For free speech

India created a law which is used against free speech, the basic human rights.

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act

Note: The Information Technology Act, 2000 was amended in 2008. The amended Act which received the assent of the President on February 5, 2009, contains section 66A.

66A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.

Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,

shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Explanation.— For the purpose of this section, terms “electronic mail” and “electronic mail message” means a message or information created or transmitted or received on a computer, computer system, computer resource or communication device including attachments in text, images, audio, video and any other electronic record, which may be transmitted with the message.

I am challenging the anti free speech IT act.

Taslima Nasrin vs State of UP [W.P.(Crl) No. 222 of 2013]
| FEBRUARY 8, 2014

This writ petition was filed by Bangladeshi author and activist Taslima Nasrin, under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution for quashing an FIR filed against her under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Said FIR was filed against the petitioner in the city of Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, in the wake of her tweets regarding a ‘fatwa’, (a virtual bounty of Rs. 5,00,000/- on her head) that was issued against her. It is premised solely on a press report on said tweets published in the Hindi daily ‘Amar Ujaala’ in November 2013, which purportedly offended the religious sentiments of an Islamic cleric, around whom the tweets were centered. The petitioner argues that the FIR was registered without a preliminary inquiry towards ascertaining whether any cognizable offence had been made out against her. Moreover, the petitioner submits that even if all the averments in the complaint and the FIR are accepted, no offence can be said to be made out against the petitioner. In the complaint, neither are the actual tweets by the petitioner extracted, nor is a copy of the said press report annexed with the FIR. For these reasons, it is submitted that the FIR is a motivated and malicious one, aimed at wreaking vengeance against the petitioner. It is essentially an abuse of legal process. In addition, Section 66A can easily be clubbed with other provisions of the Indian Penal code, including Section 295A, by deliberately giving any statement made on the internet a religious color or flavor and misreading the same.

It is argued that Section 66A violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The language and phraseology of the Section is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse. All terms constituting an offence under Section 66A have not been defined either under the IT Act, the General Clauses Act or under any other legislation. The Section would be indiscriminately clubbed with other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, as has been done in the petitioner’s case.

Further, the freedom of expression is a recognized human right under various international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Section 66A of the IT Act is wholly inconsistent with these conventions, and constitutes a severe, regressive and wholly undesirable restraint on this hallowed right. While the petitioner, not being an Indian Citizen, does not herself invoke Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, she requests the Court to take judicial notice in the interest of the citizens of India, that Section 66A of the IT Act is totally inconsistent with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, and virtually takes away this right insofar as the medium of the internet is concerned. It is submitted that the invocation of penal provisions on tenuous grounds has a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, that is to say it severally disincentivizes citizens from exercising their constitutionally protected right to free speech for fear of frivolous prosecution and police harassment. The Supreme Court has held in a number of cases that the constitutional protection of free speech is calculated to insulate the freedom from such a ‘chilling effect’. It would amount to little consolation to say that the right to free speech of a citizen will be eventually vindicated at the end of an extended legal proceeding. The very fact that the machinery of the criminal law is set in motion against citizens on frivolous grounds amounts to harassment that is inadequately mitigated by the eventual discharge or acquittal.

Thus in light of the above circumstances, the petitioner prays that:

Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, be declared unconstitutional and void

A writ in the nature of certiorari and/or any other appropriate be issued writ to quash and set aside the FIR registered against her

No news yet from the Supreme Court. 66a is still there. Free speech is still under threat.

Free Speech

I tried to say:
‘Freedom of expression is again under attack in India. Penguin India should not have withdrawn Wendy’s book ‘The Hindus’. The publishers should uphold an author’s freedom of expression. Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, the organization that claims that the book has many factual errors,could write a book correcting those errors. The book under attack is currently one of the bestselling books on Amazon. It shows that censorship cannot keep freedom of expression suppressed. In fact, it breeds curiosity and so censorship is really
its own worst enemy.

