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:

press-conference

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.

300,000-mollar-meeting-antitaslima

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.

saikhul

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.

mamata

mamata1

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.

image

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:

DSC02609

DSC02613

DSC02611

DSC02619

DSC02601

DSC02606

DSC02621

DSC02622

DSC02626

DSC02623

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.

image

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image
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.

Gandhi

I am watching Gandhi on an Indian TV. Today is the Independence Day of India. TV channels are celebrating the day. Gandhi is the father of the nation. Showing Gandhi is part of their celebration. Gandhi is an award winning well produced well directed film. The film won eight Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Richard Attenborough), Best Original Screenplay (John Briley) etc. The film also got Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

I always wonder how the film got so many awards when an important part of Gandhi’s life was ignored. Who knows why the film did not show Gandhi’s sex experiments or Celibacy tests! Gandhi’s sex life is very important to know Gandhi the person. Gandhi started sleeping and bathing naked with young naked girls since 1906. He continued to do that until his death in 1948. 16 to 19 years old young girls were forced to sleep with him every night. Manuben, one of the girls who had to sleep with him, wrote her diaries. She described how she was cursed if she ever hesitated to get naked. Gandhi got angry with her whenever she expressed her desire to marry someone. It was possible for Gandhi to do whatever he liked because he was extremely popular and also because Indian society was deeply misogynistic. There was no proof that those girls were not molested by Gandhi. The girls were asked to keep their mouths shut.

Gandhi also used the girls as his walking sticks.

Mohandas K. Gandhi ;Manilal Gandhi ;Mrs. Kanu Gandhi;Pyarelal;Sita Gandhi;Sushila Pai;Raj Kumari

Remembering those days

India got independence from the British in 1947. But the independence brought the partition, based on religion. Pakistan was for Muslims. India was for Hindus. The political leaders of India believed in two nation theory. But the war between East and West Pakistan in 1971 proved that two nation theory was a wrong theory and Muslim unity was a myth. The leaders thought that the conflicts people had would be solved if only they could divide the land where people lived for thousands of years together. But they were wrong. A million people died during the partition. Hatred increased over the years. Muslim and Hindu fundamentalism grew more than ever. And after 66 years of the partition, now we see that India and Pakistan get nuclear bombs, Indians are in constant fear of Pakistani terrorists, Pakistanis are getting killed by talibans and drone attacks, Bangladesh’s secular fabric has been destroyed by the Islamists.

If there were no partition of India, there would not have any war in Bangladesh. 3 million people would not have been killed, and 200,000 women would not have been raped.
Today I am celebrating Independence Day of India by reciting ‘September on Jessore Road’, the poem written by Allen Ginsberg while remembering all the deaths and the homelessness of Bengalis.

Millions of babies watching the skies
Bellies swollen, with big round eyes
On Jessore Road–long bamboo huts
Noplace to shit but sand channel ruts

Millions of fathers in rain
Millions of mothers in pain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of sisters nowhere to go

image

One Million aunts are dying for bread
One Million uncles lamenting the dead
Grandfather millions homeless and sad
Grandmother millions silently mad

image

Millions of daughters walk in the mud
Millions of children wash in the flood
A Million girls vomit & groan
Millions of families hopeless alone

Millions of souls nineteenseventyone
homeless on Jessore road under grey sun
A million are dead, the million who can
Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan

image

Taxi September along Jessore Road
Oxcart skeletons drag charcoal load
past watery fields thru rain flood ruts
Dung cakes on treetrunks, plastic-roof huts

Wet processions Families walk
Stunted boys big heads don’t talk
Look bony skulls & silent round eyes
Starving black angels in human disguise

image

Mother squats weeping & points to her sons
Standing thin legged like elderly nuns
small bodied hands to their mouths in prayer
Five months small food since they settled there

on one floor mat with small empty pot
Father lifts up his hands at their lot
Tears come to their mother’s eye
Pain makes mother Maya cry

image

Two children together in palmroof shade
Stare at me no word is said
Rice ration, lentils one time a week
Milk powder for warweary infants meek

