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.

The Global Route

Day before yesterday, I came to New York from Delhi. Surprisingly, I feel more at home in New York than in Delhi although it is very far from my country. What can be the reason for feeling so much at home? Is it because some of my relatives are here, or that I have been coming to New York for many years, lived here for many years, or is it because my permanent resident permit of New York is of longer duration than that of Delhi? Or is it because people remind me that I am a foreigner more often in Delhi than in New York? I don’t really know. I started feeling happy from the New York airport itself. I asked a man in the moving crowd, “Can you please tell me where the payphone is?” The man said, “You need a phone? Here, take mine. You can call from my phone while I go to the restroom.” The middle-aged African-American man put an expensive smartphone in my hand and left. After waiting there for fifteen minutes I saw the man coming back. Does anyone believe in others like this nowadays? I haven’t seen anything like this for a long time. Everywhere I look, I see the sting of suspicion, the arrow of distrust. There are still some good people on this earth who make life worth living.
In the part of New York I am now, most of the residents are from Asia. From India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Korea. At one time this area belonged to the Jews. When they became wealthy, they moved to better areas, and Asians who were less well-off moved in to make their homes. I used to see shops of Indians here before, but now all those have been taken over by the Chinese. It seems that the Chinatown of Manhattan will slowly become the town of Caucasian Americans and Flushing, Queens will become the future Chinatown. In all the big cities of the world there is inevitably a small Chinatown. When I was living in Manhattan a few years ago, I would often go to Chinatown to buy live fish, and sometimes eat in the Chinese restaurants. I love Chinese food. But it’s somewhat difficult for me in those Manhattan and Flushing restaurants because most of the waiters and the owners do not know English, nor is the menu in English. I have to order what I want by showing them the pictures on the menu. The Chinese are happily living in the USA for generations, doing business or working at jobs, without knowing a word of English.
I quite like Flushing. Whenever I come here, I feel that I am in a city inside China. I’m not sure how long the Chinese will stay on here.
When they come into some money they will either buy a house in Long Island or an apartment in Manhattan. The poor follows the middle-class, the middle-class follows the rich, and the rich follows the super-rich. My life does not follow this trajectory though. I had an apartment on the twenty-third floor in Manhattan where the East River meets the Hudson; I left that apartment to go and live in congested Delhi which has the world’s highest air pollution. I left as I couldn’t afford to maintain the standard of living here, and also to live right next to my country. Although what is the use of being next door when my country is not opening its doors!
I will go to Virginia from New York where our conference ‘Women in Secularism’ is taking place. Famous atheistic American feminists like Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Jacoby, Rebecca Goldstein and Ophelia Benson are going to speak in this conference. The subject of my lecture is ‘Why is Secularism necessary for Women’. I am going to talk about the importance of separating religion from the state, society, law and education system to truly and effectively bring about equal rights for women. I will say that religion is personal to an individual and that externalizing it beyond the boundaries of one’s personal matter is not at all safe. I am not the first to say this; free-thinkers have been saying them for a long, long time. The Western countries have changed slowly after going through hundreds of years of women’s movements. But someone from the Muslim countries has to speak on this. The problem is one has to go to jail, die or be exiled like I am to talk about it. Despite all that some protest by risking their lives. After all, it is only a few who try to change society. And in the end, society does change, due to those few people.

