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.’

Is anyone listening?

It is an interview.

It’s hard to miss her in Calcutta these days. She beams at passers-by from king-size hoardings at several busy junctions, anxiously marking her “return” to Bengal after six years.

But Taslima Nasreen is not returning to the city. Not in person, certainly — thanks to embargoes on her travelling and living in India. And not on television either, which had been promoting her as the writer of a mega serial that was to have been aired from December 19.

Despite the grand announcements, the show has been stalled. And Nasreen is furious. “Hating Taslima is an essential part of politics in the subcontinent. I feel pity for those who need to violate a writer’s rights to get votes,” she tweeted. “Whatever I write is hated by ignorant anti-women, anti-human rights bigots. Because they are afraid of the truth and the power of the pen,” said another tweet.

She walks into the drawing room-cum-study of her apartment located in an upmarket area of Delhi, where she has been living since 2008, full of misgivings. Just days before the serial was called off, she’d heard that the Calcutta police had met the producers of the serial.

“Some bigoted individuals asked for a ban and the state acquiesced — I don’t think this will happen even in Saudi Arabia,” she says. “But fundamentalists are anti-women and anti-freedom of expression, and for political reasons the government might side with them. But why are the people in Bengal silent,” she asks.

Dressed in grey winter pants, a black sweater and a blue embroidered stole, the maverick writer looks younger than her 51 years with her bright eyes and dishevelled short crop. She sinks into a reclining chair with a blue iPad in her hand. All around her are bookshelves, all packed with books. Stickers screaming messages such as “Atheism cures religious terrorism” are pasted on the shelves. Honorary certificates bestowed by foreign institutions, framed beautifully, adorn a whole wall in the study.

It has been almost 20 years since she was exiled from Bangladesh for “anti-Islam” writings and six years since she was ousted from West Bengal following communal disturbances in Calcutta’s Ripon Street. It was thought that she would return — in the shape of the serial called Dusahobas or unbearable co-existence, which was to be aired on Aakash Aath and promoted as a serial radically different from the regular saas-bahu stories.

This is the second time the soap has been stalled. She began writing it in 2006, when several episodes were also shot. “But then the 2007 drama happened and I was summarily thrown out of the city on November 22 that year,” she says, referring to the Ripon street violence. “That brought the production to a standstill.”

She had then urged her producers not to give up on the series merely because she had been ousted by the Bengal government, which cited her as a problem for law and order. “Why should the producers, or any creative person for that matter, be afraid of negative forces? These are just fringe elements who would oppose anyone who talks about gender equality and social change because they are misogynists.”

She cites the treatment meted out to reformists Vidyasagar and Raja Rammohan Roy by “anti-progress groups” for their pro-women measures. “The same thing is happening to me — I speak about new ideas, changing society, gender equality and humanism.”

What riles her more is the lack of protest in Calcutta. “This is a dangerous sign — if writers, intellectuals and other creative people keep quiet after this, something is wrong with society. Society is on the path of decline — this is what the silence signifies.

“But intellectuals do not keep their mouths shut when Hindu fanatics attack writers or artistes, or even when Muslim fanatics attack male writers such as Salman Rushdie. Misogynistic society shows solidarity towards victims, provided the victims are male, macho or anti-feminist,” she says.

Nasreen alleges that her ouster from Calcutta was premeditated. “Few people know that I was actually put under house arrest for about four months before the November incident,” she says, adding that she had to leave her 7 Rawdon Street residence in Calcutta with just her laptop and a one-way ticket to Rajasthan.

“From August that year, I was repeatedly asked by the Left Front government to leave the country. They even used to send the then police commissioner to coax me; he asked me to go to the jungles of Madhya Pradesh.” Nirbasan (Exile), the seventh part of her autobiography, documents her ouster from the city where she lived from 2004 to 2007.

