Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dateline Delhi – Taslima Nasreen in Town

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In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Arundhati Roy demands Indian citizenship for the exiled Bangladeshi author.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Delhi is not Dhaka. It is not even Kolkata. Ms. Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi author who has been virtually put under house arrest by the Indian government, somewhere in Delhi, wants to go back home to Kolkata. She does not and is not made to feel at home in this city. But the government is eager to ship her abroad.

Ms. Nasreen wonders why this country of one billion can’t add one more to its numbers. What innocence(!) She is too combustible for this country. She writes insulting things about Islam. She writes graphic details about her sex life. She writes all this rather badly and yet remains a best-selling author. Too much.

Still, why be made a captive? We are told that extremist Islamic groups are bent on killing her. They say her face could launch a thousand Hindu-Muslim riots. In other words, she is a bundle of problems. Since more than a decade. In 1994, Ms. Nasreen had to flee her hometown Dhaka due to her controversial writing. She took refuge in Kolkata. In 2007, she was made to flee Kolkata. In 2008, she is being pressurized to leave India, the world’s biggest democracy (ha ha ha).

The 'secular' Indian government, perhaps nervous about its Muslim vote bank, is reluctant to renew her visa. They want nothing to do with Ms. Nasreen. She has to be hounded out. But some Indians have some other views.

One winter afternoon in the sad little first floor-hall of the Press Club of India, author Mahashweta Devi, playwright Habib Tanvir, novelist Arundhati Roy, actor Girish Karnad, editor Vinod Mehta, social psychologist Ashis Nandy, amongst other eminences, gathered together to demand Indian citizenship for Ms. Nasreen.

Most of these respectable people would never write as insensibly or as badly as Ms. Nasreen but that is beside the point. The point is, in Ms. Roy’s words, that “how free speech is under siege from “many fundamentalisms”— religious, ultra-nationalist and market fundamentalism — intertwined in the strangest ways.”

Mahashweta Devi & Arundhati Roy - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Mahashweta Devi & Arundhati Roy

Outlook Magazine Editor Vinod Mehta - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Vinod Mehta - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Actor Girish Karnad - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Girish Karnad - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Playwright Irfan Habib - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Irfan habib - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Tehelka Magazine Editor Tarun Tejpal - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Tarun Tejpal - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Arundhati Roy - In Support of Taslima Nasreen



Jawahara Saidullah said...

I totally agree with them. Someone needs to take a pro freedom of expression stance.

m a v e r | c k said...

m a v e | c k - In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Ajit said...

I have a couple of questions:

First, why does Arundhati Roy insist on riding a hobby-horse, dragging in her pet hates, "ultra-nationalist and market fundamentalism", when there is no discernible link to the Taslima Nasreen case? (There is a standing offer for Ms. Nasreen from that "ultra-nationalist, market fundamentalist" Narendra Modi of refuge in Gujarat.)

Second, am I the only one to discern the black humour in the championing of freedom of expression as an absolute value by a blog that insists on comments being pre-censored? :-)

Anonymous said...

Freedom of expression doesn't mean that every publisher has an obligation to publish the drivel that anyone (by that I mean Modi champions like you) comes up with.

Second - there is a link to "ultra-nationalist and market fundamentalism" and "freedom of expression". While Modi may be for Taslima Nasreen's case for it is politically expedient and matches his anti-Muslim agenda, there are plenty of documented instances of where ultra-nationalists have come out against freedom of expression. Opposition against M.F.Hussain comes to mind. Market fundamentalism affects more subtly for it provides the impetus to publishers to refuse publication of opinions that they see as economically problematic. As I mentioned above - this doesn't technically come under "freedom of expression" but perhaps more under building a space for reasoned discourse. I don't quiet think that your commentary - always oblique and always motivated by pettiness - is something that can be seen as part of that space.

Akash said...

I am confused. Is that Irfan Habib, the historian or Tanvir Habib, the playwright?

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

Akash, it's Irfan Habib the historian. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Bhai... the old man is not Irfan Habib... He is HABIB TANVEER the greatest dramatist india has ever produced. Change the caption immediately. its like insulting a great artist, a living legend. Habib saab is a well known theatre activist. Agra Bazaar and charandas chor is his immortal creations.

Ajit said...

"Anonymous", I do seem to have struck a nerve, yay! :-)

"Drivel"? Well, um, okay, you're as entitled to your opinion as I to mine.

But Anonymous, if you don't want to hear opinion that doesn't fit your comfortable little world view, on what grounds do you deny Ms. Nasreen's critics the same privilege? (They're admittedly a trifle more forceful in expressing themselves.)

I cheerfully admit I care a fig for M. F. Hussain, but I'm curious: when did 'nationalism' or 'nationalist' become terms of invective? (A simple task, requiring needing no more than placing that ominous 'ultra' as a prefix.)

Was it political expediency on the part of Gujarat's Chief Minister? No more and no less than his counterpart from West Bengal hounding Ms. Nasreen out of Kolkata, or the Union External Affairs Minister warning her to "behave".

Politicians being political animals when elections loom, what a surprise, eh? :-)

About as much as publishers, or writers, acting with an eye on commercial reality, possibly...

Publishers must make profits or they don't remain publishers much longer.

Even the good Soofi isn't above these distasteful commercial considerations. Or did you miss the sign atop his page that asks you to contact him for ad enquiries. :-)

Be honest, as far as the Taslima Nasreen case is concerned, the right has no dogs in the fight. It is a tussle for Muslim votes between the Left and the Congress, with Ms. Nasreen's supporters trying a few diversionary tactics by dragging in "ultra-nationalist and market fundamentalism".

Not that any of it shall work, of course, those Muslim votes loom far larger than any number of aggrieved bloggers. Or authors. Or historians. Or any of the fellow travellers of the Left.

N.B.: Dare I point out that in the context of your words, it should be 'quite think' rather than "quiet think"? Whatever your grievances against Modi-ji, that future liberator of downtrodden Hinduism, or of his humble admirers, surely you don't want to wage war upon the English language too? :-)

Ajit said...

He is HABIB TANVEER the greatest dramatist india has ever produced.

"Greater" than Bhasa and Kalidasa? Or, for those who think Indian history begins after 1947, "greater" than Karanth, or Karnad, or Tendulkar, or.... well, you get the picture!

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

Ajit, bhai take a breather! mistakes in print happens - no need to be so dramatical. I accept my mistake. Cheers.

jellybean said...

Shaheen, don't be so condescending. Take a look at your comment in "Delhi no place for a muslim"

Za'eem Shujaat said...

Great post !

Jellybean: I read Shaheen's comment and don't think she was being condescending by 'apologising' for her mistake. Superiority is not shown, especially if one apologises for miscommunication. Further, her comment on the topic "Delhi no place for Muslim" , again, she was defending her view by focusing on Muslim achievers. But we are all intelligent enough to participate in debates and having our own opinions. You have yours. I have mine. Shaheen (if she is even reading this hashers), Soofi has his. I like Soofi's articles.

Good day!

Za'eem Shujaat

Anonymous said...

you have confused with great historian irfan habib with another legendary dramatist habib tanwir. but there is a striking resemblance in both of the faces.since it is bad to make such serious mistakes,you can correct it as early as possible.