I was preparing my lecture and thinking deeply on religion, secularism, etc. when I got a bunch of films on Jesus suddenly. A new documentary called ‘The Bible’. An old film by Martin Scorsese: ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, the BBC documentary ‘Did Jesus Die on the Cross?’, Richard Carrier’s research lecture ‘Did Jesus Even Exist?’. Watching them, I got completely immersed in Jesus. I acquired some amusing information such as – Jesus fled from the Roman tortures and took refuge in Kashmir, he died there, the Roza Bal shrine is Jesus’ tomb.
This tomb was even shown on BBC. If Jesus does not rise up from the dead after three days and flies off in the sky, then there does not remain anything called Christianity. It seems that Jesus came to Kashmir to join a Buddhist conference. Others say that there is no account of Jesus’ from 14 years to 29 years of his age, no one knows where he was or what he did during that time, that he must have come to India then and become initiated into Buddhism. What was absent in Judaism and entered into Christianity – that tolerance and humanism – came from Buddhism. That is the reason why Jesus has to be brought into Indian by hook or by crook. In his film, Martin Scorsese has revealed unpleasant truths about Christ. The Christian doctrinaires were not able to tolerate such unpalatable facts, so the film is still banned in many countries. The film shows that at one time Jesus spoke about love, and that he picked up the sword and the axe to kill his enemies. Not only that, after his lover Mary Magdalene’s death, he indulged in the company of several women. He ran a great deal after worldly pleasures. Since these events embarrass the Christians, they are not mentioned in the documentary called ‘The Bible’. There we only see plenty of miracles – Jesus walking on water, changing water into wine, transforming three fishes into three thousand with a snap of his fingers, healing the leper by just a touch. I am not of the opinion that, just because a lot of people will not accept the subject-matter of ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, that film should be banned. However, it has been banned in those countries where the right to freedom of expression is not highly valued.
People of the Islamic states do not have much freedom of speech. One of the Saudi princesses who are under house arrest in the city of Jeddah – Sahar Al Saud – has called on the Saudi people to revolt against the Saudi government. She must be talking about democratic rights and human rights for everyone; she must be wanting freedom of thought, freedom of speech, Independence of women. Even in the misogynistic societies like that of Saudi Arabia, some women are conscious of their own rights. The Saudi princesses are not exempting their father either from criticism. These brave women are interned, banished. Women suffer the most from fundamentalism; therefore it is women who have to revolt the most against fundamentalism. I feel extremely helpless when I hear that women themselves are becoming fundamentalists. I heard that thirty to forty thousand women from the Jamaat-e-Islami squad are helping the anti-woman Jamaat-e-Islami.
No one else does a better job than women of digging one’s own grave. I feel really sad at the thought of how fast Bangladesh has changed! When I was studying at the medical college in the ’80s, none of my Muslim friends spoke excessively about Islam, none of them did roza1 or namaz2, kept beards or wore the hijab3. After thirty years, most of these renowned doctors who were at one time my classmates have become ultra-conservative fundamentalists. The whole country changed so drastically in such a short time. Society becomes good progressively. But our society is increasingly becoming bad, bigoted, intolerant, misogynistic, illiterate. It amazes me to think that the people of a country who had one day risen up in revolt to preserve their Bengali language and culture, mounted agitations to bring in democracy through language movements, fought in the War of Liberation, today, in that same country, there is no place for an authoress who writes in support of that War; that the person who talks in favor human rights and equal rights of women is banned.
The other day, a group of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians from Bangladesh, after meeting with the President of India, came to meet me in the evening. I told them, “A secular party is now in power, you shouldn’t be having any problems.”
The leader of the group asked me, “Who’s secular?”
I said, “Hasina”.
The group leader, with a roar of laughter, said, “What are you saying? Hasina is secular? If she was secular then she would have accepted you back into the country!”

Why are Countries in favor of Capital Punishment Criticizing the Hanging of Bangladeshi war criminals?

