Dissent is the sign of a healthy society

I could never have dreamt such an incredible dream that school students of Bangladesh would one day change their country. Neither did I ever entertain the fantastic notion that because of their requests, or orders if you may, no unlicensed driver will henceforth be able to get behind a wheel in Bangladesh, motorcyclists will have to wear helmets and everyone will have to obey traffic laws. What they have managed to do on the streets of Dhaka within only a couple of days has impressed not just me but numerous other people. But just as is the case with any successful movement, here too, opportunists have managed to insert themselves within the call of Nirapad Sadak (Safe Roads) for their own personal political gains. Perhaps the students should have gone back home much earlier. But just because they had not heeded the request of clearing the roads, did that justify brutalising unarmed students using the police and armed units of party cadres? Times have changed. Things can now easily be recorded, identifying who has done what and when. There are usually lesser chances now of criminals feigning innocence than before. All the information about how photojournalist Rahat Karim was attacked with sticks and machetes and who the perpetrators were is on the internet, only a click away.

The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has banned my books and prohibited my entry into my own country. In fact she did not even allow me the courtesy of being able to visit my father on his deathbed. As per her instructions the embassies do not renew my passport or attest any of my important documents. And yet she has my undying support. I support her because even though she has been nothing but bad when it comes to me, she has been good for the country. This assessment is not based on her strengths as a leader, her humanity or her experience though; it’s based solely in comparison to the leaders of her Opposition. Even today, given a choice between Hasina’s Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party – Jamaat-e-Islami coalition, I will give more points in favour of the former. It is unfortunate for Bangladesh that they do not have a better political option than the League; nor have they managed to foster leaders better than Sheikh Hasina, given how both can be labelled lesser evil at the end of the day. She is not an ideal leader and neither is her party the ideal political party. But the Opposition is so corrupt, so treacherous and so invested in ideas of jihad that one is left with no choice but supporting Hasina. I support her despite acknowledging the many mistakes she has been making and the injustices she has been committing one after another. I wish for her to stop making mistakes, because I support her and because there is no one else at present who can lead the nation other than her. I cannot help but notice how quite frequently her behaviour appears to mirror that of a dictator, how she no longer wishes to adhere to tenets of democracy, human rights and the freedom of speech and expression. I feel pained, I scream out in anger; not that there is anyone to witness my outbursts. I am not a politician, a philosopher or anyone influential. I am in the shadows, at the end of the queue, an orphaned writer among the many other disenfranchised of the land.

It is an undeniable truth that the faith and respect many progressive individuals across the globe had for Sheikh Hasina has taken a considerable beating, as has her reputation. This is precisely why she must prove herself and rectify her mistakes. She must prove that she is not only a leader of her party but also a leader of the people, that she still believes in the ideals of democracy, that she does not condone extra-judicial murders, that she does not want to suppress the free press, that she is not a vengeful and cruel person but a sensitive human being and a worthy head of state. She must prove she does not maintain an army of thugs and that she does not use her armed cadres to crush rational modes of protests and the rightful demands of citizens. She must repeal article 57 of the Information and Technology Act and prove that she recognises the freedom of speech and expression, one of the foundational tenets of democracy. Otherwise, sooner or later, progressive people will be forced to withdraw their support of her. If they do not believe in progress, modernity, women’s rights and secularism, if their party is what matters to them the most, then how are they any different from their opponents anymore?

Her well-wishers surely do not want her behaviour to resemble the very opponents she defeated to come to power. Already Reporters Sans Frontières, the non-profit that advocates on behalf of the freedom of the press across the globe, has issued a statement detailing how nearly twenty-three journalists have thus far been attacked while reporting on the Nirapad Sadak movement. Human Rights Watch too has sternly criticised article 57, clearly elucidating how the law was formulated to aid in persecuting anyone who would dare speak out against the actions of the Prime Minister or the ruling party. The entire world knows by now that the case filed against photo-journalist Shahidul Alam was based on article 57, resulting in his arrest and ten day remand during which time he has been severely tortured. His only offence was that he gave an interview to Al-Jazeera regarding his experience of photographing the Nirapad Sadak student protests where he spoke in favour of the students and made a number of critical observations against the government. He did not murder anyone, did not hack anyone with a machete or broke bones with sticks and hammers. The only thing he did was to sit in his own home and express his personal views in an interview to the media. How can viewpoints that are perceivably critical of the government be sufficient grounds for harassment? Let me assume Shahidul Alam did not speak the truth. Why has his untruths driven the government to such desperate measures to shut him up? Let the government prove that it is telling the truth. If Shahidul Alam is indeed a liar then that should not be too difficult for the government to prove. Let them prove they are the ones who are telling the truth and in the process disprove Alam’s claims! One can only imagine how much confidence the government must have lost in itself to have fallen on such hard times that they fear everything, right from school students and the demands of the common people, to the press, the photographer’s camera and dissent in general! It is a thing of terrible irony that the Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina is afraid of the same things that her idiotic and unsuitable opponents would have been afraid of had they been in power in her stead. People scare you only when they know you will be afraid.

