The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad

Dear All (apologies for cross posting on Kafila.org and the Sarai Reader List)

The recent attack on Taslima Nasreen has again shown how fragile the freedom of expression is in India today. It breaks whenever a sentimental reader or viewer has their ‘sentiments challenged’. Are all these worthy gentlemen who go about obstructing screenings and readings suffering from some early childhood trauma that makes it difficult for them to countenance growing up and acquiring the ability to listen to contrary point of view? How long are we to be held hostage to their infantile suffering?

What is worse is the fact that the people who attacked her, and have made public threats to kill her – activists and elected representatives belonging to MIM, a leftover of the Nizam’s hated Razakars, were arrested and then let off on bail. So, the message that the state sends out to these goons is – “threaten to kill, be taken to a police station to have a cup of tea, have your picture taken, be splashed in the media, go home and make some more threats.”

see – http://www.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=90746

In fact, according to a report in the Indian Express today, it is Ms. Nasreen who is now being booked under section 153 – the same section of the penal code that was earlier used to detain the unfortunate art student in Baroda who had offended ‘Hindu and Christian sentiments’. So as far as the Police in the state of Andhra Pradesh is concerned, person who makes a public threat to kill a writer – a prominent politician is innocent, and the writer herself, who has never threatened to kill anyone, nor has asked others to kill people is guilty of inciting hatred. Both are to be treated equally. There can be no greater travesty of justice than this incident, and it once again demonstrates how willing state power in India is to dance in tandem with bigots. It happens in BJP ruled Gujarat, it happens in Congress ruled Andhra Pradesh. It happens (see below)in Left Front ruled West Bengal.

Once again this demonstrates that bigotry and cussedness is not the monopoly of the self appointed representatives of any one community or political tendency. If the self appointed representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community and their allies pour venom on Sanjay Kak on various electronic fora and elsewhere, they are matched in their ardour by the viciousness of those who have appointed themselves the guardians of Islam in Hyderabad, and the protectors of Hindu and Christian dignity in Baroda. And lest we forget, (we do have short memories) let us remember that the last time Tasleema Nasrin was vilified and hounded and her publication banned in an Indian state, it just happenned to be in West Bengal, where she has her largest readership, and this happenned because the secular progressive left front regime, led by the Contractors Party of India (Monopolist) deemed her a threat to the sanitized cultural landscape that they so vigorously uphold and maintain in that state.

The CPI(M)’s party organ ‘People’s Democracy’ found it necessary to publish the official ‘party line’ on the ban in its issue dated November 7, 2003 (Vol XXVII, No 49). It said (apologies for this lengthy quotation)

“THE Bengal Left Front government has decided to ban Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen’s latest book, Dwikhandita (‘Split in Two’) because it was feared that the book would incite communal violence. At no point of time has the book been proscribed on political or literary grounds.

In a government notification issued on November 28, the state LF government has formally invoked the ban under section 95 of the code of Criminal Procedure, read with Act 153 of the Indian Penal Code (where it is considered a criminal and punishable act to create enmity, rivalry, and hatred amongst religious communities.

State secretary of the CPI (M), Anil Biswas said that there was apprehension expressed widely that the book would spark off communal tension, and that very many experts in the field supported this view. The LF government has banned the book for the sake of the upkeep of democracy in Bengal. Several newspapers, too, have expressed similar feelings. Biswas pointed out that “from the time the Left Front has been office in Bengal not a single book or publication has been proscribed on political grounds.” However, said Biswas, it was a different matter altogether if a publication or a book incited terrorism and communalism.

Chief minister of Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee whose department issued the notification banning the book, said that he had himself read the book “several times over.” that he has “persuaded at least 25 noted specialists to go through the book critically” and that they have recommended the book to be not fit for circulation among the reading public. In particular, the pages 49-50 of the book contain very derogatory and provocative references that go against the grain of the tenets of Islam and of Islamic beliefs.

Several noted authors including the poet Sunil Gangopadhyay, the novelists, Dibyendu Palit, Nabanita Deb Sen, and Syed Mustafa Siraj, the Bangladeshi novelist, Sams-ul Huq, the singer Suman Chatterjee, as well as the Trinamul Congress leader and Kolkata mayor, Subrata Mukherjee, among others, have come openly out against the book and have supported the decision by the state LF government to get the book banned.

