Internationally known Bangladeshi-born feminist writer and self proclaimed atheist Taslima Nasrin, M.D., has been living in self exile since 1994 when local radicals threatened her life after she wrote demanding the liberation of women from social injustice and torture.
Nasreen was faced with two years' imprisonment by a Bangladeshi court, and an uncertain future. In desperation, she faxed Amnesty International: "I am in grave danger. Fundamentalists are demanding my death. They have declared prize money for my head again. Situation is dangerous now. They could kill me at any moment. Please save me."
Amnesty International answered her call, as did the international writers' group PEN and the Swedish government, which offered her asylum and Â£15,000 Kurt Tucholsky Prize to help persecuted writers continue their work in exile.
After leaving Bangladesh towards the end of 1994, Nasrin lived in exile in Western Europe and North America for ten years. Her Bangladeshi passport had been revoked; she was granted citizenship by the Swedish government. She had to wait for six years [1994-1999] even to get a visa to visit India. She never got a Bangladeshi passport to return to her country when her mother, and later her father, were on their deathbeds.
In March of 2000, she visited Mumbai to promote a translation of her novel Shodh. Secular groups seized upon the occasion to celebrate freedom of expression, while Muslim fundamentalist groups threatened to burn her alive.
In 1992, Taslima Nasrin wrote an essay titled “Noshto meyer noshto goddo” [Fallen Prose of a Fallen Girl].
In 1989 Nasrin began to contribute to the weekly political magazine Khaborer Kagoj, edited by her second husband, Nayeemul Islam Khan [now editor of Dhaka’s leading Bengali language daily newspaper Amader Shomoy] and published from Dhaka. Her feminist views and anti-religious remarks articles succeeded in drawing broad attention; she shocked the religious and conservative society of Bangladesh with her progressive comments and suggestions.
Her breakthrough novel Lajja [Shame] was published in 1993 and attracted wide attention because of its controversial subject matter. In six months' time, it sold 50,000 copies in Bangladesh before being banned for containing. The graphic description of a rape of a Hindu woman by a Muslim man. Initially written as a thin documentary, Lajja grew into a full length novel as the author later substantially revised it.
Her memoirs are renowned for their candor, which has led to a number of them being banned in Bangladesh and India. Amar Meyebela [My Girlhood, 2002], the first volume of her memoir, was banned by the Bangladeshi government in 1999 for "reckless comments" against Islam and the prophet Mohammad. Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), the second part of her memoir, was banned by the Bangladesh government in 2002. Ka [Speak up], the third part of her memoir, was banned by the Bangladeshi High Court in 2003. Under pressure from Indian Muslim activists, the book, which was published in West Bengal as Dwikhandita, was banned there also and some 3,000 copies were seized. The decision to ban the book was criticized by "a host of authors" in West Bengal, but the ban was not lifted until 2005. Sei Sob Ondhokar [Those Dark Days], the fourth part of her memoir, was banned by the Bangladesh government in 2004.
Intellectuals both in Bangladesh and West Bengal [in India] reacted to the contents of her novel titled ‘KA’ and ‘Dwikhandita’; in both novels, Nasrin gave narrative descriptions of some writers and progressive people taking sexual advantage of her, as well as her personal feelings on intimate relations she had with three of her husbands.
Nasrin has been criticized by writers and intellectuals in both Bangladesh and West Bengal for targeted scandalization. Because of "obnoxious, false and ludicrous" comments in Ka, "written with the 'intention to injure the reputation of the plaintiff,’” Syed Shamsul Haq, a top Bangladeshi poet and novelist, filed a defamation suit against Nasrin in 2003. In the book, she mentions that Haq confessed to her that he had previously had a relationship with his sister-in-law.