Penguin India is one of the biggest publishing houses in India. It had all the capacity to fight the court cases it faced. But instead, it compromised with those who do not believe in free speech. Penguin India said, “Indian penal code section 295a, makes it difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression”. It is true, but my question is why don’t you fight for the abolition of the age-old British law, which is used by governments to ban books, harass and imprison authors? Free speech is universal. There is no such thing as national free speech, or international free speech. Like there are no such things as Islamic human rights or Western human rights. Like free speech, human rights are universal.

Writers should have the right to write whatever they like. Everyone should have the right to offend people. Without the right to offend, freedom of expression does not exist. Nobody should have the right to spend his or her entire life without being offended. Don’t we all know that if “Free Speech” means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not like to hear! Without hurting the sentiments of misogynists, obscurantists, ignorant irrationalists — you will not be able to bring change in society. Throughout history always some people’s sentiments were hurt – had to be hurt – especially when society was about to change. In this country when sati was abolished, or girls’ education started, many misogynist sentiments were hurt. But should we care about their so called sentiments or should we help society to evolve, to make the world a better place?

It is dangerous if the government tries to deny people’s freedom of expression in order to protect the sentiments of those who don’t believe in democracy. Many of my books are banned in Bangladesh. My book was banned in West Bengal too. The government of West Bengal not only banned my book, it forced me to leave the state too. The new government banned the release of my book Nirbasan in 2012 and a few months ago forced a TV channel called Akash Ath to stop telecast of a mega serial written by me. The serial was about women’s struggle and how three sisters living in Kolkata fight against patriarchal oppression to live their lives with dignity and honour. She (Mamata Banerjee) banned me in order to appease some misogynist mullahs.

The truth is I am used for the vote bank politics in India. If fundamentalists demand for the banning of books, should governments ban books? Should fundamentalists decide what we should read, write, watch, wear, eat, drink, think? Governments seem to give them the
authority to decide. Fundamentalists do not believe in plurality of thoughts. They do not believe in individual freedom. They believe intheocracy, not in democracy.

Most Indian secularists do not support me. They support writers who are attacked by Hindus, but not the writers who are attacked by Muslims. Salman Rushdie is supported by secularists though, probably because he is not so vocal against Islamic oppression on women the way I am. I am not a man. I am not macho. I am a woman. A single woman at that. And a feminist. We live in a misogynistic, patriarchal societyand people in this society hate feminists.

Freedom of expression is like rape in India. Politicians and intellectuals do not defend everyone’s freedom of expression like they do not condemn every rape. If I could get the same support Wendy got, the TV producer could start broadcasting my mega serial despite government’s threats.’

Anti-women book fair committe cancelled the release of a book on women’s rights

It really happened. The book fair committee of the Kolkata Book Fair cancelled the release of a book on women’s rights. The committee did it either to please the government or because they got the order from the government to do so. Is the government anti-women? We heard that the government blamed the raped girls several times for being raped.

An opposition politician protested against the cancellation of the book release. The left leader defended the writer Jasodhara Bagchi. Ms Bagchi was the chairperson of the West Bengal women commission during the Left Front’s rule. The release ceremony of my book titled ‘Nirbasan’ was cancelled by the government in 2012 in order to make some Muslim fanatics happy. Almost everybody was silent then. I said, if you do not protest against the banning, you will be the next target of the banning. It seems I was right.

I now realize that however much you earn recognition and awards, if muslim fanatics are against you ,no political party in the subcontinent would defend your free speech. And I know it very well that if you believe in freedom of expression of some people, but not of all people— you do NOT believe in freedom of expression at all.

Forbidden

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My new book is called ‘Nishiddho’ in Bengali. Nishiddho has been published in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Nishiddho means forbidden. I hope forbidden will not be forbidden this year. Religious fanatics love to demand for my execution by hanging because they hate what I write. Governments love to stand beside the fanatics and ban my books. Forbidden is now available at the Kolkata and Dhaka book fairs. But I am not allowed to visit any of the book fairs. I am banned. I am not allowed to enter Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Fanatics suck. Governments suck even more.

