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.’

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.

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.

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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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Banning and censorship

The ads of the mega serial that I am writing for TV are all over West Bengal, India.

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The TV channel had telecasted ads every few minutes. One of them was about my return to Kolkata after 6 years. I was thrown out of West Bengal 6 years ago. The channel was giving people a pleasant surprise by saying Taslima the abandoned would come back to the city. It was not actually about my return, but my mega serial’s return. The other ads cleared up the confusion later.

People were happy.

Richard Dawkins was also concerned about the serial. He tweeted:

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But suddenly everything is dead. Everybody is silent. The channel, the producers, the artists all are shocked.

The police and a bunch of Muslim fanatics both asking the channel to ban my TV serial. The funny thing is that the serial has not started going on air but fanatic Mullahs started claiming that my serial ‘could hurt the sentiments of the community’. Mullahs don’t know about the story of the serial but they want to ban it because I have written it. They not only want to vanish me physically, they want to make all my ideas and thoughts vanished. I think they learn the trick from the West Bengal government. The West Bengal government banned my book in 2003 by claiming that my book could hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Mullahs have learned from the government that Muslim sentiments are very precious, their sentiments must not be hurt. So Muslim fanatics have the right to ban films, books, or whatever they like before they even read or watch those, to protect their so called sentiments.

Muslim fanatics opposing my script for mega serial.

Kolkata: Various Muslim organizations of West Bengal have opposed the broadcast of the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen’s script for a Bengali TV serial ‘Dusahobas’ (Living Difficulties) which, according to them would hurt the sentiments of the Muslims.

Dusahobas’ is slated to be telecast on an entertainment Bengali TV Channel “Aakash Aath” from December 19. According to sources, the serial is based on the travails and experiences in the life of the controversial Bengali author, who has been living in exile in India.

Ads say that the serial is about women’s struggle against dowry, trafficking etc. but the mullahs are saying that it is based on my life. These lunatic fringe try to find an excuse for their insanity. I am banned in West Bengal. So they think books written by me should be banned, anything based on my life should also be banned. These Muslim fanatics are minority in India, but the supports they get from the governments and the politicians make them more powerful and more lunatic.

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With a slogan of `Go back Taslima’ Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan Mosque Maulana Nurur Rahman Barkati and Idris Ali, the member of the West Bengal’s legislative assembly holding a press conference to threaten the channel that decided to show the mega serial written by me.

In a press Conference Shahi Immam of Tipu Sultan Mosque of Kolkata Maulana Nurur Rahman Barkati and All India Minority Forum president Idris Ali said on 14 December that they are opposed to the Bengali channel broadcasting serial on the controversial author’s life.

Maulana Nurur Rahman informed that he has also spoke to the West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on the issue. Extolling the WB CM of being symbol of communal harmony, the Shahi Imam appealed to her to intervene and immediately stop the broadcast of the serial.

Idris Ali said that there are so many writers even within the country and we don’t necessarily need to follow the controversial Bangladeshi author.

Muhammad Kamruzzaman sent a letter on behalf of 22 Muslim organizations to the Police Commissioner of Kolkata Mr Surajit Kar Purkayashta on 13 December to stop the broadcast, which according to them would disturb the communal harmony in the state.

They have threatened to take to streets if the administration does not stop the broadcast.

The 22 Muslim organization are: 1. All Bengal Minority Youth Federation. 2 West Bengal Sunnat Al Jamat Committee. 3. Magribi Bangal Anjumane Wayezin. 4. Ulama Parishad. 5. All Bengal Muslim Think Tank. 6. Jamiat-E Ahle Hadith West Bengal. 7. West Bengal Aminia Jamiate Muttakin Committee. 8. All India Ahle Sunnat Jamat. 9. All Bengal Minority Council. 10. All Bengal Minority Association. 11. Bangiya Imam Parishad. 12. Jamiatul Ayemma Al Ulama. 13. All India Imams Council. 14. All bengal Imam-Muazzin Council. 15. West Bengal Imam-Muazzin Association. 16. All Bengal Imam Muazzin Samity. 17. Ittehadul Ayemma. 18. Maktab Imam Association. 19. Ittehadul Ayemma and Muazzin Seva Samiti. 20. Tajpur Jamaul Ayemma. 21. Biswa Manabkalyan Islami Society. 22. Jamiat-E Ulamaye Bangla, Furfura Sharif.

Now all the TV ads about the mega serial with my name and videos are censored. My name and pictures are erased from all the ads. My name is deleted from their Facebook page. The channel is probably trying hard to compromise with violent fanatics.

They are going to remove all the billboards. But will they be able to make fanatics happy? I do not think so. Fanatics will go as far they can. They know very well that nobody would come to support me in India.

These fanatics are very good friends of the government. The politicians appease Muslim fanatics because these fanatics lead a very big group of ignorant Muslims. Who doesn’t want to get Muslim votes? They are 25% of the population.

The channel is now giving a statement:

The statement says :

All characters of the serial are entirely fictional. No character of the serial is based on real people. The writer of this serial is NOT coming to Kolkata. The serial has no purpose to hurt anyone’s sentiments. It is not going to hurt sentiments of any religion or any community. It will definitely show respect to all religious communities.

The producers are trying everything to telecast the serial. Ordinary people are eager to watch it. The channel already invested a lot of money for the serial. They are now in a very bad situation. They are not getting government’s supports. All the intellectuals are silent. Many are pro-Islamist leftists, they believe I am not worthy to get their supports because I criticize Islamists. Some think it is a Muslim issue, they should not be involved. The rest are just cowards.

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.

