Taslima Nasreen: Persona of a Besieged Woman

taslimanasreen.JPGThere is a riot raging in Karnataka because of a Bangladeshi woman – Taslima Nasreen.

Taslima Nasreen is an interesting lady. She has had the temerity to write about what is wrong with the society that she has lived in and used herself as a guinea pig.

She has openly exposed her own life and those who came in touch with her. This leaves her with very little options. For, before one touches her, rightly or wrongly, he has to be cognizant that his character will be up for public consumption. So, Taslima Nasreen is a lonely person. And an exiled one.

She ran from her house at age of 20 in 1982 to get married. By 1992, she had been divorced thrice. Since then, as she has exposed in her writings, she has had a number of lovers.

In a world dominated by men, often with double standards born out of self-righteousness, she is a rarity. Especially so in South Asia. She has hurt men’s collective ego. She has not only enjoyed them, she has even exposed the double lives of the high and mighty of Bengal (Bangladesh and West Bengal).

She is an “intellectual” Bengali man’s worst nightmare. Ask them about her and as they start speaking – as eager as they are to defend their “liberal” persona – they lose their way between carefully faked liberalism (keen to appeal to the fellow Communists) and inherent Chauvinism (which is the true character of the Communists).

Here is an excellent example of how one of the top Bengali writers Sunil Gangopadhyay speaks of her. I feel sorry for fumbled thoughts and marvel at his double speak (check the bold sentences in particular):

“There are several reasons for the controversy. In this part she has written explicitly about her affairs with several leading Bangladesh writers, including some who are living in Calcutta. She has threatened to write another volume where she will be writing about her friends in Calcutta. I am not bothered about what she has written about other peoples’ sex life. I am not apprehensive about what she will write about me. I like this lady. I have known her since she used to write poetry, and would come to me. I also liked her other writings, especially her first book, `Collected Columns’ that contained her newspaper writings. Very daring, and the language was lucid, straightforward and for the first-time a woman was writing about male domination, as her own experience.

“She writes in first person. I enjoyed what she wrote about the sex life of some eminent people but what bothered me were a few pages about Islam in a derogatory manner. One can criticise and intellectually write about religion but one must know the situation because you cannot always expect similar response. People can be very sensitive, and their responses can be very violent. I was scared because it was published in Calcutta during Ramzan, and Id was round the corner. And the Muslims were very scared about this book. So I was afraid that any moment there could be a flare up, and I felt she should have resisted writing about religion, and the Prophet in that fashion. Then I learnt these portions had been deleted in the Bangladesh edition. So I said she ought to have deleted those pages from the West Bengal edition also. I don’t care about other things she has written.”

Gangopadhay believes, “It was a personal matter though I thought it was in bad taste. One should ignore it, and if someone is hurt, he or she can go to the court. But I did not demand a ban. When it was banned the Chief Minister of West Bengal public ally said that he had consulted 25 Bengali intellectuals from all over the country, and after he himself read the book he decided to ban it. When it was banned I was not even in Calcutta. I was not in favour of banning this book. I am against the banning of books. I only said she should have deleted those pages.” (Ok, what the heck is he trying to say here??? Was banning a fair thing or no?)

He reveals, Taslima who is forced to reside in other countries, is always hankering to come back. “In many of her writings one feels she is actually weeping. She is a typical rice-eating Bengali who could not adjust with her life in foreign countries. So she is forced to be in exile, which is a pity, and I feel sorry for her but if she would like to have any impression on her readership then she should write something worthwhile. But she tried. She had a good command over the language but she is not a creative writer. She cannot write short stories and novels. So she writes this kind of prose where at some point of time she must shock people or create controversy. She does these things deliberately. She loves it. If she had remained in the mainstream of Bengali literature she would have had to struggle hard to be bracketed with other successful writers. She has only written about women’s liberation, which is a cliché, and titillating sex.” (emphasis added)

Of course, Sunil Gangopadhyay is not new to double speak and riling against women who go against his political or social or moral or even culinary (“typical rice eating Bengali” LOL) leanings. After Nandigram, for example, he was the Chief Obfuscation Officer (COO) for the CPI-M. When asked about Nandigram, his defense was solid and angry against the critics:

Nandigram killings were “condemnable”, but “deaths resulting from police firing were not extraordinary and could not be a reason for Left-leaning ‘intellectuals’ to lambast the CPI(M). Gangopadhyay blasted author and activist Mahasweta Devi and others for using “provocative and irresponsible” language and condemned those demanding CM’s resignation. And West Bengal, he added, would slip into anarchy if Buddhadeb steps down! (of course, it depends on what one actually means by “anarchy”!)


So, it is in this world of hypocritical Intellectuals and double-speaking Experts masquerading as “Literary Figures” that Taslima Nasreen tried her luck. She wrote a book in 1993 titled Lajja. It was the story of this Hindu family, which is persecuted by the Muslims in Bangladesh, after the Babri Masjid collapse. Many hundreds met that fate in her country, and she wrote of one symbolically.

Such “exposure” of their acts was so unwelcome to the Muslims in Bangladesh that they went for her head. Not to be left behind in this frenzy against an apostate Bengali Muslim woman, India’s “celebrated” newspaper interviewed Nasreen and probably as a popularity ploy, made headlines again. Incredulously, claimed Nasreen!

She further angered conservatives in May 1994, when she was quoted in the Calcutta Statesman as saying that the Quran “should be revised thoroughly.” This brought larger and more vociferous demonstrations, including the demand that Nasrin be put to death. A bounty was offered to anyone who would kill her. She insisted that her statement referred to the Shariah, the Islamic code of law, rather than the Quran itself.

She was booked under a 19th century law, specially dusted and brought out of closet for her by the Government of Bangladesh.

Despite the terrible history of violence and hatred that created the two Bengals, conniving activism and persecution by the two groups of Bengalis of this rather daring writer was truly exemplary!

One couldn’t be quite sure if Male chauvinism was seeking refuge in the Intolerance of Islamic codes or the other way around?

Her biggest mistake was of course, in one of the editions of her own biography, which was published out of Kolkatta. In that, she had written about the “Sex LIfe of Mohammad”. Now, although she must have written in a way that literary writers often write, but she needn’t have. If she had only collected certain verses from Quran and Hadith and pieced them together with their context, the story would have been self explanatory. (see detailed discussions of the specific verses here).

What is her crime?

So, really, what is Taslima’s main crime? Apparently, Sexual mores of men is part of a “Secret Society”. From the Prophets to the ordinary people faking as “Open Minded”, the men could not let any woman expose their secret! When the the crime involves exposing the double standards and the hypocrisy of such “High and Mighty” as the Prophets and the Celebrated, then the punishment should indeed be exemplary. It is a miracle that she has escaped death until now. It is not usual for women to be so lucky.

When Muhammad had eventually married Zaynab, wife of his son who had first refused to his advances but was finally “cornered” by the Prophet using one revelation after another, Aisha (who herself was “deflowered” at age nine) in a rare moment of intrepid innocence asked him:

Truly Allah seems to be very quick in fulfilling your prayers.

Somehow women need to create a female version of such an Allah, who answers their prayers, if they have to enjoy men just as they have done with women for so many centuries!!


1. Fishing for trouble
2. Kolkata Korner
3. Taslima Nasreen

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