This is my beloved India, where I have been living and writing on secular humanism, human rights and emancipation of women. This is also the land where I have had to pay the price for my most deeply held convictions, where not a single political party of any persuasion has spoken out in my favour, where no non-governmental organization, women's rights or human rights group, has stood by me or condemned the vicious attacks upon me. I am a stranger to this India. This India is not known to me. Some individuals in a scattered, unorganized manner are fighting for my cause, and journalists, writers, and intellectuals have spoken out in my favour. I do not know whether they are familiar with my work or not, indeed if they have even read a single word. Yet, I am grateful for their opinions and support.
Wherever people gather in groups, they seem to lose their power to speak out. Frankly, this facet of the new India terrifies me. Then again, is this a new India? Or is it the true face of the nation? Since my earliest childhood I have regarded India as a great land and a fearless nation. The land of my dreams: enlightened, strong, progressive and tolerant. I wish to be proud of that India. I will die a happy person the day I know India has forsaken darkness for light, bigotry for tolerance. I await that day. I do not know whether I will survive, but India and what she stands for has to survive, must be allowed to survive.
Where am I? The truth is I do not know. I do not even know how I am. I am benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic confines of my room. Day and night, night and day. Death becomes an intimate.
This did not begin the other day when I was bundled out of Calcutta. This has been going on for a while. It is like a slow and lingering death that is gradually killing all my faculties, once playful, brave and dynamic. I realize what is going on around me but am utterly helpless to wage a battle on it. I am a disembodied voice. Those who once stood by me have disappeared into the darkness.
What sort of life is this where I can neither cross my own threshold nor know the joys of human company? What crime have I committed that I have to spend my life hidden away, relegated to the shadows? For what crimes am I being punished by this society, this land, this world?
I wrote of my beliefs and my convictions. I used words, not violence, to express my ideas. I did not take recourse to pelting stones or bloodshed to make my point. Yet, I am considered a criminal because it was felt that the right of others to express their opinions was more legitimate than mine. To disobey the powers that be is to court public crucifixion. Does the nation not realize how immense the suffering must be for an individual to renounce her most deeply held beliefs? How humiliated, frightened and insecure I must have been to allow my words to be censored. Only the expurgation of what they consider offensive satisfied them. If I had not agreed, I would have been hounded and pursued until I dropped dead. Their politics, their faith, and their barbarism suck the life blood out of me. They will continue until they have expurgated these words, and removed these truths which are so hard for them to stomach. Words are harmless, truth defenceless. Truth has always been crushed by the force of might. How can I - a powerless and unprotected individual - battle force? Come what may, though, I cannot take recourse to untruth.
I have never wished ill of anybody. Call me romantic but I dream of a world of harmonious coexistence free from hatred. In the way that they used hate to rip out my words, I would like to use love to rip the hate out of them. Certainly, I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that hatred, cruelty and barbarism are integral elements of the human condition. If I were to be exterminated it would not matter one whit to the world. I know this. Yet, I had imagined Bengal would be different. I had thought the madness of her people was temporary. I had thought that the Bengal I loved so passionately would never forsake me. She did.
Exiled from Bangladesh, I wandered around for many years. The moment I was given shelter somewhere else it felt as though all those years of tiredness melted away. I was able to resume a normal life in a beloved and familiar land. So long as I survive, I will carry within me the vistas of Bengal, her sunshine, her wet earth. But now the same Bengal whose sanctuary I once walked a million blood-soaked miles to reach has turned her back on me. I find it hard to believe that I am no longer wanted in Bengal. I am a Bengali within and without; I live, breathe, and dream in Bengali but, bizarrely, Bengal offers me no place.
I am a guest in this land, I must be careful of what I say. I must do nothing which violates the code of hospitality. I did not come here to hurt anyone's feelings. Wounded and hurt in my own country, I suffered slights and injuries in many lands before I reached India, where I knew I would be hurt yet again. This is, after all, a democratic and secular land where the politics of the vote implies that being secular is equated with being pro-Muslim fundamentalists. I do not wish to believe all this. I do not wish to hear all this. Yet, all around me I read, hear and see evidence of this. I sometimes wish I could be like those mythical monkeys, oblivious of all that is going on around me. Death who visits me in many forms now feels like a friend. I feel like talking to him, unburdening myself to him. You must realize I have no one else to speak to.
I have lost my beloved Bengal. The Bengal I cherished, whose land, smells and sounds, whose very air was a part of me, is gone. I had to leave Bengal. It was such a painful parting. The pain is no less than the day I lost my biological mother. My mother had always wanted me to return home. That was something I could not do. After settling down in Kolkata, I was able to tell my mother, who by then was a memory within me, that I had indeed returned home. How did it matter which side of an artificial divide I was on? I do not have the courage to tell my mother that my life now is that of a nomad. How can I tell her that those who had given me shelter saw it fit to expel me so unceremoniously? My sensitive mother would be shattered if I were to tell her all this. I choose not to tell her, not even when I am alone. Instead, I have now taken to convincing myself that I must have transgressed somewhere, committed some grievous error. Why else would I be in this situation? Is uttering the truth a terrible sin? Don't others tell the truth? Surely they do not have to undergo such tribulations? Why do I have to undergo such suffering? Is it because I am a woman? What can be easier than assailing a woman?
I know I have not been condemned by the masses. If their opinion had been sought, I am certain the majority would have wanted me to stay on in Bengal. But when has a democracy reflected the voice of the masses? A democracy is run by those who hold the reins of power who do exactly what they think fit. I must now live life on my own terms and write about what I believe in and hold dear. It is not my desire to harm, malign, or deceive. I do not lie. I try not to be offensive. The way in which I was turned into a political pawn, however, and treated at the hands of base politicians, beggars belief. For what end you may well ask. A few measly votes. The force of fundamentalism, which I have opposed and fought for very many years, has only been strengthened by my defeat.