How the extremists won

I have known Kolkata since my childhood, through children’s books and stories my parents told me. I came to know it better during my youth, when I finished reading the works of as many superb Bengali writers and poets as I could gather, and also when I published the poems of many contemporary Bengali poets from the East as well as the West while editing and publishing my poetry magazine since 1978. I remember, I visited Kolkata for the first time in the late ‘80s and it was like a dream. I felt I knew and loved Kolkata more than many native Kolkatans. In the early ‘90s, I was the first writer from Bangladesh to receive West Bengal’s most prestigious literary award, the Ananda Puroshkar. Since then I have felt closely related to Kolkata. I got the opportunity to personally meet and come close to many authors and intellectuals whom I held in great regard. I was fortunate to receive their love, sympathy and solidarity. Annada Shankar Ray, Shib Narayan Ray, and Amlan Dutta were the true secular humanist intellectuals in Kolkata.

Something else happened in the early ‘90s, too; I was forced to leave my beloved country and live in exile. I could not accept the idea that a Bengali writer had to leave Bengal simply because some ignorant, insane persons did not like my writings, and therefore, I made several attempts to return to my country, or at least, to West Bengal, which shares a common history and traditions with my country. Sadly, each time, I failed miserably, which left me no alternative but to stay in Europe or America. But whenever India gave me permission to enter, I did not waste a moment; I rushed to Kolkata and met all my friends there: a homeless felt at home, for the first time, while living in exile. I tried a lot and eventually got a Residence Permit to reside in India. No more a constrained tourist, I was a resident in this great country, and I thought that my travails were over. I received my second prestigious literary award for the first part of my memoir, titled My Girlhood (amar meyebela). But, there was to be no respite for me; just a few years thereafter, the West Bengal government banned Dwikhandito, the third part of my memoir. I personally knew Buddhadev Bhattacharyya, then the Chief Minister of West Bengal under the Left Front government. He was initially very friendly towards me, and that is partly why it was so shocking to me that he had banned my book, which was about my struggle opposing religious fanatics. Upon being asked, Mr. Bhattacharyya declared that as many as 25 intellectuals had asked him to ban my book.

But that was not the end of it. What I didn’t realize in my shock and grief was that this information, involving a few authors in Bangladesh, was a secret and not supposed to come out. The late Sunil Gangopadhaya, an accomplished writer and close friend of Mr. Bhattacharya, was the most displeased and excoriated me, saying that it was very bad form to disclose the things that happened behind the closed door between two people. Anyway, I didn’t think that the book was banned because I honestly told my life stories; some other reasons must have been given to justify banning the book. Then I found out that it was banned on the charges of ‘hurting religious feelings of Muslims’. Now Muslims got to know that a book was written by an author named Taslima Nasreen who hurt Muslim religious feelings. That was when Kolkata began to change. When the government bans your book, the fundamentalists are encouraged and enthused; they are inspired to find you a soft target. They feel the government will side with them. The Islamic fundamentalists started issuing fatwas against me; they set prices on my head. It happened in Kolkata first, and other cities followed suit.

Yes, other cities must have been inspired by Kolkata fatwa; I was physically attacked by Islamic fundamentalists in Hyderabad. The fundamentalists won’t dare touch a writer if they are not convinced they will go scot-free after such acts. To be honest, it was the politicians of the Indian subcontinent who had labeled me ‘anti-Islam’ by referring to my books as ‘controversial’ and banning them. Suddenly, everyone was concerned about the ‘feelings’ of the fundamentalists. I was a lone exiled writer, not a member of any political party or any large organization; I became an easy target of the fanatics, as well as of the governments of two countries. The West Bengal government used me for diverting the attention from the political fallouts of their dastardly actions in Nandigram and Singur, and then decided to throw me out of the state, eventually out of the country. Fanatics and fundamentalists, amongst the Muslim folks who took to the streets to protest against the killing of Muslims in Nandigram and Singur by the goons of the ruling communist party, had held up a piece of paper that said, “Taslima, go back.” This demand by the Islamic fundamentalists to deport Taslima was fulfilled with alacrity by the West Bengal government; the officials had started asking me to leave West Bengal since August, and they were desperate to make it happen by the end of November. They did get their wish: the attention of people was diverted for a few days. Ultimately, however, the CPIM could not win the election, but they did successfully send a signal to the Muslim fanatics that they managed to throw an ‘anti-Islam’ apostate like me out of their precious state.

The CPIM party used me in order to secure the Muslim votes during the past election; the Muslim fanatics used me in order to demonstrate the strength of fundamentalist faith even in a supposedly secular country. Ms. Mamata Banerjee, the current Chief Minister of West Bengal under the Trinamool Congress government, is inexplicably walking the same path as did her predecessors, the CPIM. She might oppose everything that CPIM did in this state, but agreed on one idea – that Taslima must not be allowed into West Bengal. Because both political parties do the exact same thing, that is, appease the Muslim fanatics, in order to retain their votes. Salman Rushdie was not allowed to reach West Bengal. The current West Bengal government prevented his entry into Kolkata. The Left Front parties, currently sitting in the Opposition, do not object to this decision of the government. How can they? Because what Ms. Banerjee is doing with me and Rushdie is not at all different from what they did with me just a little while ago.

I am thankful for the fact that India, as a country, has shown a degree of commendable religious tolerance in my case; I have at least been allowed to live here. Had it been Bangladesh or Pakistan, I would have been most likely dead by now. At the same time, I do believe that had my book not been banned in 2003, I would not have been thrown out of Kolkata in 2007; had I not been thrown out of Kolkata, Rushdie could have gone on to visit Kolkata, this wonderful city of intellectuals with a rich literary history. The sad fact of life is that once a government bows down to the fanatics, the fanatics are immeasurably encouraged and emboldened – and the trend is set.