Pradesh Congress leader Somen Mitra who has called Taslima Nasreen a blot on the world of women, has described the book as having no difference with a piece of pornography and has said that nobody ought to assume rights to hurt the sentiments of a religious community.

The book which forms a part of Nasreen’s multi-volume autobiography has been charged by the reading public of Kolkata and Bengal with obscenity and has come under fire for its maligning and falsified personal references to the lives of several noted scholars of Bengal and Bangladesh as well.

However, the book, as Anil Biswas made clear while speaking to the media in Kolkata recently, was banned because of the fact that portions of the book would cause religious disharmony to break out, with the religious fundamentalists utilising the book to fan the flame of communal fire.

True to form, the BJP chief Tathagata Roy has supported Taslima Nasreen’s derogatory references to Islam and has opposed the proscription of the book. Mamata Banerjee has chosen to hold her silence, as she is wont to do of late on very many other matters as well.”

It appears that if there is one thing that religious fundamentalists, communal, nationalist, secular and leftist politicians agree on is the necessity to curb the freedom of expression in Inda.

There is only one possible ethical response to this pathetic display of arrogance by the self appointed representatives of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Communist sentiment, and that is to ensure the widest possible circulation of these materials in the public domain. It is to organize as many screenings as possible of a film like ‘Jashn-e-Azaadi’ (or any other film that is attacked in a similar fashion) and to hold public readings and distributions of the books of someone like Taslima Nasreen.

In ‘Homeless Everywhere:Writing in Exile’ an essay by Taslima Nasreen that had been first published in English in Sarai Reader 04: Turbuluence

http://www.sarai.net/publications/readers/04-crisis-media

She wrote –

“Just like in West Bengal today, my books have been banned earlier in Bangladesh on the excuse that they may incite riots. The communal tension raging through South Asia is not caused by my books but by other reasons. The torture of Bangladesh’s minorities, the killing of Muslims in Gujarat, the oppression of Biharis in Assam, the attacks against
Christians, and the Shia-Sunni conflicts in Pakistan have all occurred without any contribution from me. Even if I am an insignificant writer, I write for humanity, I write with all my heart that every human being is equal, and there must be no discrimination on the basis of gender, colour, or religion. Everyone has the right to live. Riots don’t break out because of what I write. But I am the one who is punished for what I write. Fires rage in my home. I am the one who has to suffer exile. I am the one who is homeless everywhere.”

If we want to ensure that writers, filmmakers and artists are not ‘homeless everywhere’ then we have to ensure that they receive the hospitality that enables the conditions that allow their work, thought and expression to continue to have a public life. This means making sure that their work lives and continues to breathe in society, by any means necessary.

For those who are interested, and can read Bangla, some of Taslima Nasrin’s work is available in the form of downloadable pdfs from http://www.talimanasrin.com. When the venerable Buddhadev Bhattacharya decided, after consulting twenty five eminent intellectuals to ban her book, I decided to download the said book, make twenty six photocopies of the entire book bind them and distribute them free.

That is one method to deal with censorship (formal or informal) I am sure that there are other, more creative methods out there as well. I would welcome practical suggestions from those in the community of the people who are reading this post
about how these attacks on the freedom of expression may be confronted and made irrelevant. Let us try and make some time for peaceful film watching and reading.

best

Shuddha

15 thoughts on “The Attack on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad”

  1. What is worse, the case for inciting sectarain hatred has been registered against Taslima! At the behest of the goons who attacked her – who should have been booked in the first instance, without waiting for Taslima to register a case. After all, there was a public attack in front of the media and in all probability done precisely to get into the news. Belligerent statements like ‘we will behead her’ and ‘we will kill her’ can be construed in themselves as open statements of an unrealized intent…

  2. Shuddha

    A.

    You wrote:

    “It appears that if there is one thing that religious fundamentalists, communal, nationalist, secular and leftist politicians agree on is the necessity to curb the freedom of expression in Inda.”

    How do you categorise yourself Shuddha? Which grouping do you belong to? Your answer would be very interesting.

    What you might want to consider is that there is no such animal as “unbridled freedom”. The foundations of “free” organised societies are “regulated freedoms”. Freedom without any curbs on expression or action are “animalistic”.