Our selective silence…

Guest blogger today is Suruchi Mazumdar. She is a doctoral candidate at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and currently a visiting fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. She wrote about the banning of the TV drama series written by me.

‘The launch of Dusshohobash (painful co-existence), a Bengali serial written by Taslima Nasreen, was cancelled by a privately-run Bengali news channel, following objections raised by Muslim groups in Kolkata. The show, based on stories penned by Nasreen, was not about religion but promised to narrate tales of women’s struggle for rights and protest against issues like dowry and rape, condemnation of which are non-controversial at best in the current socio-political milieu. The Muslim groups in Kolkata are in favour of banning writings by exiled author Nasreen who on numerous occasions in the past had drawn the ire of religious leaders for alleged criticism of Islam. The local police was apparently apprehensive that the television serial, which was aggressively promoted, would provoke social unrest. The silence of the ruling party and the opposition in West Bengal come as no surprise. The reluctance to offend fundamentalist groups is politically motivated. But what is baffling is the silence of our liberal progressive elites. The same intellectuals who would otherwise miss no opportunity to condemn and burst in outrage when individuals are persecuted in the name of religion are miraculously numb this time.

Why is it that intellectuals who readily extend public support to SAR Geeliani, for instance – the Delhi University professor who was falsely implicated and later acquitted in the Indian Parliament attack case – are carefully cautious when an exiled woman author’s voice is casually stifled, lest religious sentiments are offended?

Throughout her literary career Nasreen has been vocal about different forms of violence, oppressions and discriminations against women that are rampant in the subcontinent and often patronised by religions. In 2007 she was ousted from Kolkata at the initiative of the then-CPIM-led government that apparently feared unrest over enraged Muslim religious group’s demands of her expulsion from the country. Nasreen was forced to leave her home country Bangladesh in the early 1990s after Islamic religious groups put a price on her head on charges of blasphemy. She has has remained uncompromising in her scathing criticisms of all religions – and not just Islam.

Issues such as Geelani’s (a Kashmiri Muslim) prolonged persecution in the hands of the Indian state or brutal rapes, molestation and murders of minorities in the wake of recent riots in Muzaffarnagar rightly deserve outrage, protests and demands of sentencing that have been raised time and again from sections of the civil society. The provocative criticisms of the failings of Indian democracy and the weaknesses of the country’s institutionalised secularism that emerge from certain pockets of our public sphere are indispensable, especially in the face of rampant persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, an ugly reality in India.

However, the issue is that the moral righteousness somehow falls short when Islamic clerics – as self-proclaimed representatives of a community – are easily provoked by a woman’s free voice, threaten public disorder and the political class and law enforcement agencies meekly give in. It is a different matter though that as to what extent the leaders of a few Islamic groups of Kolkata could be said to stand for Muslims of whole West Bengal. The fear that ordinary Muslims feel brutally hurt by Nasreen’s writing also seems strange – the majority of the Muslim population, at least in Kolkata, are predominantly Hindi-speaking and certainly cannot be said to be readers of Bengali author Nasreen.

The progressive intellectuals of India face a kind of moral/ political dilemma on the issue of Islamic extremists’ contention with women’s emancipation and rights. The infringement of individual/ women’s rights* could be confused with cultural rights of the minority. That could offer moral justification needed to remain silent in case of violations by radical Islamic organisations. Thus activists of the radical left who stand in unison with Islamic religious groups to denounce violence on the Rohingyas fail to raise a voice when leaders of the same groups openly implicate women for sexual crimes. This amounts to no less than a sense of misplaced secularism that encourages one to be patronising towards and forgiving of a religion’s infringement of individual rights, which would be reflective of being sensitive towards a community’s supposed feeling of being offended.
*(Here, I choose to interpret the word “rights” rather broadly by moving beyond definitions set by Western organisations and agencies that set the criteria and decide the terms of what must be known as human rights across diverse peoples and regions. In this context, by “rights” I mean Muslim women’s consent, agency and conscious preferences.)

