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and even though the war in Bangladesh in 1971 proved that two nation theory was wrong, my outsider status has not been withdrawn.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