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and even though the war in Bangladesh in 1971 proved that two nation theory was wrong, my outsider status has not been withdrawn.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.

They are going to kill me.

I write books on women’s rights and humanism. But the fanatics won’t let me live. Just got this news. 200,000 ulemas will sign the petition demanding my deportation. Then 2 million Muslims in urs celebration will get crazy to throw me out of the country or to kill me in the name of Islam. It is so easy for Islamists to kill and destroy human lives. They only need to think of Allah and his messenger in order to become cold blooded murderers.

A Muslim cleric from UP, who had filed a police complaint against Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen for allegedly hurting religious sentiments, is now at the forefront of a campaign demanding that she be expelled from India for spreading “anti-Muslim feeling.”

“We will start a campaign for expulsion of Taslima Nasreen. She is against our religion and has hurt our clerics,” said Hasan Raza Khan alias Noori Miyan, son of the ‘sajjadanasheen’ of Bareilly’s Aala Hazrat Dargah, Maulana Subhan Raza Khan.

He said the demand will be raised during the last day of annual Urs-e-Razwi of Imam Ahmed Raza, commonly known as Aala Hazrat, in Bareilly on Monday.

Noori was also felicitated by Raza Academy of Mumbai during the urs on Saturday for taking “the initiative to lodged the case against Taslima.”

Noori had lodged the case with Bareilly Kotwali on December 4 against Taslima for using abusive language against Muftis and hurting the feelings of Muslims.

“We will collect signatures of nearly two lakh ulemas demanding expulsion of Taslima. Nearly 20 lakh people come during the urs celebrations and we will put forward our demand before them,” he said.

Noori said Taslima is a foreigner who is “spoiling the atmosphere of our country by spreading anti Muslim feeling”. “I don’t see any point in Taslima being given asylum in our country. She should be immediately asked to leave,” he added.

Earlier, Noori’s uncle Tauqeer Raza Khan, the chief of Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC) had allegedly announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh on Taslima’s head if she remains in India.

Taslima had reacted after Aam Admi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal had met Tauqeer Raza before Delhi Assembly elections soliciting his support.

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.

Fatwabaaz and politicians

All the religious fanatics who issued fatwas against me, and set prices on my head or attacked me physically or tried to kill me for expressing my opinions were honored by the politicians in Bangladesh and India.

Bangladesh:

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The picture above is from a press conference held in 1993 by Islamic fundamentalists for the banning of my all books, for my arrest and for my execution by hanging. Shaikhul Hadith and Habibur Rahman, sitting in the middle, issued a fatwa against me, set price on my head and called for demonstrations, processions, general strikes, hartal all over the country in order to force the government to hang me till death. They demanded my execution because they were against women’s rights, freedom of expression and plurality of thoughts.

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Habibur Rahman who had declared a Tk 50,000 reward for my head in 1993, wants Taliban rule in Bangladesh. He said, “If alems and ulamas can run Afghanistan then Bangladeshi alems would be able to run the country with Allah’s help.”

Here is the amnesty report how Muslim fundamentalists issued a fatwa against me. See page 13-16.

Sheikh Hasina, the chairperson of Awami league, one of the biggest political parties in Bangladesh, chose fatwabaaz Taliban Habibur Rahman as a nominee of the 2007 general elections.

Both Habibur Rahman and Shaikhul Hadith have been respected by almost all the big politicians in Bangladesh.

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Awami League leader Abdul Jalil came to religious fanatic Shaikhul Hadith to offer him nomination.

Sheikh Hasina has been admiring Shaikhul Hadith since her childhood.
When he died, she expressed deep shock at the death of Shaikhul Hadith. In her condolence message, the Prime Minister recalled contribution of Shaikhul Hadith to the society. She prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul and conveyed sympathy to the bereaved family members.

India:

Fatwabaaz 1. Imam Barkati.

Imam Barkati issued a fatwa against me in 2004. He set price on my head, Rs 20,000.

Imam Barkati issued another fatwa against me in 2006.
He set price on my head, Rs 50,000.

Imam Barkati issued a fatwa again in 2007, the price that was set for my head was unlimited amount of money. Watch the video. They were issuing fatwa in the middle of Kolkata. Many police officers were there, but they did not arrest any fatwabaaz for announcing cash reward for the people who would kill a writer.

After issuing fatwas, Imam Barkati has been rewarded by the politicians. West Bengal’s current chief minister Mamata Banerjee invited him on the stage and honored him many times. She know very well that Imam Barkati asked people to kill a writer for having different opinions.

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Idris Ali, another Muslim troublemaker who committed crimes in November 21, 2007, got the blessing of West Bengal’s chief minister. He was given clean chit.

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Fatwabaaz 2. Taukeer Raza Khan.

News in 2007.
a.
“Taslima should be killed & beheaded and anyone who does this will get a reward from the council”
– Tauqeer Raza Khan.March,2007

b. Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen’s head if New Delhi does not restrict her entry into the country.

c. The creator of the Rs 5 lakh reward offer on her head, president of All India Ibtehad Council, Tauqeer Raza Khan, however, insisted he had community support.

d. Fatwa against Taslima. A public interest litigation petition filed by a local lawyer seeking action against Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, president of the All India Muslim Personal Board.