I am not in favor of capital punishment. I think that every human being has a right to live. Every war criminal should get a fair trial. That instead of hanging they are given any other punishment. Life term, maybe? Why not? Nowadays though, I object even to life term. I do not like the idea of jails. Jails can be correctional centres. Criminals can stay in those centres until their brains get debugged and freed from malice. A person once suggested, “The jail rooms can be classrooms, and the each jail a university.” Sometime ago, some jails in Sweden were shut down because they had no inmates. The number of crimes is less, so the number of criminals is few. The more society is rid of inequality, the more uniformity there is amongst people, the more there is reduction in crime. Well, that is Sweden. Bangladesh is still not civilized, so we cannot dream about doing away with our jails yet. I’ll talk about something else.
The human rights organizations of the world are animadverting about the death penalty in Bangladesh. Let them. They always say, “Revoke the capital punishment law,” to all the countries of the world which has this law. But my question is, those countries which continue to maintain this law, and frequently mete out death sentence themselves, why are they shedding tears about this law in Bangladesh? Do they pounce on other countries in this manner, or beat their chests crying, when those countries happen to give death sentences? Do they go and sit in obstinate protest at the doors of China or Saudi Arabia or Iran or the US or South Korea? You don’t see them at all when others in Bangladesh are hanged. Then am I to understand that they wailing because this is related to Quader Molla’s or Mir Quasem’s hanging? Is it because Quader Molla or Mir Quasem are radicals? You can kill whoever you like, but you can’t touch Islamic fundamentalists! Why don’t they say Molla or Quasem are war criminals? The grief that various countries express when murderers of the 1971 Liberation War are put on trial really astounds me. The pernicious forces of Islamic fundamentalism have many allies in today’s world.
The Western countries which we thought were enemies of Islam; they also display extraordinary sympathy towards these radicals. I really don’t want to think what the political reasons are behind supporting fundamentalism. The group of Western countries which do so, do not want to accept the ’71 Liberation War as a war at all. As if war in a poor country is no war at all, the death of 30 lakh people is no death at all, the rape of two lakh women is no rape at all. As if our famines, our hunger, our poverty and illiteracy are the only things real. Our language, our songs, our love, our personalities, our struggles, our valor, our desires and expectations, dreams, are not real, not valuable.
I’ll say why I do not believe in the death sentence. No creature or human being is born a criminal or a terrorist. If a child is not given a healthy, beautiful, educated environment, if a lot of garbage is incessantly poured into his brain while he is growing up, then such a child will involve himself in criminality and terrorism as an adult. Is it his fault? Or is it the fault of those who pour that garbage, keep alive that custom of pouring garbage in society! Living in the same society I am against fundamentalism, Quader Molla and Mir Quasem and Delwar Hossain Sayeedi are fundamentalists, some are murderers, rapists, thieves; others are honest, virtuous. Although we live in the same society, this happens because of difference in education. One section of the population is acquiring education in science, obtaining knowledge about human rights, getting enlightened. Another section is being created as religious fanatics, illiterates, bigots and barbarians who are left plunged in extreme darkness. If the education system was equal for everyone, if the education was a healthy one, if it was an equal rights education, then instead of being bad, people would have been good. Despite small instances of incivility, discourtesy and minor crimes, the society would not have gone into the hands of rotten elements, and lakhs and lakhs of people would not have been dancing in the streets mad with murderous intent. I start with fright when a few people from foreign countries cry for Quader Molla and Mir Quasem but what about the people of my country who have gone absolutely crazy with love for Quader and Quasem? Every one of them is a Quader Molla or Mir Quasem. One Quader or one Quasem has been hanged for war crimes, but then thousands and thousands of other Quaders or Quasems are beheading scientific-minded anti-radical people —what are we going to do about them? These lakhs and lakhs of Islamic fundamentalists are undoubtedly much more dangerous than a handful of decrepit, old war criminals already at their death’s door. Each of these fundamentalists is a soldier who wants to turn war criminal Molla’s dream into reality.
A country where food, clothing, shelter, education is not available for everyone, there is bound to be anarchy. Like every other system, the judicial system is also is defective. That is why, whenever there is a crime, the reason for the crime is not investigated; and without giving any thought to why those mistakes were committed, without making any effort to rectify those mistakes, people are thrown into prison and killed. The government wants prompt solution to many problems by quick hanging.
But this does not provide genuine solution to problems. I think of the future, we need an end to the malignant forces of fundamentalism. It cannot be terminated by hangings; it has to be terminated by good education.
To free society from religious fanaticism, superstition and misogyny, we have to educate people from childhood on science, humanism, equal rights. If children get this kind of education, then there is no fear of them turning into bigots, rapists and murderers.
I am not surprised to see the hideous barbarism that the members of Jamaat-e-Islami are perpetrating in Bangladesh. I know for a long time that although Jamaat-e-Islami is recognized as a political party, it is nothing more than a terrorist outfit. They practice the politics of hatred, discrimination, blindness, misery, crippling and killing. If this kind of politics is allowed to enter into society, it will destroy the people, the nation, and future of the nation. Jamaat-e-Islami should be banned for the right reasons. Terrorist outfits are outlawed in all countries. But a lot of people will generally rush in lamenting and try to stop it if you try to do such a thing in Bangladesh. The party which does not believe in democracy, we will keep that party alive in the name of democracy, and they will gleefully cut your nose and slit my throat — we all know that. Despite knowing it, others pretend not to be aware of it, but I do not do that. Within the country and abroad, there is enough desire among people to render Bangladesh into an undeveloped, illiterate, radicalized nation crammed with religious fundamentalists. And although I believe totally in the freedom of expression, I want to ban a political party, because Jamaat-e-Islami does not deserve to be recognized as one.
Almost all the war criminals are Muslim fundamentalists. I am a great enemy of radical war criminals and radical Islamists. For twenty years they have been keeping on sharpening their knives for me. They will kill me the moment they find me anywhere near them. In spite of this knowledge, I do not want them to be hanged. I want them to be good individuals. I want their children to be on the side of progress. I want the children of their children to not know what narrow religious fundamentalism is. I want everyone to live in a classless, equal, unsuperstitious, beautiful environment. I wish all the people and all the children of my country to have that. My struggle is for that dream. I will not be able to see that society where equality reigns within my lifespan. But I want to leave a small role for myself in the construction of a healthy society. That is why I am risking my life to write and inspire people to take up that fight. The country which does not feel like my country anymore, the country which I am ashamed of today — I want future generations to be proud of that country. Not proud of having blood on the streets, but proud of having a safe and secure nation.