Such a sense of secularism, however, is not without a history and context. One needs to consider the global xenophobia against Islam that can be said to have intensified under the patronage of an American military state and a global war against terror. Closer home in the subcontinent, the compulsions are no less pressing – the rise of the Hindu right and its growing political might have been a discomforting political reality over the past few decades. Post-independent India has been no stranger to large-scale massacre of minorities like anti-Sikh riots of 1984. But massive riots against Muslims in Bombay and Gujarat, being conducted under the behest of a communal ideology, were interpreted as a threat to India’s secular democratic fabric. Defending Muslims seems only understandable under such political and cultural urgencies. But it is a different matter to be politically lenient towards a framework of ideas that could lend Muslim organisations the justification to publicly pronounce death on those seen as heretic, discourage women’s education and equal rights or dictate women’s clothing.

It is a concern that right-wing groups in India and elsewhere have time and again hijacked the argument of gender equity to stoke anti-Muslim sentiments. In the Anglo-American world this has even worked as a common Western imperialist argument used to stir Islamophobia. But there could be a strong rebuttal at least to India’s Hindu right-wing voices that dare profile one religion as especially opposed to gender rights: The mention of female foeticide (through sex selective abortion, mostly common among caste Hindus in northern and central India) should be enough to silence such morally defunct voices.

The global urgency of challenging intolerance of Islam abets a home-grown cause – the need to counter perceived persecution of Muslim minorities whose existence seems particularly threatened with the political rise of the Hindu right. Besides, it is no less meaningful for leftist liberals particularly that over the past decade the only confrontation to American military might came in the form of Islamic insurgency. Azar Nafisi in a famous 2003-book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, vividly narrated how left liberals and pro-revolution activists of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in Iran made a common cause with anti-American/ anti-Western imperialism sentiments in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Nafisi’s book is about an all-women group’s clandestine sessions of reading Western literature, which was perceived as morally inappropriate in post-revolution Iran; the issue of wearing veil runs as a concurrent theme in the book.

Under these circumstances being lenient towards Islamic fundamentalists who stifle free speech or prescribe sex-segregated seating arrangements in political rallies and universities stands for a certain political correctness. This correctness – when stretched a little too far – translates to a new political orthodoxy that is not too uncommon in present times. This orthodoxy is best expressed when any criticism of Islamic fanaticism is interpreted as expression of Islamophobia and often amounts to a political stand and casual public posturing of such stand. A great example would be when liberal progressives in India vociferously express solidarity through “likes” and “shares” on Facebook as Stephen Hawking announces a decision to boycott an academic conference scheduled to be hosted by Israel’s president. While such posturing is hardly problematic, our selective silence and selective outrage is unflattering, especially if a politically-conscious citizenry is seen as something that democratic societies must aspire for.’

Fundamentalists decide what we should write, draw, say and think

My interview is in the times of India.

1. There is renewed efforts by some religious fundamentalist groups demanding your expulsion from India. Do you get a feeling of deja vu?

Ans — Yes I do get a feeling of deja vu. They have been issuing fatwas against me since 1993. In this part of the world, fatwas are contagious. If a fatwa is issued against you and if the fanatics can get away with it, they become more emboldened and consequently gain the will to issue more fatwas. I became an unfortunate victim of religious fanaticism. In a democratic country where fatwas are illegal, fanatics who set price on people’s head walk away as happy men. They have never been questioned or confronted; on the contrary they have consistently been courted by so-called guardians of democracy. Rather, I was thrown out of my country and forced out of the state which I considered my second home. In the meantime, I have kind of got used to fatwas. I would most likely continue to get harassed, threatened, expelled and killed by the fanatics for the rest of my life. I am not afraid of them. Come what may, I would never compromise with them and I would never be silenced.

I am a writer. I write books on humanism, feminism, human rights, equality and justice. My writings are to encourage women to fight for their rights and freedom, and to change the patriarchal mindset. I have written 38 books. I am one of the very few authors who have twice received the Ananda purashkar, the most prestigious award for Bengali literature in India. Why should an award winning, bestselling author, who has won numerous accolades from international literary and human rights organisations, be expelled from a country? Simply because some anti-women and anti-free speech fatwabaaz goons want to expel her for their own misogynistic interests?