She stresses that the Ripon Street incident was not a “Muslim uprising” against her. “The original plan was to agitate against the violence in Nandigram,” she says, referring to the 2007 police firing in which several villagers were killed. “The outburst was actually against the government for doing little for the community. The CPI(M) was losing popularity at that time — so they wanted to use me to score some political brownie points.”

She says she was “deeply hurt” by the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s behaviour. “I tried to meet him at that time, but he didn’t meet me. But Jyotibabu (ex-chief minister) supported me right through the end. He was also against banning my books in Bengal,” she adds.

Nasreen believes that the present state government is also following in the footsteps of the Leftists. “It never criticised the way the Left Front government wronged me.”

The author believes that her “persecution” in West Bengal began in 2003 when her book Dwikhandito (Split into Two) was banned by the state government. The book, it was alleged, was “anti-Islamic”, which was the brush that she was tarred with in Bangladesh.

Nasreen — who fled Bangladesh in 1994 after threats to her life — is, however, happy to have found a platform for her views in her motherland. She has been writing for a daily called Bangladesh Pratidin.

“I write a bimonthly column for the paper. I write generally on women’s issues, politics, etc. But I have been requested by editors not to write anything on religion,” she says. “For 20 years or so, they were afraid to touch me. But now I can reach out to my fans in Bangladesh.”

However, Nasreen is worried about Pan- Islamists, believers in Muslim brotherhood, who, she says, have been “growing at an alarming rate” in Bangladesh. “They are far more radical than what they were in 1971,” she says. At the same time, she is concerned about the path being taken by the “secularists” of Bangladesh.

“They are rejoicing at Abdul Kader Mullah’s death,” she says, referring to a Bangladeshi Islamist leader who was hanged earlier this month for war crimes in 1971. “But my point is that death penalty to such people won’t solve anything unless a forceful attempt is made to secularise society.”

Her “secularist fans” in Bangladesh, she adds, are “shocked” by her opposition to the death penalty. “They say these are the same kind of people who drove you out of your homeland. So how could I write against the death penalty,” she says. “But I forgive these fundamentalists — I want them to change and be better human beings. I want jails to be classrooms where such people could learn humanism.”

She, however, is in favour of banning the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party because she feels it works “exactly like a terrorist organisation” in Bangladesh. “They kill people — take blogger Rajib Haider’s death,” she says. Haider was a Bangladeshi anti-fundamentalist who was allegedly killed by a group associated with the Jamaat.

She is critical of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s “so-called anti-Islamist” stance. “If Hasina was truly anti-fundamentalist, she should have first brought Taslima Nasreen back to Bangladesh,” she says.

These days, Nasreen has found new a forum for her views — the Internet. “I rely on Twitter to update myself on developments around the world. You see, I don’t really have many platforms to express myself these days,” she rues.

She also blogs on topics that range from violence and politics to science. She has been spearheading an atheist movement in Calcutta. “It’s called Dharmamukto Manabbadi Mancha and it’s unique because all its atheist members — 400 or so — are Muslims working for gender equality and other issues,” she says, adding that her blogs sometimes attract 1-2 lakh readers a day.

Her tweets too have landed her in legal wrangles. Two cases — one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Bihar — have been lodged against her. “The complaint from UP was against a tweet saying those who issue fatwas and rewards on beheading were anti-Constitution, anti-women and anti-freedom of expression,” says Nasreen, who has had three fatwas issued against her in Bangladesh and five in India so far.

“What have I said wrong? These people who issue fatwas are roaming scot-free while I am the one who is confined to one place,” she says, adding India’s home ministry has helped her with the cases.

She hasn’t stopped tweeting, though. “I will write more tweets. Let me see how people can stop me.”

Does she ever feel like giving it all up in India and settling down in the West? “I travel to Europe and America frequently. But I want to stay in India for the sake of this country,” she says. “I want to tell the world I can stay in India because this country is a true pillar of secularism and a standard bearer of freedom of expression in the subcontinent.”

Is anyone listening?

Finally, Banned.

