Date: 24 Dec 2007


Taslima Nasreen
23 Dec 07

In an exclusive, Taslima Nasreen recounts her origins, her longing to 
belong and the will to face opposition to her place in the scheme of 

ALTHOUGH I was not born an Indian, there is very little about my 
appearance, my tastes, my habits and my traditions to distinguish me 
from a daughter of the soil. Had I been born some years earlier than I 
was, I would have been an Indian in every sense of the term. My father 
was born before Partition; the strange history of this subcontinent made 
him a citizen of three states, his daughter a national of two. In a 
village in what was then East Bengal, there once lived a poor farmer by 
the name of Haradhan Sarkar, one of whose sons, Komol, driven to fury by 
zamindari oppression, converted to Islam and became Kamal. I belong to 
this family.

Haradhan Sarkar was my great-grandfather's father. Haradhan's other 
descendants obviously moved to India either during or after Partition 
and became citizens of this country. My grandfather, a Muslim, did not. 
When I was a child, the notion of the once fashionable theory of 
pan-Islamic had been exploded by East Pakistani Muslims fighting their 
West Pakistani coreligionists. Our struggle was for Bengali nationalism 
and secularism.

Even though I was born well after Partition, the notion of undivided 
India held me in thrall. I wrote a number of poems and stories lamenting 
the loss of undivided Bengal, indeed undivided India, even before I 
visited this country. I simply could not bring myself to accept the bit 
of barbed wire that kept families and friends apart even though they 
shared a common language and culture. What hurt most was that this wire 
had been secured by religion.

By my early teens I had forsaken religion and turned towards secular 
humanism and feminism which sprang from within me and were in no way 
artificially imposed. My father, a man with a modern scientific outlook, 
encouraged me to introspect and as I grew older I broke away not just 
from religion but also from all the traditions and customs, indeed the 
very culture, which constantly oppressed, suppressed and denigrated 
women. When I first visited India, specifically West Bengal, in 1989, I 
did not for an instant think I was in a foreign land. From the moment I 
set foot on Indian soil, I knew I belonged here and that it was, in some 
fundamental way, inseparable from the land I called my own.

The reason for this was not my Hindu forebear. The reason was not that 
one of India's many cultures is my own or that I speak one of its many 
languages or that I look Indian. It is because the values and traditions 
of India are embedded deeply within me. These values and traditions are 
a manifestation of the history of the subcontinent. I am a victim of 
that history. Then again, I have been enriched and enlivened by it, if 
one can call it so. I am a victim of its poverty, colonial legacy, 
faiths, communalism, violence, bloodshed, partition, migrations, exodus, 
riots, wars and even theories of nationhood. I have been hardened 
further by my life and experiences in a dirty, poverty- and 
famine-stricken, ill-governed theocracy called Bangladesh.

The intolerance, fanaticism and bigotry of Islamic fundamentalists 
forced me to leave Bangladesh, itself a victim of the subcontinent's 
history. I was forced to go into exile; the doors of my own country 
slammed shut in my face for good. Since that moment I sought refuge in 
India. When I was finally allowed entry, not for an instant did I think 
I was in an alien land. Why did I not think so, especially when every 
other country in Asia, Europe and America felt alien to me? Even after 
spending 12 years in Europe I could not think of it as my home. It took 
less than a year to think of India as my home. Is it because we, India 
and I, share a common history? Had East Bengal remained a province of 
undivided India, would the state have tolerated an attack on basic human 
freedoms and values and the call for the death by hanging of a secular 
writer by the proponents of fundamentalist Islam and self-seeking 
politicians? How would a secular democracy have reacted to this threat 
against one of its own? Or is the burden of defending human and 
democratic values solely a European or American concern? The gates of 
India remained firmly shut when I needed its shelter the most. The 
Europeans welcomed me with open arms. Yet, in Europe I always considered 
myself a stranger, an outsider. After 12 long years in exile when I 
arrived in India it felt as though I had been resurrected from some 
lonely grave. I knew this land, I knew the people, I had grown up 
somewhere very similar, almost indistinguishable. I felt the need to do 
something for this land and its people. There was a burning desire 
within me to see that women become educated and independent, that they 
stand up for and demand their rights and freedom. I wanted my writing to 
invigorate and contribute in some way to the empowerment of these women 
who had always been oppressed and suppressed.

In the meanwhile, a few Islamic fundamentalists in Hyderabad chose to 
launch a physical attack upon me. The decision to attack me was 
motivated by the desire to gain popularity among the local masses. "A 
woman by the name of Taslima Nasrin has launched a vicious attack upon 
Islam and is all set to destroy the tenets of the faith. Therefore, 
Islam must be protected from this woman and the only way to do so is to 
kill her. Her death will bring many rewards: millions as fatwa bounty in 
this world, salvation and unparalleled delights in the next." This is 
the manner in which Islamic fundamentalists in secular India are 
attempting to entice poor, uneducated, uninformed Muslims while 
simultaneously looking to solidify their vote bank within the community.

