associated with mine since 1993. Following the fatwa from Iran, Rushdie became a much-discussed and famous name.  My name, on the other hand, crossed the boundaries of Bangladesh and India after a price was set on my head. Rushdie was amongst other European authors who wrote an open letter for me during  those desperate period when  I was forced to live in hiding after the Bangladesh government filed a case against me on the charges of blasphemy. Finally, when I was expelled and living in exile, I heard that Rushdie apparently got furious after reading my opinion about him published in Das Spiegel,  a German magazine. In that piece, I expressed my disappointment at Rushdie’s begging for forgiveness to Mullahs in response to the fatwa,  which I thought was decidedly cowardly.

Rushdie lived in New York City in 2008-2010, as did I. But there was  no possibility of us meeting. He was the president of the Pen Club, a large organization of authors and poets of America. For a couple of years, the Pen Club had been organizing massive demonstrations in support of freedom of expression in New York City. Various authors from Asia and Africa, almost all little known, have been brought over. But I was not welcomed  to tell my story how my freedom of expression was violated over the years and how I was   fighting  religious fundamentalists and  the powerful governments alone without any compromise.  Salman Rushdie was well aware that I have been recently thrown out of India; there were loathsome and incredible attacks against   my freedom of expression. Almost all of my books have been banned in Bangladesh, either officially or socially. Not just Bangladesh, even West Bengal banned my book and threw me out of the state. Not only that, I was kept under house arrest in Kolkata and Delhi for a long seven months during the process of banishment. Eventually, I have been ousted from India. Salman Rushdie was celebrating freedom of speech by cunningly ignoring my glowing history. He can do whatever he wants. One of his security guards wrote an unflattering book about him; he made arrangements with publishers so that the book would not see the light of the day. Yes, he is celebrating freedom of speech. He is a man, people think nothing of it when he chases after much younger women, even at sixty plus. Even if women have complained that Rushdie doesn’t consider them anything more than sex objects, people don’t dislike him. This epitome of male chauvinism, this author has garnered immense name and fame; I am glad that I don’t have any similarities with him beyond the fatwa. To be honest, it irritates me no end to have my name joined with his.

Another name is being entangled with mine for the past couple of years. He is Maqbul Fida Hussein, a great artist. His paintings fetch the highest price in India. He is considered by many as India’s top painter. He has recently hurt Hindu religious sentiments by painting Saraswati (the Hindu Goddess of Learning) in the nude. Hindu fundamentalists  have destroyed his paintings, threatened him, and forced him to leave the country. I believe in one hundred percent freedom of speech of human beings. I firmly believe that Maqbul Fida Hussein should have the freedom of drawing whatever he wants. No one has the right to persecute him for this reason. However, it still makes me uncomfortable if my insignificant name is linked with that of as great an artist as Fida Hussein. Because, despite my insignificance, I hold my principles very dear; I have no favorable disposition towards someone, however world-famous for any reason, whose values don’t measure up to mine. I don’t feel gratified to have my name uttered along with that of such a person. When a controversy has broken out in India over Maqbul Fida Hussein’s painting a nude Saraswati, I have very naturally sided with the freedom of the artist. Since atheists are rare amongst Muslims, I find it heartening to find a Muslim turn secular or atheist. Thereafter, I went through all of Hussein’s paintings minutely, seeking to find if he had ever mocked any religion other than Hinduism, especially his own, Islam. I found zilch. Instead, he has used the word ‘Allah’, written in Arabic, on his canvas with much respect and care. I saw clearly that he had a great faith in and regard for Islam. He did not believe in any religion other than Islam! His painting of Lakshmi and Saraswati in the nude stemmed from his disregard for Hinduism! Would he ever draw Muhammad in the nude? I am certain he won’t. I have no problem drawing naked pictures of gods and goddesses or prophets of any religion. I am equitable in my lack of belief in all religions of the world. Putting one religion over another, hating one and loving or believing in another – I have no such issues. All religions say, your religion is the best and true and correct, your god is the only true god; all other religions are erroneous, all other gods, false! Having been indoctrinated thus, extremists blinded by faith are able to easily attack others who do not belong to their faith. Christian extremists have once wreaked havoc in Europe; even now, they are driven to violence against abortion. Hindu extremists have recently been on a rampage in Ayodhya of India, and in Gujarat. Attacks by Muslim extremists time and again have shaken up the world, let alone India. Fida Hussein is similar to those religious individuals, who put faith in their own religion while criticizing others’. I have no reason for any interest in having my name linked with Fida Hussein’s – even though he may be a great tree to my inconsequential twig of grass; because I am an atheist, and he… Not only is he a theist, but he is a theist only in respect of his own god. When it comes to believing in many other gods in the world, he has no faith.

The only similarity that I have with Fida Hussein is that almost around the same time, we both had to leave India following a barrage of attacks from irrational religionists. This apart, everything else is dissimilar. The prime difference is that his exile was finally his choice, while mine was not. I was evicted not only from my Kolkata residence, but from India as well by the authorities.  No, those responsible were not some random individuals or groups blinded by faith, but the government. Fida Hussein has houses to stay in foreign lands, I don’t. The Indian government has been trying to repatriate Hussein; I have been barred from entry by both Bangladesh & India governments. After being ousted from India, whenever I have re-entered with the intention of taking up residence, I have been immediately pushed away. Fida Hussein has but mocked one religion; I, discussing women’s rights, castigate the misogynistic thesis of all religions, always making the following points – let there be laws promulgated on the basis of equal rights, let the misogynistic laws and traditions perish. I criticize all religions equitably, not leaving out my family’s religion, Islam.

