'Blasphemous' feminist writer hounded out of home by violent Muslim protests
For more than a decade, the writer Taslima Nasrin has been fighting; fighting against the courts, fighting to be heard and fighting for her life. Last night, the Bangladeshi-born author was struggling again as violent protests in one city – and the purported threat of further violent protests in another – saw her shuttling across India to avoid angry Muslims who have accused her of insulting Islam.
"I have no place to go. India is my home and I would like to keep living in this country until I die," the Sakharov Prize winner told The Hindu newspaper. "Here in this country, I have got the love and sympathy of the people for which I am grateful."
On Thursday, Nasrin was forced to flee from the city of Kolkata where she has been living for the past two years, a day after Muslim activists led protests against her which resulted 50 people being injured and the imposition of a curfew. The All India Minorities Forum, a Muslim group, has demanded she be deported not just from Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, but from India.
But after one night in Jaipur, Rajasthan, the authorities there decided that Nasrin should also leave to avoid the risk of a repetition of violence. "She didn't inform the government of Rajasthan before coming here and as she requires high security we asked her to leave," the Home Minister, Gulab Chand Kataria, told reporters. As a result Nasrin was last night headed to Delhi, and presumably further controversy.
Controversy is nothing new for the writer. Having fled from Bangladesh in 1994, Nasrin has long been confronted by people who do not like what she has to say. After slipping out of Bangladesh where she was charged with blasphemy, the feminist writer spent many years in Sweden, before moving to Kolkata, a city with a long literary tradition. While her books have been translated into more than 20 languages, her first four autobiographical volumes remain banned in Bangladesh.
In India, opposition to the writer from a variety of groups has ebbed and flowed. At the centre of the controversy are comments she is alleged to have made to an Indian newspaper 13 years ago which quoted her as saying that alterations needed to be made to the Koran in order to provide women with more rights. A court also accused her of "deliberately and maliciously" hurting the feelings of Muslims as a result of her Bengali-language novel Lajja, or Shame, which focuses on riots between Muslims and Hindus.
Nasrin has adamantly denied making the comment that the Koran should be changed. But she has never shied away from fighting for women's rights in societies – in India and Bangladesh – where they are often a lesser consideration. On her website she writes: "Women are oppressed in the East, in the West, in the South, in the North. Women are oppressed inside, outside home. Whether a woman is a believer or a non-believer, she is oppressed. Beautiful or ugly, oppressed. Crippled or not, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, oppressed. Covered or naked, she is oppressed. Dumb or not, cowardly or courageous, she is always oppressed."
There have been numerous death threats and fatwas issued against Nasrin. And in August there were ugly scenes in Hyderabad when she attended the launch of her book Shodh, or Getting Even, in the local Teulgu language. Three local politicians attacked her with tables and flower-pots. For all of this Nasrin remains adamant that her work is not blasphemous but that it campaigns for the rights of women. "As for my works, never have I written anything against the Islamic religion," he said. "They are all about the sad plight of women in our society."