After hearing of the incident in Hyderabad, fundamentalist leaders in 
West Bengal, where I live, became so excited that they wasted no time in 
issuing fatwas against me and calling for my head. Students from 
madrasas who did not even know of my existence joined the fray. They 
knew of my blasphemy without having read a single one of my books. How 
did they know? Because their leaders had assured them that I had made it 
my mission to destroy Islam. Therefore, it was their individual and 
collective responsibility to protect and preserve their faith. Can one 
find a more perfect example of brainwashing? While their knowledge of my 
work may be infinitesimal, their knowledge of Islam is equally so and 
they have turned their faith into a commodity for their own base ends.

Almost twenty per cent of India's population is Muslim and, 
unfortunately, the most vocal representatives of this considerable 
community are fundamentalists. Educated, civilised, cultured and secular 
people from the Muslim community are not regarded as representative of 
the community. What can be a greater tragedy than this?

A greater tragedy, arguably, is that I may have to endure in progressive 
India, indeed in West Bengal, what I had to endure in Bangladesh. I live 
practically under house arrest. No public place is allegedly safe for me 
any longer. Not even the homes of friends are above suspicion, nothing 
is above suspicion. Even stepping out for a walk is considered unsafe. 
It is felt that I should spend my days in a poorly lit room grappling 
with shadows.

Those who threaten to kill me are allowed by the state to spew their 
venom. They have tacitly been given the right to do whatever they 
desire, from disturbing the peace with their demonstrations to 
terrorising the common man in the name of their faith. Those that oppose 
them and their unholy brand of communalism, those who take a stance 
against injustice and untruth, are silenced in invidious ways. I am 
warned both implicitly and explicitly that, for example, a 
fundamentalists' demonstration is about to take place and it would be 
best for all concerned if I quietly left the city. Of course, do return 
by all means, but only when the situation has calmed down, I am advised. 
But will the situation ever calm down? For the last 13 years I have been 
waiting for the situation to calm down.

I was told the same thing when I left Bangladesh to go into exile. I 
refuse to leave because to leave would be to accept defeat and hand the 
fundamentalists the victory they have always desired. It would spell 
defeat for the freedom of expression, independence of thought, democracy 
and secularism. I simply refuse to allow them this victory. If they are 
eventually victorious, the loss will be as much mine as India's. If 
India gives in to the fundamentalists' demand to deport me, the list of 
demands will become an endless one. A deportation today, a ban tomorrow, 
an execution the day after. Where will it cease? They will pursue their 
agenda with boundless enthusiasm, knowing that victory is certain. And, 
of course, the secular state and its secular custodians will bow down to 
every fundamentalist's every whim and fancy. Giving in to their demands 
is not a solution and any attempt to appease them makes them even more 
dangerous and pernicious.

Even in my worst nightmares I had not imagined that I would be 
persecuted in India as I was in Bangladesh. Persecuted by the majority 
in one and a minority in another, but persecuted just the same. The 
bigotry, the intolerance, the death threats, the terror: all the same. I 
often wonder what good it would do them to kill me. The fundamentalists 
are very well aware that it may bring them some benefit but will do 
nothing for the cause of Islam. Islam will remain as it has always 
remained. Neither I nor any other individual has the ability to 
destabilise Islam. The face of fundamentalism, its language and its 
intentions are the same the world over: to grab civilisation by the 
scruff of its neck and drag it back a few millennia, kicking and 

My world is gradually shrinking. I, who once roamed the streets without 
a care in the world, am now shackled. Always outspoken, I am now 
silenced, unable to demonstrate, left without the means of protesting 
for what I hold dear. Film festivals, concerts and plays all continue 
around me but I cannot participate. I spend my existence surrounded by 
walls: a prisoner. But I refuse to acknowledge this as my destiny. I 
still believe that one day I will be able to resume the life I once 
enjoyed. I still believe that India, unlike Bangladesh, will triumph 
over fundamentalism. I still believe that I will find shelter and solace 
here. The love and affection of Indians is my true shelter and solace. I 
still believe I will be able to spend the rest of my life here, free of 
cares and worries. I love this country. I treat this land as my own. If 
I were to be ejected from this country it would amount to the 
cold-blooded murder of my most cherished ideals, perhaps a fate far 
worse than I could meet at the hands of any fundamentalist.

I have nowhere to go, no country or home to return to. India is my 
country, India is my home. How much more will I have to endure at the 
hands of fundamentalists and their vote-grabbing political allies for 
the cardinal sin of daring to articulate the truth? If the subcontinent 
turns its back on me I have nowhere to go, no means to survive. Even 
after all that has happened, I still believe, I still dream, that for a 
sincere, honest, secular writer, India is the safest refuge, the only