The government of Bangladesh has been preventing me from entering my country since 1994. India is the only country in the subcontinent where I can live and be in touch with my language, heritage and cultural roots. This is the only other nation which has a populace who speak my native tongue, and read my books untranslated. My roots are Indian, but because of the certain political blunders the country was divided. I am now considered an outsider, and even though the war in Bangladesh in 1971 proved that two nation theory was wrong, my outsider status has not been withdrawn. As an atheist, I never can accept the barbed wire between Bangladesh and India that is based on religion.

I feel India is my home, just as I feel Bangladesh to be my home. I have dedicated my life for the secularization of the society, then why should I be expelled from a secular democratic society which is supposed to believe in freedom of expression?

2. What do you think sparked this latest bout of Taslima phobia?

Ans— They never can say what exactly makes them angry with me. Every now and then, the Islamic fanatics claim that I hurt their sentiments, so I must be deported, or killed. None of them read my books or show any such evidence from my writings that is not the truth. Should we not tell the truth only because the truth hurts their sentiments? We know that they always do it for their own political gain, and it has nothing to do with my writings or sayings.

It is dangerous if the government tries to deny the freedom of expression of people in order to protect the sentiments of a group of people who do not believe in democracy, and the people’s rights to express their opinions.

3. You had hopes of returning to Kolkata after Mamata Banerjee came to power. But she banned even the telecast of the serial, Duhshahobas, based on your writings. How do you see the fabled ‘paribartan’ in West Bengal?

Ans—There may have been many paribartans in West Bengal, but there is no paribartan in my case for sure. The previous government threw me out of West Bengal and banned my book, the current government does not allow me to enter the state, banned the inauguration of my book and forced a private TV channel to cancel my mega serial. It seems the current government is following the footsteps of the previous government, especially when it is about me.

4. Is it a global phenomenon that more and more space is being ceded to fundamentalists in all spheres, including politics, art or even international relations? Is self-censorship growing among authors, film makers etc?

Ans — Islamic fanatics want to make the world darul Islam, the land of Islam, as it is the ultimate purpose of Islam. They have been attacking intellectuals, thinkers, humanists, feminists and whoever is critical of Islam, and there is indeed more and more leverage gained by these intolerant groups over various spheres of civil society.

Self censorship is the worst form of censorship. Governments have been banning my books, the editors have been censoring my writings, but I try my best not to censor myself. In countries where writers, artists, film makers’ freedom of expression get constantly violated, it is obvious that they would self censor themselves. And such societies are bound to become sick if this continues. If religious fundamentalists decide what should people read, and draw, and say, and think and the authorities violate the freedom of expression of writers and artists, then it is not really a secular democracy, rather it is well on its way to become a theocratic democracy. This is an alarming trend.

Taslima Nasreen and these dark times

Garga Chatterjee is the guest blogger today. He is a brain scientist at MIT, USA. Here he analyzes the shrinking space for free expression in West Bengal, India.

Many Bengalis take a lot of pride about Kolkata, as a centre for free thought and artistic expression. Kolkata, the so-called ‘cultural capital’, has demonstrated the increasing emptiness of the epithet, yet again. Taslima Nasreen, one of the most famous Bengali authors alive, had scripted a TV serial named ‘Doohshahobash’ ( Difficult cohabitaions) portraying 3 sisters and their lives – standing up to kinds of unjust behaviour that are everyday realities for the lives of women in the subcontinent. Nasreen has long lent a powerful voice to some of the most private oppressions that women face, often silently. The private channel where the serial was slotted ran a vigorous and visible advertising campaign – Nasreen’s name still has serious pull among Bengalis and the channel knew it. Nasreen had made it clear that the serial had nothing to do with religion. However that was not enough for the self-appointed ‘leaders’ of the Muslims of West Bengal who issued warnings to the effect that the serial not be aired. The commencement of the serial, sure to be a hit and a commercial success for the channel, has now been postponed indefinitely. One can imagine the pressure the producers and broadcasters have faced that led to the shelving of a potential runaway commercial success. As in the recent incident of Salman Rushdie being prevented from coming to Kolkata due to the protest by similar characters, one can be sure of the kind of role the Trinamool Congress government and its law enforcement agencies had in this affair. If the government is to be believed, it had no role in the criminal farce that is being played out unchecked. Muzzling free speech and right to expression does not always need written orders from the government. A phone call here, a verbal order there – these are typically enough.