No vegetable money or work for the man
Rice lasts four days eat while they can
Then children starve three days in a row
and vomit their next food unless they eat slow.

b71-

On Jessore road Mother wept at my knees
Bengali tongue cried mister Please
Identity card torn up on the floor
Husband still waits at the camp office door

Baby at play I was washing the flood
Now they won’t give us any more food
The pieces are here in my celluloid purse
Innocent baby play our death curse

Two policemen surrounded by thousands of boys
Crowded waiting their daily bread joys
Carry big whistles & long bamboo sticks
to whack them in line They play hungry tricks

Breaking the line and jumping in front
Into the circle sneaks one skinny runt
Two brothers dance forward on the mud stage
Teh gaurds blow their whistles & chase them in rage

image

Why are these infants massed in this place
Laughing in play & pushing for space
Why do they wait here so cheerful & dread
Why this is the House where they give children bread

The man in the bread door Cries & comes out
Thousands of boys and girls Take up his shout
Is it joy? is it prayer? “No more bread today”
Thousands of Children at once scream “Hooray!”

Run home to tents where elders await
Messenger children with bread from the state
No bread more today! & and no place to squat
Painful baby, sick shit he has got.
image

Malnutrition skulls thousands for months
Dysentery drains bowels all at once
Nurse shows disease card Enterostrep
Suspension is wanting or else chlorostrep

Refugee camps in hospital shacks
Newborn lay naked on mother’s thin laps
Monkeysized week old Rheumatic babe eye
Gastoenteritis Blood Poison thousands must die

September Jessore Road rickshaw
50,000 souls in one camp I saw
Rows of bamboo huts in the flood
Open drains, & wet families waiting for food

Border trucks flooded, food cant get past,
American Angel machine please come fast!
Where is Ambassador Bunker today?
Are his Helios machinegunning children at play?

image

Where are the helicopters of U.S. AID?
Smuggling dope in Bangkok’s green shade.
Where is America’s Air Force of Light?
Bombing North Laos all day and all night?

Where are the President’s Armies of Gold?
Billionaire Navies merciful Bold?
Bringing us medicine food and relief?
Napalming North Viet Nam and causing more grief?

Where are our tears? Who weeps for the pain?
Where can these families go in the rain?
Jessore Road’s children close their big eyes
Where will we sleep when Our Father dies?

image

Whom shall we pray to for rice and for care?
Who can bring bread to this shit flood foul’d lair?
Millions of children alone in the rain!
Millions of children weeping in pain!

Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don’t know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain

How many children are we who are lost
Whose are these daughters we see turn to ghost?
What are our souls that we have lost care?
Ring out ye musics and weep if you dare–

Cries in the mud by the thatch’d house sand drain
Sleeps in huge pipes in the wet shit-field rain
waits by the pump well, Woe to the world!
whose children still starve in their mother’s arms curled.

Is this what I did to myself in the past?
What shall I do Sunil Poet I asked?
Move on and leave them without any coins?
What should I care for the love of my loins?

b71--

What should we care for our cities and cars?
What shall we buy with our Food Stamps on Mars?
How many millions sit down in New York
& sup this night’s table on bone & roast pork?

How many millions of beer cans are tossed
in Oceans of Mother? How much does She cost?
Cigar gasolines and asphalt car dreams
Stinking the world and dimming star beams–

Finish the war in your breast with a sigh
Come tast the tears in your own Human eye
Pity us millions of phantoms you see
Starved in Samsara on planet TV
image

How many millions of children die more
before our Good Mothers perceive the Great Lord?
How many good fathers pay tax to rebuild
Armed forces that boast the children they’ve killed?

image

How many souls walk through Maya in pain
How many babes in illusory pain?
How many families hollow eyed lost?
How many grandmothers turning to ghost?

How many loves who never get bread?
How many Aunts with holes in their head?
How many sisters skulls on the ground?
How many grandfathers make no more sound?

image

How many fathers in woe
How many sons nowhere to go?
How many daughters nothing to eat?
How many uncles with swollen sick feet?

Millions of babies in pain
Millions of mothers in rain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of children nowhere to go

image