A great person must necessarily possess the strength to accept criticism. You cannot expect to be a great statesman otherwise. In many civilised countries leaders resign even in the case of the most minor mistakes or errors of judgement. It is only in the third world that people employ any and every means necessary to hold on to power and as per the tenets of democracy even the most vile, bigoted, self-serving and stupid barbarian gets a shot at ruling the country. The belief that since one is good for the country no one else can ever take one’s place is deeply detrimental to the well-being of the nation. And there are enough sycophants in this part of the world to help nourish that belief and aid in its growth. But one must never forget that totalitarianism cannot be the solution to any problem. The way we oppose those who wish to use the tools of democracy to ultimately subvert its very ideals and establish a communal and fundamentalist regime, the same way we must also contradict those who wish to run a totalitarian regime in the guise of a democracy.

It’ll be catastrophic, the day the people go silent. All injustices and discriminations must be opposed. In order to heal, one must first identify the wound. Opposition to an injustice being done is the sign of a healthy society while the use of state power to quash dissent and abuse protesters is the sign of a diseased and barbaric state machinery. BNP coming to power would mean giving up the country to stupid and corrupt people like Tareq and Khaleda Zia. The Jamaat will invariably turn the country into another Afghanistan. And I am not sure if one can place too much faith on those who are plotting to come to power by ‘offing’ both Hasina and Zia. The best outcome would be if Hasina were to admit her mistakes and continue to serve the country. She will certainly win in the next election, but if religious bigotry manages to spread its roots further into the heart of the country, if stupidity is encouraged simply because it is more popular, if those who believe in free thought are assumed automatically to be enemies, if there are attempts made to silence dissent, then that victory will surely be a hollow one. Perhaps it might benefit Hasina and her party, but it will most definitely not be beneficial for the country.

One would rather have the democracy of someone unsuitable than the tyranny of someone suitable. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had made a grave error when he had decreed that there was going to be no other party than BakSAL (the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League or the Bangladesh Worker-Peasant’s People’s League); I hope Sheikh Hasina will not repeat the same mistake. I also hope that she will not repeat the error Sheikh Mujib had made by forming the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini (National Security Force), by allowing the supporters of the Awami League or the boys of the Chattra League (Bangladesh Student League) to continue to commit acts of terror with impunity.

What happened to my Ajanta -Ellora tour?

or years, I have quietly dreamt of it, wished for it. That I’d go see the splendours of Ajanta, the magic of Ellora. I have been a tourist to many a historical marvel that India has to offer, but there are sites that have eluded me. Not only because the opportunity didn’t come up; even when it did, there were restrictions.

My long stays in Europe and experiencing its security manacles have tutored me somewhat in the methods and protocols of what to expect and how to manage my security. Here in India, I get armed bodyguards. Figuring out the rest – the where, the when, the for-how-long of the matter – is entirely my prerogative. These are my decisions, which I take depending on the situation at hand.

Since 2007, this has been my story. Before that, if I were to attend an event, be present at a function, there would be news. The possibility of my presence would be advertised. I would go without fear of being attacked. But once the attacks on my life started, they kept recurring. From one state to another, they stalked me like a ghost. It’s an epidemic really, like cholera or malaria of bygone days, or the more current dengue and chikungunya. They are never restricted to a particular time and place. They just spread like a rash on a vulnerable body.

Like in any other country, when I get an invitation for an event in India, my security is arranged. But, what if I want to just travel for pleasure? What if I want to simply holiday somewhere? There’s no organisation that would make the arrangements for me then, ensure my security detail. I need to work that out myself. Book the travel tickets, the hotel. Apprise the security guards of everything – when I’d reach, where I’d stay, where all I’d go, when I’d leave – everything must be made available to them till the last detail.

No one had any idea that I was travelling to Ajanta-Ellora. I had done all that was needed to be done. I had booked the hotel in my travel mate’s name and even the air tickets. But I needed to offer my own name as a “companion”. One cannot travel anonymously anywhere anymore.

A week before I was set to leave for Aurangabad, I had duly submitted the documents of my flight details and hotel booking to my Delhi security guards. They had forwarded my application to their office “function branch”, and the latter had assured me that the word had reached from Delhi to Maharashtra, that I’d be safe in the western state, I’d get security guards once I land in Aurangabad.

No one likes to travel with armed bodyguards at all times. But I don’t really have any other option. I’m really helpless there. I try to not remember just how helpless I am. But the reality is too harsh: it doesn’t let anyone quite forget.