Nasreen has been living in New Delhi since 2011, after being hounded out of Kolkata by the CPI(M) led government on the instigation of Muslim groups threatening ‘unrest’. The pathetic reality of the lives of ordinary women in the subcontinent and the extraordinary oppression meted out to them, especially due to certain religious systems, have been the single most important theme of her writing. Steeped broadly and deeply in the cultural fabric of Bengal, the specific socio-geographical setting of much of her work is in the Muslim-majority nation-state of Bangladesh. Hence, in her earlier writings, Islam primarily represented the ugly face of religious majoritarianism. However, those who have cared to read her corpus, know very well that she has been an equal-opportunity truth-teller, castigating both Hindu and Muslim religious practices and ideologies.

Taslima Nasreen is a daughter of the subcontinent and of the world. Islamists in Bangladesh wanted her head and made life miserable for her. After a few years in the West, she returned to West Bengal. I say ‘returned’ as it was an inalienable part of her cultural homeland. In Kolkata too, she lived in the face of constant death-threats there too. After her forcible ejection from Kolkata, she has never been allowed back, though she remains extremely interested in relocating back. One would think that the culture of issuing death-threats to one feels one’s religion has been slighted by is alien to Bengal – which has, for centuries, been the ground Zero of religious syncretism as well as tolerance to so-called deviants of all hues. It is indeed sad that this alien culture of extremism of relatively recent import has managed to gain the upper-hand so as to force the government of the day to pander to these elements at huge cost to the social and cultural fabric of West Bengal.

Who exactly are these vocal opposers of Taslima Nasreen’s serial being shown publicly? Whenever one has self-appointed spokespersons doing the shrillest speaking, it is useful to study their antecedents. Abdul Aziz of Milli Ittehad Parishad and Mohammad Quamruzzaman of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation are two prime examples who have been extraordinarily active in running the Taslima-denounication industry in West Bengal. Both these organizations share another distinction. They led a mass-meeting earlier this year in Kolkata protesting the punishment of Islamist leaders of Bangladesh who had directly committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. Thus those who defended rapists and mass murderers of 1971 (the victims were Bengalis, of whom a significant proportion were Muslims) have taken upon the mantle of community guardianship of Muslims in West Bengal. It cannot be clearer what kind of Muslim interest these folks represent. To even consider that such elements represent Muslim interests of West Bengal is tantamount to insulting the intelligence and humanity of the Mohammedans of the state.

Kolkata’s intelligentsia and youth, once known to take to the streets and chant songs to protest the muzzling of Paul Robeson, a black-American singer and artist, has had nothing but silence to offer on this one. The Trinamool Congress rulers and the erstwhile CPI(M) rulers have set a record of competing with each other on muzzling free speech on the instigation of groups in whose worldview, free speech has no place. While there may be short-term electoral gain for such posturing, this race to the bottom has no winners. The loser is the idea of a free and democratic society where dialogue and understanding is privileged over violence to ‘solve’ differences. In effect, such groups aspire for a society where there are no differences – no diversity of thought, expression, living and being. Nothing is more alien to the human condition than that. Gods only can help a society where governmental policy is dictated by sociopaths, unless a critical mass stands up to publicly state that enough is enough. Does the right to be offended take precedence over the right to free speech? If yes, we are in sad and dark times.