The drama series or mega serial are banned.
The story of three sisters who are struggling to live with dignity and honour is banned.
The truth is banned.
Lies won. Insanity won. Fatwas won. Threats won. Barbarism won.
A bunch of faith-heads, hate mongers, anti-freespeech, filthy misogynist fanatics won.
The government of West Bengal in India made them win. On the 19th of December, 2013.

>

Some news are here:

1. West Bengal minister says: No place for people who hurt Muslim sentiments in Bengal.


2. The story of three sisters who struggle to live with dignity and honour in Kolkata is now banned.

3.State of free speech: Taslima Nasreen-scripted TV serial Dusahobas’ telecast deferred after Muslim groups object


4.Telecast of TV serial with Taslima’s script deferred.

5. TV serial on Taslima’s writings scrapped after Muslim protests.

6. Al Jazeera says something else.

Not a single episode was broadcasted, but the government banned the TV drama series, the project that could continue for a decade.

Liberal intellectuals are silent about the banning of my serial in India. They protest when Hindu fundamentalists violate a writer’s freedom of expression. They even protest when Muslim fundamentalists attack on a writer’s free speech. But only when that writer is a male, macho, anti-feminist, Salman Rushdie.

We, the ordinary people protested on twitter against the banning of the mega serial. Many people criticized India’s vote bank politics. The politicians are accused of appeasing Muslim religious leaders in India in order to get Muslim votes. This vote bank politics is destroying the democratic principles of the world’s largest democracy.

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‘Free Speech is a feminist issue’!

Meredith Tax is a brave feminist writer who has been fighting against gender-based censorship for decades. She believes, ‘free speech is a feminist issue’. I agree with her.
She says:

“The subordination of women is basic to all social systems based on dominance; for this reason, conservatives hate and fear the voices of women. That is why so many religions have made rules against women preaching or even speaking in the house of worship. That is why governments keep telling women to keep quiet: ‘You’re in the Constitution,’ they will say, ‘you have the vote, so you have no right to complain.’ But having a voice is as important, perhaps more important, than having a vote. When censors attack women writers, they do so in order to intimidate all women and keep them from using their right to free expression. Gender-based censorship is therefore a problem not only for women writers, but for everyone concerned with the emancipation of women.

“Women writers are a threat to systems built on gender hierarchy because they open doors for other women. By expressing the painful contradictions between men and women in their society, by exposing the discrepancy between what society requires of women and what they need to be fulfilled, woman writers challenge the status quo…[and] make a breach in the wall of silence. They say things no one has ever said before and say them in print, where anyone can read and repeat them.”

Meredith Tax says again:

”Women writers symbolize, in their work and life, the free speech of women. That is why they become targets and that is why the global women’s movement and all democrats must defend them even when what they say or the way they live is controversial. Women have a right to be controversial: you don’t have to agree with someone to defend her right to speak. They have a right to be celibate or childless, to get divorced, to be lesbians, or to have many lovers. You don’t have to live the way they do to defend their rights. A democracy is defined by its ability to tolerate differences. The problem here is not the strength of conservatives but the lack of commitment of liberals when it comes to defending the free speech of women. When their own rights are threatened, it’s a different story.”

It is so true! I have experienced almost everything Meredith talks about. My books got banned, I was physically attacked, Fatwas were issued against me, hundreds of thousands of fanatics marched to execute me by hanging, I was thrown out of the countries. Other atheist writers were there, but I became the target. I became the target because I am not only an atheist, I am a feminist. Liberals shut their mouths when feminists are attacked. The same liberals protest loudly when male writers or artists are harassed even though the harassment they suffer is much less than the harassment I suffer. Women are still considered inferior beings who should stay at home, do chores, rear children and must not be outspoken. The misogynistic patriarchal media and men call me, ‘controversial writer’, but they call male writers having much less literary quality than mine, ‘superb writers.’ And when I express my ideas that are different than conventional ideas, they would call me, ‘attention whore’, and they would definitely call male writers who later express their ideas that are exactly like my ideas,’very bold and very courageous writers’!

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.