I left Delhi for Aurangabad on July 29. As soon as I got off from the plane, I could see the dense police presence all around. My travel mate was a young woman who’s like a daughter to me. I had told her how I hated having cops all around; it would suffice to have two bodyguards only. After all, who’d bother us in Ajanta-Ellora?

I hadn’t realised the cops at Aurangabad airport weren’t taking me to the baggage claim area, but instead to a senior officer. Once I got my suitcase back, as I was about to exit the airport, the officer held me back. He said: “Situation’s bad in the city. Protests are going on against you. There are 500 people gathered outside your hotel.”

I was stunned. This was beyond belief. My travel plans were passed on by Delhi Police to the Maharashtra Police in utmost secrecy, so how did the hardliners chance upon the information? I asked the officer accosting me: “How did they know? No one else was supposed to, but for the cops!” He said he didn’t know how the information leaked. By then, I had crumpled into a bundle of helplessness, choking with pain within. I looked around, and then asked him: “What am I supposed to do now?” The officer replied: “You must go back.”

I asked, “When must I leave? And how?”

The officer said: “There’s an Air India flight to Delhi. It’s tomorrow morning.”

I was aghast. “What shall I do until morning? Where shall I stay?”

He said: “At the airport.”

The officer thought for a while. He had the Air India crew put me back on the very plane by which I had come from Delhi a little while back; only, the flight was now on its way to Mumbai. I must board the plane, I was told. I was taken to the Air India ticket counter.

I had to buy two tickets to Mumbai. My travel mate then looked out from the ticket counter and said, “It seems the protesters have entered the airport already.” I asked the cop standing next to me, “What’s happening? Why are you letting them in?” She smiled and assured: “Don’t worry. We are here. Nothing will happen to you.”


The cops seemed relaxed. I was the one getting worked up. They took me to the security clearance next. Behind me, I could hear the ear-splitting shrieks of almost 200 people screaming “Taslima, go back! Taslima, murdabad. Nara-e-takbeer, Allahu Akbar!”

The cops left once they put me on the plane. Even in Mumbai, there was police everywhere. Once I got off, they started questioning me at the airport lounge. Where would I go? I was told immediately that I couldn’t step out, couldn’t visit any place in the city. I looked up online if there was any riotous situation anywhere. No, there wasn’t. I was relieved.

Sometime back I was wondering if I should go away to a European city to live in peace for a while. But then I told myself, why bother if it’s quiet in the country?

The next day, the Times of India published the news of what happened with me at the Aurangabad airport. PTI soon followed it up, and then it spread like wildfire. I didn’t want this to happen. I wish it hadn’t. There’s no dearth of bad experiences in my life. I just didn’t want it replayed over and over again, reminding me of my misery every second of the day.


In 2007, I was attacked in Hyderabad. When I made my way back to Kolkata, I expected the CPI(M) government in West Bengal to stand by me. But no, I was put under house arrest. I had hoped for sympathy and compassion from fellow Bengalis, but instead, all I got was hardliners rallying against me, fundamentalists wanting me out of Bengal. I was thrown out soon after. I had to leave behind Kolkata, a city I had come to see as my home away from home.

In Rajasthan, I was forced to leave before the crack of dawn. They brought me over to Delhi, and even as I kept hoping that I’d finally be able to return to Kolkata, alive, I was put under house arrest in the cantonment area.

After a few months of house arrest in Delhi cantonment area, I was forced to leave the country. I was the victim of the attacks on me, but I was the one who got punished. Someone who has gone through what I have been, wouldn’t want history to repeat itself, to be attacked again, the news of the attack to spread.

Many journalists got in touch with me seeking an interview since the Aurangabad airport incident became national headline. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone about it.

But I could see what the newspapers and TV channels were reporting. Maharashtra Police was mincing words when asked by reporters what they knew about the episode. Conflicting versions were coming out. Once they said they didn’t have a clue that I’d be travelling to Aurangabad. Another time, they said they were informed at 4.30pm of July 29. Then they contradicted themselves again. No, it wasn’t at 4.30pm, but at 6pm that they got to know that I was coming.

I have no idea what was the precise moment when the “function branch” in Delhi sent out the message to their counterpart in Maharashtra. Often, in order to prevent the information from leaking out, alerts are sent out at the last moment. Yet, what baffles me is this: does it really matter if the information was sent at 4.30pm or 6.30pm? How did it fall into the hands of the fundamentalists in the first place?

How was it that the protesters had on them every little bit of my secret travel plan? The fundamentalists were aware of everything – from the hotel I had booked, to the name under which it was booked, till when was I staying, where all had I planned to visit – everything was meticulously cloned from my clandestine, security-cleared and security-privy itinerary.