Dowry Pains

The practice of marriage was started to establish the certainty of fatherhood. This is what was required — a virgin body untouched by man, a body which can only sleep with the husband and no one else, a body which only the husband will touch and no one else, a female body which only the husband can impregnate to carry his child and give birth to his child — his male child. His male child will continue his line of descent, will inherit his wealth. It is women who help men to keep alive their androcratic system by marrying them. If they did not help in this way, androcracy and patriarchy would have been buried long ago.
To make sure that women’s bodies do not come in close contact with other men, a process was followed to imprison them and use them as personal possessions. The name of this was marriage. Marriage was the license from the family and society to establish a sexual relationship.
I have seen in Bengali society that after marriage it is the women’s wings which are clipped, not the men’s. Most women have to go live in their in-law’s home. Attach the husband’s surname to her name. They have to leave their own homes, families, relatives, friends, environs, neighbors, cities, towns, villages — everything. Even if the woman is an adult, even if she is educated, where she will go and what she will do, who she will mix with or won’t, whether she will work or not, those decisions are taken by the husband and his family. It was common practice before, and still is now that women cannot work in an office after marriage. It is better to stay at home and be faithful to your husband. Do domestic labor, serve the in-laws, bring up children.
Times have changed. Women are not literally imprisoned at home. But they have an invisible chain around their ankles. They are allowed to go out to work. But their earnings are taken away to finance the family. Polishing your shoes, serving you food, washing your clothes — any old illiterate girl can do such work. But if your beautiful, educated, sexual partner does that, then you feel mighty pleased.
The salaried domestic help will spout venom and leave if everything doesn’t go to her liking. But the unsalaried domestic help, your wife — you can do whatever you want, but she won’t leave her job. The job of being a wife. Back-breaking labor. No salary. No holidays. No pension. She will give you dowry money, and she will also become your slave. People buy things with money. Women give money to sell themselves.
Let me talk about the dowry system today. This is no recent phenomenon; it is a few thousand years old. This practice was there in many countries, it still exists in many parts of the world today, albeit illegally. This practice is rampant in the entire Sub-Continent. It cannot be stopped despite formulating anti-dowry laws, despite meting out punishment. Thousands of wives are being killed, thousand others are committing suicide for being dishonored and insulted for it. As far as I know, this custom has been in practice from ancient times in this region. But some ancient travelers have written in their books that they have not seen anyone giving dowry for marriage in India. Maybe the system of dowry was not as terrible then as it is today, or maybe they never saw such an exchange actually taking place. The king of ancient Greece Alexander the Great never saw dowry in Indian marriages. The Persian intellectual Al-Beruni came to India in 1017 and lived here for sixteen years. In his autobiography he has described Indian marriages, but there is no sign of dowry there either.
The system of dowry in ancient times was not a one-sided affair. It was given from the bride’s side to the groom, and from the groom’s side to the bride. Dowry from the groom’s side was given to the bride’s family as compensation for reduction of a working member in her family, while what was given from the bride’s side to the groom’s family was the inheritance she was entitled to. Women were deprived by law from direct inheritance in those days.
The inheritance laws of the modern age do not deprive women. Daughters get a share of their parents’ property. In all the countries within the Sub-Continent, dowry is prohibited. But these prohibitory laws cannot stop the practice of dowry. The more women descend, the more dowries ascend. To put it exactly, the more women’s position is lowered in society, the more the dowry amount gets higher. This increase and decrease remains in the hands of patriarchs.
Bride-torturing and bride-burning have assumed dreadful proportions in India. It is the same in Bangladesh. Most bride-killings are passed off as suicide. Most bride-tortures are reported as quarrels between husband and wife attributable to the latter’s extra-marital affairs.
In Bengali Muslim marriages, there is a custom of giving den mohor¹ from the groom to the bride, but I have grave doubts whether it is at all given. But from the bride’s side the groom and his family has to be given dowry money, houses, cars, furniture etc. etc. If these are not given, or if there is delay in giving them, then the bride has to endure unspeakable torture. The relationship between a husband and wife has to be one of love and trust. But dowry has destroyed this relationship. For men this relationship is now of money and selfishness, for women it is of sacrifice and working without wages. In India the brides are burnt alive, in Bangladesh that practice is not there — brides are either axed or poisoned to death.
Women have to stop marrying those vile, selfish, small men who are greedy for dowry. It is better to live alone than stay in the households of such men. Some women think that if they give more dowries the husband’s torture will be less. This has been proved to be wrong. More dowries you give, more the greed gets inflamed, resulting in more torture. Men of all sections are dowry-greedy. From the penniless to the croprepatis². The men are not yet thinking of women as fellow-passengers and colleagues with equal rights. They are still thinking that women are not completely human, and even if they are, they are ‘less human’. Until this wicked thought is abolished, women will have to suffer on earth. There is no such discrimination between the male and female genders of any species other than that of the human being. When will the time ever come that the human race will feel ashamed?