    I should correct myself; even in the non-human domains whether by genetic imprinting or instinct or some primordial intelligence, creatures at most time define the limits of “freedom” they allow each other within the species they belong to. Even the inter-species cosmos exists with it’s own checks and balances.

    The subject to dwell upon would be whether the “freedoms” are allowed with a bias favouring some and prejudicial to others. That is not being discussed here.

    Shuddha, if instead of an Indian citizen you see yourself as a Netizen please be aware that in the cyber space domain also you have only as much freedom as will be “allowed” to you whether by those who run the “servers” or those who arrange the Bits and Bytes.

    B.

    You also wrote:

    “If the self appointed representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community and their allies pour venom on Sanjay Kak on this list and elsewhere…..”

    Who does your voice represent Shuddha? Are you the “self appointed” voice of reason while others are “venom” pourers? I see a lot of “venom” in your own words.

    Equating Kashmiri Pandits speaking (speech) against Sanjay Kak’s docu with the assault (action) by MIM activists does not make a good comparative analogy. If you think otherwise then why should you exclude acceptance that the writings of Taslima Nasreen (speech) are equated with assault (action) by some.

    It might help you understand things better Shuddha if you discussed with the Kashmiri Pandit “voices” what exactly is their beef about Sanjay Kak’s docu, instead of just dismissing them as part of “bigotry and cussedness”

    Kshmendra Kaul

  3. The larger silence of a public preoccupied with their own concerns is as galling as startling. We Indians deserve what we get, crooked politicians, opportunists and bigots masquerading as defenders of the true faith.

    I already feel defeated, knowing that an apathetic intelligensia will watch this with the same indifference.

    Irrespective of content of Ms.Nasreen’s books, she has a right to have her views heard by anyone and this neo-fascist tirades must be put down by ridicule and contempt by people from all walks of life.

  4. What really worries me about each one of these outbreaks of violence and censorship is not so much how the cops or the state reacts; what really worries me is that there appears to be no other response from us than a reaction after the event.

    Sure, we do need to speak out, regroups, speak out again tirelessly each and every time, because to be silent would be to concede what should not be conceded. On the other hand, there must be some concerted effort all of us can make that will ensure that a Nasreen is not attacked, or a Chandramohan; that contrary to all good sense, the ones who make the attack will be held accountable and not the victimesof such attacks.

    What are we not doing that we ought to?

  5. the attack is deplorable and i agree with what you have said. But please check up the relevant points:
    – whether the singer Kabir Suman (and he’s not Suman Chatterjee) agreed with the ban in West Bengal…
    – whether the state secretary of CPIM anil biswas ‘recently’ said something on the ban, for that pest is long gone by
    -whether your defense is founded on the pristine notion of “indian secularism”?

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  7. Averroes, I think your points about Kabir Suman and Anil Biswas are in the quote from the cpm newspaper (november 2003) and not really Shuddha’s ‘mistake’. Anil Biswas was alive and Suman had not yet become Kabir…

  8. i’m sorry, i admit my mistake, as i was not pointing out one, but the quote marks should precede each para in case of lenghty quotes or kept in itals… dumb people like me won’t make mistakes in interpretation that way…and i’m still unsure whether suman was in league! the controversy settled down, and as far as i know, tasleema and the CPM govt. in west bengal never acknowledged each other’s presence in the times that followed, adjusting and shifting comfortably or a bit uncomfortably, prior to and post-nandigram…

    the violence is under the fabric of the indian state,invisible until it attacks someone great or famous… you fail to see that, and you read On His Blindness on NDTV…