I checked on the internet: before a mob of ideologically inebriated rioters, Muslim fundamentalist leaders were delivering a passionate speech, in which they were spilling the beans of my Aurangabad travel. Every secret little nugget of information was out there, being tossed around by the hardliners. They would teach me what the Ajanta-Ellora caves were really like. The leaders were telling their minions that they had ensured that cops prevented me from stepping out of the airport and entering Aurangabad.


I wonder, don’t the Muslims know who their real enemies are? I look at the gau rakshaks running amok all over the country, killing Muslims with glee, why don’t I see Muslims protesting against those acts of murder? Why is it that it’s me who faced the brunt of the Hindutva brigade’s wrath when I criticised cow vigilantism on Twitter? Am I attacked, assaulted, abused again and again because I’m a soft target? That I’m an exile in this country? That I don’t have anyone to call my own, no country, no land to call mine?

Congress, CPI(M), Trinamool have all punished me for no fault of mine. I guess it’s perhaps the BJP’s turn now. And why wouldn’t BJP as well? If they don’t appease the real hardliners among the Muslims, how will the vote-bank politics play out after all? Politicians don’t think of anything beyond elections and what would fetch them some votes, and this is true irrespective of party lines.


I sit back and wonder when was it that the Muslims turned me into their enemy. Is it a crime to want that the Muslims modernise themselves, seek equality between men and women? Why am I the adversary then, when all I ever wanted to be was a friend?

Who is the real enemy of Muslims, I ask? Those who want Muslims to stay blinded by religion held back by the lack of education, superstition, sectarianism, intolerance. Those who want the Muslims to be forever limited by the darkness of fundamentalism, fettered by its toxic chains. They are the real enemies. Not them who want Muslims to pursue education, find enlightenment, develop a scientific temper, be sensitive to and indeed fight for human and gender rights, believe in equality.

Who am I? I don’t have a political party, or an organisation, or the support of the intelligentsia. Public intellectuals are now opportunistic spokespersons of one or another political party. My existence in India is a tale of utter and absolute solitude. I don’t have anything or anyone to fall back on but my ideals and my beliefs.

I don’t have ground beneath my feet. But still, I am here. I continue to be. Because I love. I love this country. I love this country because this country looks like my country and feels like home.

Stupid Egyptian court ordered stupid death sentences over a stupid film

‘Seven Coptic Egyptians are sentenced to death by an Egyptian court for their connection to an inflammatory anti-Islam film.’

Stupid people protested all over the world against the stupid film.

Stupid followers of a cunning man have been burning down the towns, slitting throats, beheading people or stoning people to death in the name of stupid religion for more than 1400 years. They still don’t want to stop. Their courts are as nonsense as their beliefs.

Do stupid people always outnumber sane people?

Women Bishops!

Everybody thought the Church of England general synod was going to vote for women bishops. But they voted against it. I am not surprised. Don’t we already know that religionists are against women’s equality?

But anyway, what is so revolutionary about women bishops!

The truth is I am not very excited about women becoming priests or bishops, imams or monks. I do not think women should believe in anti-women religions.

I have recently learned about ordination of women. [Read more…]

The speech!

BBC says:

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fiery speech on misogyny has prompted Australia’s leading dictionary to update its definition of the word. Footage of Ms Gillard lambasting the opposition’s Tony Abbott as a misogynist in parliament last week drew global attention. The Macquarie Dictionary describes misogyny as ”hatred of women” but editor Sue Butler says it will be expanded to ”entrenched prejudice against women” in the next edition.

[Read more…]

Madanjeet Singh, a great secular humanist donated one million U.S. dollars to women’s education.

Madanjeet singh, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and the Founder of the South Asia Foundation is one of the greatest secular humanists of our time. An attack on Malala Yousafzai prompted him to donate one million U.S. dollars to women's education and empowerment. [Read more…]

Some female leaders!

Women are not inherently passive or peaceful. – Robin Morgan

Female political leaders are not different from male political leaders in South Asia. Their acts are not less misogynistic than male leaders. Like male leaders they have no agenda to change patriarchal structure of society, or to get rid of anti-women laws, or to fight women-hating traditions. Like male leaders they believe in religion and patriarchy. Their own misogyny lowers themselves to the level of male leaders. They are no less cruel, barbaric, unethical, inhumane than men. Obviously, they believe in their own right to free expression but do not believe in their opponent’s right to free expression. [Read more…]

Child marriage is child abuse

“Child marriage is a fundamental human rights violation and impacts all aspects of a girl’s life. We want to alert and raise awareness on the negative effects of child marriage on girls and the society as a whole.” – Anne Stenhammer, regional programme director of UN Women.

“Child marriage is not a solution to protecting girls from sexual crimes including rape.” – Krishna Tirath, heads of four UN agencies in India — UNICEF, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Information Centre.

“No country can afford the lost opportunity, waste of talent or personal exploitation that child marriage causes.” – Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director, UN’s population fund. [Read more…]