If I were to be hacked

Last Friday, I got a death threat again. It came from Ansar Khilafah, an ISIS-oriented militant group, in Kerala. If a group has the name of ISIS attached to it, or has an ISIS touch to it, I fear, they must be experts in hacking.
I often gently touch my neck, also put my hand behind my head, trying to understand what would be the feeling when they stab me from behind, or hack me. Maybe it would be better if they shot me in my head. I have suffered a lot in life, don’t want to suffer in death. Death should be quick. But will they listen to me? I can’t imagine requesting them, begging for life. Instead, I should think I would close my eyes and sing some of my favorite Rabindra sangeets to lessen the pain while being hacked. I don’t know if you can lessen any pain like that, but I don’t have any other option.
I was trying to understand what those 19-20-year-olds were doing when they were being hacked. Were they trying to save their lives, screaming? Did they try to snatch the weapons? There were so many people inside the cafe, I don’t know why all of them together could not attack, defeat the militants? Maybe they thought a rescue team would come to save them, police would come, Army would come. Maybe they were waiting. If I were to wait for someone who would save me from the killers, how would be those minutes, hours — the six hours, the 12 hours? The pistol-gun-dagger-knife-toting killers are parading in front of me and I am waiting. They can behead, shoot me any time, and I am waiting. I shiver to think, my throat goes dry. At the Dhaka cafe, nobody came to their rescue even after 12 hours. Those who were supposed to were waiting outside. Why were they just waiting outside? I don’t know. After three hours had passed, Tarishi Jain’s father was speaking on a local television channel. He was anxious, was saying his daughter was inside the cafe. He was wondering why rescue operation hadn’t started. If those who were supposed to rescue the people really knew how and when to carry out the job, many lives could have been saved.
Also Read: At Tarishi’s funeral, a photograph tells the story
I was thinking about Faraaz Hossain. He had been allowed to go, but he didn’t want to leave without his friends. He wanted his friends to be freed too. And since his friends weren’t freed, he didn’t accept the freedom for himself. I am such a sensitive person, I think about people’s welfare all the time, can say I have dedicated my life for this cause, but even I believe if a herd of murderers gave me a safe passage I would escape from the mayhem, without looking back; I would run without waiting for anybody. Everybody would run (in such a situation). Only Faraaz didn’t. Faraazs are perhaps born only once in a century.

