Dateline Delhi – Taslima Nasreen in Town

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

Outlook magazine editor Vinod Mehta – In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Actor Girish Karnad – In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Playwright Irfan Habib – In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Tehelka magazine editor Tarun Tejpal – In Support of Taslima Nasreen

Arundhati Roy – In Support of Taslima Nasreen