I don’t have the name, fame and clout of Rushdie or Fida Hussein. However, even then, I don’t want my name associated with theirs in any way. The way I have been tormented for years by religious governments in power, they have not had to face even a fraction of that. The manner in which I am compelled to live abroad, in the darkness of uncertainty, with no place to call home, and to fend for myself in sickness and through insolvency, while carrying on my struggles for my beliefs and principles, is not inconsequential. Rushdie or Hussain never had to encounter such an intolerable situation. My utmost respect for their craft notwithstanding, I think it’s unfair to put in the same bracket as those two men. However people may perceive my incessant struggle for a society free of religion and discrimination, a society with equality and equal rights, those men, regardless of their stature as artists of renown, cannot come even close to my principles.

The Fight Is Not Between The East And The West

 

Let alone ‘Western feminism’, I had no idea about ‘Eastern feminism’. Without any familiarity with these concepts, I have since childhood questioned a lot of diktat, advice and proscriptions from the family and from society at large. When I, unlike my brothers, wasn’t allowed to play outside; when I was called ‘impure’ during my menstrual periods; or when I was told I had grown up and must cover myself  in a black burqa if I wanted to step out, I questioned, I didn’t give in readily.

 When strange boys would hurl abuses at me, snatch my scarf or pinch my breasts as I walked by, I protested. I couldn’t stomach it when I saw husbands beating their wives, young mothers weeping in anxiety and fear of being divorced after  having given birth to a female baby. Upon observing the shame on the faces of raped women, I felt their pain acutely; I broke down after hearing about women being trafficked from city to city, from one country to another in order to be forced into sexual slavery. No logic, no intellect could make me accept the torture of women by the men, the society, the state. But no one witnessed my pain, my tears, the non-acquiescence, the non-acceptance, the speechlessness, the inability to tolerate, the screams – that is, until I started writing.

The society that I grew up in engendered questions in the minds of many. They were forced to accept the answers given by the leaders of the patriarchy. I didn’t give in to that coercion. No one taught me to be disobedient. I didn’t learn defiance from a book. It is not necessary to read thick and heavy books to be aware; one just needs eyes to observe. No one helps build courage either. In order to demand rights for women, one doesn’t need to internalize  Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem; one’s own awareness is often good enough.

If I’m hungry, I shall eat; if I am lashed, I shall wrest away the lash; if I am oppressed, I shall stand up – these feelings are universal. Feminism is not a property of the West. It is the arduous struggle by abused, oppressed, tortured, disrespected, exploited women coming together, putting their lives at stake, for the sake of their rights.

I learned that women of the West also had no less than their share of tribulations. Abused and bloodied, they had their backs to the wall. They have screamed; centuries upon centuries they have been victims of patriarchy, religion, misogynistic traditions and culture, just like their Eastern counterparts. Religious fanatics have burnt them alive, misogynistic traditions forced them to wear  metal  cage  around their  pelvis in the name of chastity, they have been turned into sex slaves. East or West, North or South, women still suffer   for the ‘crime’ of being women.

Human rights are universal. Those, who talk about separate human rights for the East and seek to distance themselves from the universal human rights, assuming that this stance represents a victory over the prolonged oppression by the West, actually end up harming the East more than the West.

A recurrent question that is often raised claims that I have hurt religious sentiments of people. Feminism has long opposed religion; whoever has even the slightest knowledge of women’s rights knows this. Religion is patriarchal through and through. I shall follow a religion and I shall acknowledge women’s rights – this stance is akin to saying I shall drink poison along with honey. Whenever religion-motivated abuse of women has been challenged in order to wrest women’s rights, immediately the slogan “Religious sentiments must not be hurt” has been raised by those that are anti-democracy, anti-free speech, and opposed to women’s freedom. I, however, don’t refer to any kind of barbarism as culture.

Alleging I have hurt Muslim religious sentiments, a few ignorant and insular conservatives pass the verdict that my statements are statements from the West, statements of observing the East with Western eyes. This meaningless, illogical claim by the Islamic fundamentalists is often supported by so-called liberal folk  in the name of tolerance.

I have criticized Christianity, Judaism and other misogynistic religions. But usually no one complains about it thereafter. No one takes out a fatwa to murder me if I hurt the religious sentiments of non-Muslims. But there is no dearth of people who, without any problem, accept the intolerance, and respect the ‘religious sentiments’ of those who do take out a fatwa; such people label me ‘intolerant’ without a hint of doubt. Possibly, they see me as a Muslim, and view my actions of hurting Muslim religious sentiments as arrogance.

But the truth is, if one believes in women’s rights, one has to first cast away one’s religious identity. I have been free of that since my childhood. When I was but a child, I was unjustly shackled with a religious identity in the same way as other children are. We don’t feel uncomfortable in labelling a two year old child as Hindu, Muslim or Christian. When the child grows up, he/she  may choose his/her parents’ religion, or some other religion, or none at all. That’s how it should be. I have successfully implemented this principle in my life. I have chosen humanism as my ideal. I should not be mistaken for a ‘Muslim reformer’. Neither am I a reformer, nor do I belong to any religious community.   My community is that of secular humanism, free from religion.