The militants got what they wanted. They wanted to shake the world, they did. They wanted to earn Punya (virtuousness) by killing non-Muslims, maybe they succeeded in that too. How were they able to hack so many people, so many young boys and girls? They hadn’t hacked anyone before, how could they hack not one or two but 20 people? In reality, a belief can make people do many impossible things. I don’t know who brainwashed the militants, but whatever was fed into their brains, they believed without asking any question. A lot like the two Boston bomber brothers from Chechenia. They looked smart but didn’t have the ability to intellectually and rationally (logically) consider anything. Religion is truth, the religious book is truth. The religious book was written by the creator himself, so whatever is written there needs to be blindly followed. No questions, just acceptance. As a result, they have literally accepted everything written in the religious text from the beginning to end (without paying heed to any sensory perception). They didn’t try to interpret the ancient text in contemporary context. If it said non-believers should be killed, they just understood non-believers should be killed, they didn’t try to interpret the meaning in any other way.
In a society blinded by religion, brainwashing starts right after birth. These people have been hearing the praise of their religion since birth, at home, in schools, colleges, at playgrounds, in trains, buses, on television, radio and in movies and plays. They have been told following religion takes you to heaven, and if you don’t follow religion you face the extreme punishment of hell. (They have been told) your religious book has the solution to all problems of the world, religion is knowledge, religion is science and religion is peace. If you hear something all the time, it becomes part of your subconscious. The base (foundation) remains prepared, you can easily build a palace of belief on it.
Man has always preferred the easy solutions found in religion to science’s continuous research and complicated equations (mathematics). Religion, hence, attracts every one — from illiterate daily-wagers to university scholars. Because understanding science is not as easier as understanding religion.

Terrorists have been for a long time now hacking to death atheists, seculars, rational writer-bloggers, homosexuals, progressive students and teachers, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has never expressed grief for any such deaths. She has let the killers safely exit the country. She did not bring to justice any of the murderers. She never arrested any of the killers. She did not punish anyone. On the contrary, (she) punished atheist bloggers, sending them behind the bars. She has spoken against freethinking. She has made rules against the right to freedom of expression. For the murder of freethinkers, she has blamed the freethinkers alone. Why did she feel like expressing grief for those who died at the Dhaka cafe? There must be a big politics behind this. Those who were hacked to death at the Dhaka cafe were children of the rich and influential. Was that the reason? Or was it because the world was watching what Hasina would do after a terrorist attack in the city?
Actually, politicians are hypocrites. Will accept what is convenient in the religion, not the rest — it is the Muslims with this mentality who are hypocrites. In fact, those militants were not hypocrites. Whatever they were brainwashed to say, they uttered like mechanised puppets. They didn’t think about their life, they had come that night knowing they would die, believed they were going to heaven. Somebody told them, taught them they would get the reward of jihad, a place in the highest heaven if they killed non-Muslims. After hacking to death the foreigners, displaying the height of atrocity, they told their Muslim countrymen in the morning, ‘we are here only to kill the non-Muslims. We won’t kill you. You all (the Muslims) can leave. We are going to heaven anyways’.
You cannot uproot terrorism by killing terrorists. You need to uproot terrorism at source to end terrorism.