  9. First I appreciate your effort to raise a voice, and that too loud enough, in support of a writer, Taslima Nasrin.
    Brutal, physical assault on Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad by the elected representatives (MLAs) of MIM, police action against her later on and role of the regional Urdu news papers needs to be seen in an entirely new approach. This entire anecdote should alarm everyone of the growing vulnerability of writers and artists against all forms of power mongers forget only about traditional communal fanatics. When politics becomes a vehicle and simply a tool to acquire power through whatsoever means in a power-centric capitalist system, anyone asserting his/her right to speak truth, and that too about the catastrophe meted out by the political powers and most empowered people of society array from culture to politics and to any other field, becomes one of the softest targets of the caucus and system. Hyderabad and Kolkata, obviously two hypothetically distracting poles, are now blurred and one can effortlessly determine the vulnerability of a writer/ artist and his/her fundamental constitutional right of ‘freedom of expression’.
    In fact, the civilian right to ‘freedom of expression’ could only be executed, defended and debated in a society which has upgraded and transformed itself in to a modern democratic structure and upholds a socio-political system of its governance based on the principles and constitution of a modern, liberal, secular democracy. In our case, in spite of 60 years of political independence from the British rule, our whole body-polity along with its entire systemic composition has yet to decolonialize it from apex to the grassroots. Regardless of importing or borrowing a constitution and whole machinery of governance from the modern democratic capitalist West, its operatives have remained ‘pre-modern’, ‘colonial’ and ‘multi-sectarianist’ till day.
    MIM, it is a well known fact, is a group of feudal-fanatic power mongers, which had supported Nizamshahi of Hyderabad, Nawabshahi of Junagarh and Bhopal against merger with newly independent union republic of India. These people, mostly kulaks and large land owners wanted to carry on with their feudal legacy even after India got freedom in 1947. These Razakaars were also hostile to Telangana movement, led by the undivided CPI at that time, as they feared about the land reforms in future. This feudal fear for land reforms, cutting across the communal lines also brought Hindu riyasats of Rajkot, Jodhpur and Kashmir on their side. Now, it is a ironical chapter of the historiography of post-independence that how our centre of power from Delhi succeeded killing two birds through a single shot i.e. merger of nasty rebel riyasats and liquidation of red-army of insurgent Telangana peasantry.
    Now as elections for the municipal corporation of Hyderabad is due very soon, these fanatic communal devils of the past, worried about their shrinking vote banks in the city, are out to show their chivalry and religiosity by brutally assaulting a helpless novelist. And that too, is a homeless woman. If they are truly brave and valiant and loyal to their faith, why don’t they demonstrate same courage against Modi and Thakre? They will never, because play the same cards and know very well who the easiest prey is.
    Last month I met M.F.Hussain, the great Indian painter in exile, in a hotel in New York. He is worried as he wants to come back to his country. It is not the case with him that he doesn’t have professional assignments there. He has many in London, Montreal and US for that matter. There is no dearth of it. But ‘Return to Native Land’ remains a dream and fundamental right of desire to anyone, be he/she an artist, writer, farmer, artisan or any citizen. He said, there is more a noise in my support in my country but actually there are half a dozen cases pending against him in various courts and police stations scattered at distant places like Haridwar to small cities of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. He has a genuine fear that ‘the moment I land at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, I’ll be frisked away by the police.’
    I could have laughed at his naivete when he asked, ‘How come this Habib (Habib Tanveer, the noted Progressive theatre person and former MP of Rajya Sabha) manages to remain unscratched by these goons in spite of his plays like ‘Ponga Pundit’?’
    I could have answered it in a way of a writer that Habib Tanveer is a Director and theatre person, his professon of theatre is a collective art form. He understands and posses skills to carry people along with him. He is a great modern secular artist of his genre. But a painter, a singer, a poet, a potter, an author? These are lonelier by the nature of their occupation, more they work, more they are isolated from their own people. And perhaps, this might have been the reason, they become softest, mainly defenseless, most vulnerable prey to such assaults.
    Finally, Is there any chance that a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) filed in Supreme Court to bring all cases against Hussain in a single court so that he is bailed out immediately after his arrest?
    After all, It is our attitude towards artists like MF Hussain, Bismillah Khan, Ustad Allauddin Khan, Amir Khan, Habib Tanveer, and a great galaxy of artists, determines our own societal character. In the end I refer Aime Cesaire’s ‘Return to the Native Land’, a most memorable long poem’s pathos and irony, where return of a person to his own home, town and land has been perceived as an act of subversion, by the people who run and rule and govern the power-political system, and who themselves are most powerful power mongers.
    Can anyone from them hear these fragile shrieks of reason?
    Uday Prakash

  10. Madam Taslima,we are proud to have you as a supporter of distressed people mainly women of all societies of the world irrespective of caste and creed .you go on fighting through your writing ,have a long life..

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