News in 2013.
e. Cleric who issued fatwa against Taslima Nasreen may campaign for Arvind Kejriwal.

f.Taslima slams Kejriwal for feelers to maulana behind beheading fatwa.

After Kejriwal, another politician praised the fatwabaaz.

Why do politicians ask for support from anti-women anti-free speech Muslim fanatics who illegally set price on people’s heads? They should go to ordinary Muslims if they need their votes. They should not bow down to Muslim fanatics who are responsible for Muslim community’s backwardness. Since independence, politicians in the Indian subcontinent have been seeking help of religious fanatics who do not respect human rights, free speech and the Constitution. People should speak up against fanatics who vitiate society, push it backward and the politicians who encourage them. Else, it’s bad news for democracy.

Another patriarchal festival today in India. Bhai Phonta or Bhai Dooj.

There are hundreds of patriarchal festivals in India. People are celebrating Bhai Phonta or Bhai Dooj or Bhai Tika or Bhai Beej today. On this day, sisters put a sandalwood paste or a vermilion mark on the forehead of their brothers and pray for their brothers to have long and happy lives, safety and success. There is no Bon Phonta or Bahen Dooj for sisters.

I changed the system when I lived in Kolkata, West Bengal, in 2004-2007. I made my fans and friends to celebrate Bon Phonta. We girls and women were given Phontas, and gifts by men,. Men wished for our well being, happy long life, our safety and success.

Here are some of those pictures:

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Bon Phonta was completely a secular celebration. No man prayed to any God. They wished us long life and good health.

I was thrown out of Kolkata in 2007. But Bon Phonta has still been celebrated every year in the city by a small group of people. Bon Phonta is a protest against patriarchal Bhai Phonta. If Bhai Phonta is not celebrated, Bon Phonta will not be celebrated. Men and women will wish each other good health and long life without any Phonta. But if Bhai Phonta is celebrated, Bon Phonta must be celebrated on the same day by the same people.

People should stop following patriarchal tradition. They should question it. And make the age-old tradition go. They should make cultures evolve. It gets filthy if it does not flow. Women have been treated as inferior beings in patriarchal societies, nobody has been concerned so far about women’s long life and good health, not even in the 21st century. My effort to celebrate Bon Phonta will not change the society today. But some people will learn how to question and how to say NO, and how to show the middle finger to misogyny.

Onam, a secular festival was celebrated today.

Onam is a traditional harvest festival. It is also a secular festival, celebrated mainly in Kerala, India. Malayalees all over the world celebrated Onam today.

They sing a secular song during Onam festival.
‘Maveli nadu vaneedum kalam,
manusharellarum onnupole
amodhathode vasikkum kalam
apathangarkkumottillathanum
kallavum illa chathiyumilla
ellolamilla polivachanam
kallapparayum cherunazhiyum
kallatharangal mattonnumilla
adhikal vyadhikalonnumilla
balamaranangal kelppanilla’

‘When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
Deaths of children were unheard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
And no one was false in speech either.
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated or wronged his neighbor.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people formed one casteless races.’

A few days ago, I was invited to celebrate pookalam, the flower decoration for Onam. Those pookalams made of different flowers of different colours look so beautiful! Only Malayalees could make those. I spent wonderful time with secular Malayalees. I didn’t dance but had Sadya, the Onam food.

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I wish people of different ages, genders, races, colours, casts, cultures, ethnicities, languages, traditions, religions, sexual orientations and whatever would live together peacefully in India. Onam is a symbol of unity. Unity is so much needed in India, the most diverse country in the world. The world badly needs unity. We humans still hate and kill our fellow humans in the name of almost everything. We need to be better, don’t we?

Happy Onam everyone.

Indian Godman is in jail for sexual assault

Gandhi grew up in Gujarat. He was called Bapu. Asaram grew up in Gujarat. He is also called Bapu. Gandhi was hugely popular among Indians. Asaram has been hugely popular among Indians. Gandhi used young girls for his celibacy test, even when he was over 70. Asaram is now 72, and he rapes young girls.

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Asaram is now in jail. But most Indians still support him and believe that he is not guilty. Most Indians support Gandhi. They believe Gandhi had the right to make young girls naked and sleep with him. Godmen exploit people for wealth and fame and sex. God-fearing people go to Godmen to get their blessings, because they are told that Godmen have a direct connection with God.

You may imprison a rapist Godman. But it will not make Godman business disappear from superstitious society. You will not be able to defeat god beliefs, god-men, superstitions by any other weapons but science. You bet.

Everybody has the right to blaspheme.

India is a country of religion and spirituality. It has a law against blasphemy.

Section 295A, Indian Penal Code: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.— Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

The Indian Penal Code embodied some relics of English medieval ecclesiastical law.
It is high time India changes its penal code as it does not have many safeguards to freedom of speech and expression.

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Today The Times Of India, the most prestigious, popular, and the most circulated newspaper in India published my tweet about blasphemy : Everybody has the right to blaspheme.

I believe the editors of The Times of India believe that everybody has the right to blaspheme. I believe they will do everything possible to make India abolish the law against blasphemy. If India abolished it, Bangladesh and Pakistan would be inspired to abolish their anti-blasphemy laws. The subcontinent would be a sane place.