Happy Independence Day!

Today is August 15. . 66 years ago India got independence from British rule. Let’s celebrate the day.

I was asked by The Hindu, one of he leading newspapers of India to write about my own experience of this country.

Here is what I wrote.

‘When I first visited India in the late ‘80s, I did not for an instant think I was in another country. I felt I belonged here and that it was, in some fundamental way, inseparable from the land I called my own. The reason for this was not my Hindu forebear. The reason was not that one of India’s many cultures is my own or that I speak one of her many languages or the fact that I look Indian. It is because the values and traditions that define India are embedded deeply within me. These values and traditions are a manifestation of the history of the subcontinent; I have been enriched and enlivened by it. I am also a victim of its poverty, colonial legacy, communalism, violence, bloodshed, partition, migrations, exodus, riots, wars and even theories of nationhood. I have been hardened further by my life and experiences in a poverty- and famine-stricken, ill-governed country called Bangladesh.

The intolerance, fanaticism and bigotry of Islamist fundamentalists forced me to leave Bangladesh. I was forced to go into exile; the doors of my own country slammed shut on my face for good. Since then I have sought refuge in India. When I was finally allowed entry, again, not for an instant did I feel out of place. Even after spending decades in Europe, it never felt like home. However, I felt a deep connection with India; I felt I knew the people; I had grown up somewhere very similar, almost indistinguishable. I felt the need to do something for this country and its people. There was a burning desire within me to see that women become educated and independent, that they stand up for, and demand their rights and freedom. I wanted my writing to invigorate and contribute in some way to the empowerment of these women who had always been oppressed and suppressed. Moreover, I wanted to do everything possible to make people aware of the need for secular education to become enlightened, tolerant, rational, and peace loving.

Not many people understand why I, as a European citizen and a permanent resident of the U.S., am so eager to live in India! I know it is not easy to live here; my book was banned in this country, five fatwas were issued against me, prices were set on my head, religious fanatics physically assaulted me. I was bundled out of West Bengal, I was thrown out of Rajasthan, I was put under confinement in a “safe house” in Delhi, I was forced to leave the country — but I did not give up. I came back again and again to live in the land that abandoned me and humiliated me.

I asked why the world’s largest democracy, a secular state, could not shelter a person whose entire life has been spent for the cause of secular humanism, a person without a country to call her own, someone who regarded India as her home. I have been struggling to settle in my beloved country; it has now become a challenge. I want India to prove that a secular state can honour a secular writer. I want India to honour the nation’s tradition of great hospitality and its democratic principle.

India is a land of plurality, with people from different religions, ethnicities, languages and cultures coexisting together. I want her neighbouring countries to learn from India how to secularise the state and how not to violate anyone’s right to freedom of expression. I believe that India, unlike Bangladesh, will triumph over all kinds of fundamentalism. The love and respect I get from Indians makes me feel this is my true home. I still believe that for a sincere, honest, secular writer in the subcontinent, India is the safest refuge, the only refuge.’


  1. says

    I read most of your writings. I feel very emotionally attached to you. You are the first who told me about secularism, feminism & the game of religion. I was in B.Sc. second year (2008) when I read “Lajja” first time. The whole night I couldn’t sleep and made no food to eat. But that was the night, when I wake up as a human being. I was able to see the reality of the religion as well as the god first time since I belong to a conservative brahman family in Uttar Pradesh. Then I read your autobiography, No Country for Women, poems etc. I felt you around when I was reading “Dwikhandita” in my M.Sc. days (2011). It is always great to feel your brave voice against all odds. I can feel your pain of living away from your home, people and everything what you love, care and want to make better. I want to see you in India as in your home not as a refuge but now a days India doesn’t hear us.

  2. cchoton says

    আমার দিন-কে-দিন মিইয়ে আসা দেশাত্মবোধটাকে আবার চাঙ্গা করে দিলেন দিদি। লেখাটা পড়ে ভারতের প্রতি বিশ্বাস ফিরে পাচ্ছি, এমনটা লাগছে। ধন্যবাদ দিদি
    স্বাধীনতা দিবসের শুভেচ্ছা জানাই

  3. Agni_B says

    [Comment ‘Hindu’ newspaper did not print]

    **India’s independence is not complete**

    a) secularism becomes a tool of minority appeasement

    b) Democracy run by corrupt politician with Muslim vote bank

    c) Missile, bombs, aircraft carrier, fighter plane- but cant defend its citizen
    -cant punish Paki terrorism

    d) Govt thinks people like Taslima is communal and not Zakir Naik and Mullahs.
    Terrorist treated better than indophile Taslma for few votes

    e) Lack of independent Human rights activist in India.(nt the present gullible sycophant)

    f) Kashmir -a integral part of India- but Hindus from other state cant settle

    g) Hindus cant build Ram Temple in their own country (coward Hindus)

    h) people go hungry while food mountain rot

    –Happy Independent day to beautiful eternal mother India–

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