A West Bengali poet, Hasmat Jalal, did the same; his suit led to the High Court banning the book, which was published in India as Dwikhondito. Nearly four million dollars were claimed in defamation lawsuits against Nasrin by fellow writers in Bangladesh and West Bengal after the publication of Ka/Dwikhandita. Sunil Ganguli, a famous writer, with 24 other intellectuals, pressured the West Bengal government to ban Nasrin's book in 2003. There was hate campaign against Taslima even among the writers, because she wrote about her intimate life, divulging her affairs with men. And because some of the men happened to be known, Taslima had to answer why she wrote about people without their permission, and some commented that she did so to earn fame. Taslima defended herself against all the allegations. She said said that she wrote her life's story, not others'.
Taslima Nasrin treated the whole subject of female oppression in her poetry, which she had by this time started to publish; the evils of patriarchy were expressed in exceptionally explicit sexual language. In one poem, she depicts a man as a cockroach entering the vagina, in another she muses that "when a man is chasing / you, be warned / That man has syphilis", and in a third, "divorce letter", she writes that husbands "perceive no difference between the whore's and the lover's body".
Criticism is that the ever-provocative Nasreen has staged a rather rococco publicity stunt that has got a bit out of hand. One American magazine even dared to call it "a smart career move". It is claimed that the death threats were never meant to be taken seriously, and that many Bangladeshi intellectuals have chosen to ignore similar death threats against them. Nasreen denies the general point, stressing that "it is not my aim to be a celebrity".
In an interview to the Western press, Nasrin said that prior to going into exile, she spent two months in hiding.
"I could not speak, I could not turn on the light, I could not shower. I just had to lie like a piece of dead wood so no one would know I was there. I only got up at midnight, always under cover: moving from one house to another, from one shelter to another."
Taslima said that in all, she moved to 15 locations, on the average of once every other night, “after Islamists gave life threat.”
However, according to one of the reports published in local press, Nasrin was living at her comfortable apartment at Shantinagar area in Dhaka hours before she left Bangladesh for Stockholm.
Another source in the Bangladeshi intelligence claims that there is no trace of any organization named ‘Sahaba Shoinik’ [Sahaba Soldiers] in Bangladesh. “It must have been an imaginary name,” said the source.
I have tried to gather information on this organization, but did not find anything about it, except on the website of Taslima Nasrin and some places where only the threat was mentioned.
Even on the website of UNHCR, quoting the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, it is mentioned that, “Information on a group called the Sahaba Soldiers was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The South Asian Women's NETwork [SAWNET] reported that the Sahaba Soldiers bombed the home of Sultana Kamal, a women's rights activist and lawyer in Bangladesh [Oct. 1996]. The same article reported that the Sahaba Soldiers issued a fatwa, or Islamic decree, against author Taslima Nasrin for her position on women's rights in Bangladesh [ibid.] “Although no reports consulted by the Research Directorate confirm that the Sahaba Soldiers are the same group as the Sahaba Sainik Parishad, or the Council of Soldiers of Islam.”
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi foreign minister Dr. Dipu Moni, during a press conference in New York on June 26, 2009 said, “The government has no problem with controversial writer Taslima Nasrin, now living in exile, returning home, but her security issue is to be considered by the home ministry.” [sic]
Dr. Moshiur Rahman, finance affairs advisor to Bangladeshi Prime Minister and Bangladesh’s permanent representative to United Nations ambassador Ismat Jahan, were also present during this press meeting.
Although several Bangladeshi high officials also echoed the opinion of the Bangladeshi foreign minister, according to a report published in vernacular daily Amader Shomoy [which is owned by Taslima Nasrin’s second husband Nayeemul Islam Khan], Bangladeshi missions abroad are continuing to decline renewing the passport of this award-winning feminist activist. Recently Taslima Nasrin went to Bangladeshi embassy in United States, which also declined to renew her passport.
The Daily Amader Shomoy said, “if the statement of the Bangladeshi foreign minister is true, why are country’s missions abroad are refraining from renewing the passport of Taslima Nasrin?”