When insulting books, gods and other creatures has become the touchstone of ‘community leadership’, one might do well to remember the words of Kaji Nazrul Islam, the fiery poet of all of Bengal who is increasingly being packaged into a ‘Muslim’ poet – ‘Manush enechhe grontho, grontho aneni manush kono’ (Man has produced books, no book has ever produced a man). There is nothing truer than man himself and free speech is an pre-condition for that truth to shine forth, in its myriad hues. It is high time we realized that.

On the day of children’s rights

I tweeted a lot in the last few days. I was at the European Parliament to celebrate 25th Sakharov Prize anniversary. All the Sakharov Laureates were there except Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Hu Jia, Jafar Panahi and a few others. Shirin Ebadi the Nobel Peace Prize winner came to represent Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian lawyer who received Sakharov Prize last year. We attended many conferences, seminars on Human Rights, official lunch and dinner.

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On November 20, the Children’s Rights Day, Pakistani girl Malala Yousufzai was given Sakharov prize for freedom of thought by the president of the European Parliament. Malala is a brave girl. Talibans wanted her to be dead. But she survived. Thanks to the medical science and skilled physicians. Malala has been talking about the children’s rights to education in the region where talibans burnt down girls schools. She was shot in her head for ignoring the taliban’s rules. She deserves to be awarded and to be encouraged to continue her advocacy to promote children’s rights to education. Malala has already become the symbol of resistance to the fanaticism.

Malala is not alone. The whole world is supporting her. Many agencies and film, fashion, music, publication etc. industries are now behind her. This is probably good for her. Her story is getting known to many more. Though sometimes I get disturbed by some questions and comments like whether girls education was always forbidden in Pakistan or it was Malala who started education for girls. I told them that girls education started in Pakistan centuries ago, girls schools were already there, so that the taliban could burnt them down.

After she got the Sakharov prize we the Sakharov Laureates took family photos. In the photo below, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament is standing between Malala and me. I congratulated Malala for the prize. She shook my hand with expressionless face. I came from the Indian subcontinent, almost from the same background, fighting religious fundamentalists for women’s rights, but her expression tells me that it means nothing to her. She in her speech expressed that the names of the previous Sakharov laureates that amazed her were Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and Kofi Annan. A few dats ago I requested the European Parliament to arrange for my meeting with Malala when we both would be at the parliament. But I was told that no bilateral meeting would be possible for Malala. She is now like a big superstar, no one can touch her. I imagine how busy she is with hundreds of different things in the West but I never could imagine she would not talk to any Sakharov Laureate, give no interview to any media after getting the prize and she would not be present in the discussion on children’s right at the European Parliament and would not be present even in the official dinner hosted by the President of the European Parliament for her honor. I heard her father said no to everything. I wish she could be herself. Would she be able to be herself someday in this protective environment? The glamour world and the business world both are dangerous for human rights activists.

I did not expect but was not shocked either when Malala started her official speech in the name of Allah. She said, Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim while she was giving a speech at the secular European Parliament. Malala believes in Allah and Islam. She often praises Islam and talks about women’s freedom. I wish she knew ‘religion is not compatible with women’s rights’.

Everybody loves Malala. I am afraid she will be able to convince young Muslim girls that Islam is a good religion that respects women and it is good to wear Islamic veils. She talks about changing the world by books and pens. All children need books and pens. But the truth is, in all Muslim countries including Malala’s Pakistan, children are given the book called Quran to be indoctrinated in order to change the world to Darul Islam. The Taliban use pens to write the names whom they plan to kill. I think it is better to mention what kinds of books are needed to make the world a better lace. And what should be done with pens.

I asked a politically incorrect question to children rights activists during children’s rights debate at the parliament: ‘You have been talking about children’s right to an adequate standard of living, health care, education and to play and recreation. You have been talking about children’s right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. But you are not saying for once that children should not be brainwashed to be superstitious, racists, chauvinists, misogynists, fanatics, terrorists. Why don’t the activists say that brainwashing children with parents’ religion or with any other religion is against children’s rights and mutilating or cutting children’s genitals in the name of religion, culture, tradition is also against children’s rights?’