Bangladesh has degenerated into an Islamic fundamentalist country and government is responsible for it

On Friday morning, I got the news that a terrorist organisation called Ansarul Khilafa from Kerala owing allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) had issued a death threat against me on its Facebook page. By the evening, I got the news of the attack by Islamic terrorists in a Dhaka cafe. I was worried for my life for a while. But then, my concerns turned to the lives of the hostages at the Holey Artisan Bakery.
Bangladesh has already become an Islamic fundamentalist nation. Atheists, secularists, rationalists, bloggers, professors, students, homosexuals, Shias, Ahmadiyas, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians are being hacked to death by Islamic terrorists. They kill without fear because the government hardly takes any action against the perpetrators.

Guilty Until Proven Guilty

Instead, victims get threatened by the government. The latter accuses freethinkers of hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims. This is an overt endorsement of the danse macabre conducted on a regular basis by Islamic obscurantists.
Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006 — that allows the arrest without a warrant of any person who “deliberately publishes any material in electronic form that causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or causes to hurt religious belief” — was introduced for one simple purpose: to gag freedom of expression.
Many bloggers left Bangladesh out of fear. Many stopped expressing their views. No critical analysis of Islam or even Islamic fundamentalism is possible in Bangladesh any more.
The terrorists at the Dhaka café were 20-25 years old. They were not poor, not illiterate. Heavily indoctrinated in Islam, they shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ while slaughtering people. Those who could recite a Koranic verse were spared. The others were tortured and hacked to death with machetes.

Those terrorists have nothing but religion. They behaved well with hostages in hijab and hacked non-hijabis — including two Bangladeshi Muslim women, Ishrat Akhand and Abinta Kabir — to death. Faraz Hussain, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, was also among the dead. Tarushi Jain, a 19-year-old University of California student from India, was hacked to death.
Twenty-eight people were killed, among them 20 were foreigners. Young men have been brainwashed with Islam at home, madrasas and mosques. They have been fed the belief that non-believers, non-Muslims and critics of Islam should be exterminated.
By killing them, they are successfully taught, they will go to heaven. They have also been taught that ‘jihad’ is mandatory for every Muslim and Muslims should turn Darul Harb (the Land of the Enemy) into Darul Islam (the Land of Islam).
There is no point trying to confuse the issue by saying that poverty, frustration, lack of jobs and the absence of hope force people to become terrorists.
It is the other way around. We are often seeing rich and literate, highly qualified professionals becoming terrorists. They join the IS because they know they will be at liberty to do whatever they wish to do, sanctioned to rape and kill and torture.
Many organisations and institutions in Bangladesh have been funded by Islamic fundamentalists from rich Arab countries for decades. Already, madrasas and mosques are breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalists.
Islamisation in Bangladesh started not long after its creation in 1971. It is tragic that Bangladesh, whose very birth was based on secularism and the rejection of the ‘two-nation’ theory, has degenerated into an Islamic fundamentalist country. And the government is to blame for its wilful failure to contain fundamentalism.

My Way or Fly Away

In the early 1990s, when I was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists, a fatwa was issued against me, a price set on my head, hundreds of thousands of Muslim fundamentalists took to the street demanding my execution, the intellectuals remained silent. Instead of
cracking down on the fundamentalists, the government filed a case against me on the charges of hurting the religious feelings of people.
I was forced to leave the country. That was the beginning of what today’s Bangladesh is: full of religionists, fundamentalists, hijabis, burqawalis, an atavistic medieval country.
Without allowing the criticism of Islam, it will be difficult for Muslim countries to separate the state and religion, to make personal laws based on equality, to have a secular education. And if this does not happen, Muslim countries will remain in darkness forever, breeding people indoctrinated by religion to not tolerate any differences, and where women will never enjoy the right to live as complete human beings.
People like to believe that Islam is a religion of peace. I, however, have witnessed the opposite since my childhood.
The time has come for people to tell the truth and listen to it without equivocating: Islam and Islamic fundamentalism don’t have so many differences. Islam isn’t compatible with democracy, human rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression.
You will not be able to kill terrorism by killing terrorists. You have to kill its root cause. You have to stop brainwashing children with religion.
It is every sane person’s duty to make insane people sane.
But in the present scenario, the voice of sanity is a cry in wilderness. This has to be changed. Good and sensible people must speak up. Because the silence of the good is the strength of the bad.