Seriously, no good answer was given to me. A woman said she was fighting against female genital mutilation. I asked ‘what about boys genital mutilation?’ She wrinkled her forehead as if she never heard that boys got also mutilated.

I don’t get surprised easily. A European Parliament’s official secretly informed me that there might be a plan to give Sakharov award to Pope.

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FYI, the Sakharov Prize was established in 1988 in honour of Russian nuclear scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought is the highest tribute to human rights endeavors the European Union accords. It gives recognition and moral support to the Laureates, who are strengthened and empowered in their fight for their causes. Sakharov Laureates are seen in a group photo on November 20, 2013 at the European Parliament. They are from Bosnia, Bangladesh, Turkey, China, Algeria, East Timor, Spain, Israel,Angola, Cuba,Belarus, Nigeria, France, Russia,Sudan, Libya, Iran and now Pakistan.

Free speech

Pineapple story.

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Jesus and MO t-shirts story.

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Atheist,humanist and secularist students are under attack, not in the temples or mosques but in the universities, the institutions of learning of the highest level. They are humiliated, threatened and banned. Instead of protecting freedom of expression the authorities have been protecting a bunch of irrational myths. Nothing is more dangerous than the ideas that our secular institutions have to behave like religious institutions and instead of enlightening students it is alright to keep them in the dark.

Why don’t we file cases against the people who violate people’s freedom of expression? We should not let them go unopposed.

Europe should give asylum to Edward Snowden.

Why India, Europe should give asylum to Snowden.

Edward Snowden asked 21 nations for political asylum. He got nothing but rejection, proving once again that free speech is just a decorative item for most governments. India’s embassy in Moscow received Snowden’s request for asylum. His request was rejected within hours. Since then, there has been much discussion about India’s generosity over giving shelter to persecuted people—and so then, why not Snowden? India has in the past granted political asylum to Dalai Lama and many other rebels. Some even mention my name in the list.

I am not sure whether I should be considered a political refugee in India. I was thrown out of my country, Bangladesh, in 1994 and found myself landing in Europe. It was difficult for me to live in a place which has a totally different climate, culture and language from where I grew up. Since I knew I couldn’t return to my country, I wanted to come to India. But India kept her doors firmly shut. Towards the end of 1999, I was given permission to visit as a tourist.

I came to India not as a persecuted writer or as an asylum seeker, but as a European citizen. I eagerly chose India’s state of West Bengal as my new home. But when I was physically attacked by Muslim fundamentalists, instead of taking act­ion against them, the government kept me under house arrest. Not only that, I was repeatedly asked to leave the state and, preferably, the country. When a group of Muslim fundamentalists orga­nised a protest against my stay in India, I was thrown out of Bengal, the state that had been my home for years. Finally, the central government took charge and put me in a safehouse. But there was pressure from the Centre too for me to leave the country. I had to leave, but I did not give up. I am now given permission to live in India again. My enemies are just a handful of anti-democracy, anti-equality, anti-women, ignorant fanatics but yet India often hesitates to challenge them.

I’m not surprised India refused Snowden asylum. How can a country give asylum to a person chased by the almighty US when it panics over giving a residence permit to a secular writer? But with India, one underst­ands; it can’t afford to take risks or make any big political mistake now. Indeed, a Eur­opean country should have given Snowden asylum. They have a long tradition of defending writers and journalists. Compared to India, they have a much older, truer democracies, and violation of rights and free speech is a rarity there. It’s time for Europe to show they are not mere colonies of the US. However glorious a past India may have had, it can not afford to face possible US sanctions. If democracy were practised everywhere, and if it were not reduced to mere elections, independent voices from independent countries would have been respected. As it stands, the human species is yet to make the world an evenly civilised place. Until it happens, we ordinary people have to pay the brunt, and have to sacrifice our dignity, honor, rights and freedom.

I really feel sorry for Snowden. If I were a country, I’d have given him asylum.