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Tasleema Nasreen

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Tasleema Nasreen

Taslima Nasrin
Taslima Nasrin speaking at the 2012 European Atheist Convention
Born (1962-08-25) 25 August 1962 (age 51)
Mymensingh, East Pakistan (now in Bangladesh)
Occupation poet, columnist, novelist
Citizenship Bangladesh, Sweden
Period 1973 – present
Subjects Humanism
Literary movement Women's rights, Human rights, Secular movements

Signature

Taslima Nasrin (Bengali: তসলিমা নাসরিন) (also Taslima Nasreen), born 25 August 1962, is a Bengali author and former physician who has lived in exile since 1994. From a modest literary profile in the late 1980s, she rose to global fame by the end of the 20th century owing to her feminist views and her criticism of Islam in particular and of religion in general.

Since leaving Bangladesh in 1994 on account of threat calls, she has lived in many countries;[1] as of June 2011 she lives in New Delhi.[2] She works to build support for secular humanism, freedom of thought, equality for women, and human rights by publishing, lecturing, and campaigning.

Early career

She was born to Rajab Ali and Edul Ara in the town of Mymensingh in 1962. Her father was a physician, and she followed in his footsteps. She was raised in a secular environment.

After high school in 1976 (SSC) and higher secondary studies in college (HSC) in 1978, she studied medicine at the Mymensingh Medical College an affiliated medical college of the University of Dhaka and graduated in 1984 with an MBBS degree;[3] in college, she showed a propensity for poetry by writing as well as editing a poetry journal Shenjuti After graduation, she worked at a family planning clinic in Mymensingh for a while, then she practised at gynecology department of Mitford hospital and at anesthesia department Dhaka medical college hospital. While she studied and practised medicince she saw girls were raped and heard in the delivery room women cry out in despair if their baby was a girl.[4] She was born into a Muslim family she became an atheist over time.[5] In course of writing she took a feminist approach[6]

Literary career until Lajja

Early in her literary career, she wrote mainly poetry, and published half a dozen collections of poetry between 1982 and 1993, often with female oppression as a theme, and often containing very graphic language.[4] She started publishing prose in the early 1990s, and produced three collections of essays and four novels before the publication of her 1993 novel Lajja (Bengali: লজ্জা Lôjja), or Shame, in which a Hindu family is persecuted by Muslims. This publication changed her life and career dramatically.

Nasrin suffered a number of physical and other attacks following the publication of Lajja. She had written against Islamic philosophy, angering many Muslims of Bangladesh, who called for a ban on her novel. In October 1993, an Islamic fundamentalist group called the Council of Islamic Soldiers offered a bounty for her death.[4][7] In May 1994 she was interviewed by the Kolkata edition of The Statesman, which quoted her as calling for a revision of the Quran; she claims she only called for abolition of the Sharia, the Islamic religious law.[8] In August 1994 she was brought up on "charges of making inflammatory statements," and faced death threats from Islamic fundamentalists and religious Muslims. A major religious organisation claims her to be a "paid agent" of anti-islamists. A hundred thousand demonstrators called her "an apostate appointed by imperial forces to vilify Islam"; a "militant faction threatened to set loose thousands of poisonous snakes in the capital unless she was executed."[9] After spending two months in hiding, at the end of 1994 she escaped to Sweden, consequently ceasing her medical practice and becoming a full-time writer and activist.[10]


Life in exile

After fleeing Bangladesh in 1994, Nasrin spent the next ten years in exile in the West. She returned to the east and relocated to Kolkata, India, in 2004, where she lived until 2007. After renewed unrest broke out, and after spending several months in hiding, Nasrin left for the West again in 2008.

1994–2004, exile in the West

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 and took refuge in Germany.[11] She even had to wait for six years (1994–1999) to get a visa to visit India, and never got a Bangladeshi passport to return to the country when her mother,[11] and later her father, were on their death beds.

In March 2000, she visited Mumbai to promote a translation of her novel Shodh (translated by Marathi author Ashok Shahane, the book was called Phitam Phat). Secular groups seized upon the occasion to celebrate freedom of expression, while "Muslim fundamentalist groups...threatened to burn her alive."[12]

2004–2007, life in Kolkata

In 2004, she was granted a renewable temporary residential permit by India and moved to Kolkata in the state of West Bengal, which shares a common heritage and language with Bangladesh; in an interview in 2007, after she had been forced to flee, she called Kolkata her home.[13] The government of India extended her visa to stay in the country on a periodic basis, though it refused to grant her Indian citizenship. While living in Kolkata, Nasrin regularly contributed to Indian newspapers and magazines, including Anandabazar Patrika and Desh, and, for some time, wrote a weekly column in the Bengali version of The Statesman. Again her anti-Islam comments met with opposition from religious fundamentalists: in 2006, Syed Noorur Rehaman Barkati, the imam of Kolkata's Tipu Sultan Mosque, admitted offering money to anyone who "blackened [that is, publicly humiliated] Ms Nasreen's face."[14] Even abroad she caused controversy: in 2005, she tried to read an anti-war poem titled "America" to a large Bengali crowd at the North American Bengali Conference at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and was booed off the stage.[15] Back in India, the "All India Muslim Personal Board (Jadeed)" offered 500,000 rupees for her beheading in March 2007. The group's president, Tauqir Raza Khan, said the only way the bounty would be lifted was if Nasrin "apologises, burns her books and leaves."[16]

Expulsion from Kolkata

On 9 August 2007, Nasrin was in Hyderabad to present the Telugu translation of one of her novels, Shodh, when she was attacked by a mob of violent intruders, led by legislators from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, a Muslim political party.[17][18] A week later, on 17 August, Muslim leaders in Kolkata revived an old fatwa against her, urging her to leave the country and offering an unlimited amount of money to anybody who would kill her.[19] On 21 November, Kolkata witnessed a violent protest against Nasrin by Muslims. A protest organised by the militant islamist "All India Minority Forum" caused chaos in the city and forced the army's deployment to restore order.[20] After the riots, Nasrin was forced to move from Kolkata, her "adopted city,"[21] to Jaipur, and to New Delhi the following day.[22][23][24]

House arrest in New Delhi

The government of India kept Nasrin in an undisclosed location in New Delhi, effectively under house arrest, for more than seven months.[25] In January 2008, she was selected for the Simone de Beauvoir award in recognition of her writing on women's rights,[26] but declined to go to Paris to receive the award, fearing that she would not be allowed to re-enter India.[27] She explained that "I don't want to leave India at this stage and would rather fight for my freedom here,"[28] but she had to be hospitalised for three days with several complaints.[29] The house arrest quickly acquired an international dimension: in a letter to London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International, India’s former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey urged the organisation to pressure the Indian government so Nasrin could safely return to Kolkata.[30]

From New Delhi, Nasrin commented: "I'm writing a lot, but not about Islam, It's not my subject now. This is about politics. In the last three months I have been put under severe pressure to leave [West] Bengal by the police."[31] In an email interview from the undisclosed safehouse, Nasrin talked about the stress caused by "this unendurable loneliness, this uncertainty and this deathly silence." She cancelled the publication of the sixth part of her autobiography Nei Kichu Nei ("No Entity"), and—under pressure—deleted some passages from Dwikhondito, the controversial book that was the boost for the riots in Kolkata.[32] She was forced to leave India on 19 March 2008.

Move to Sweden and New Delhi

Nasrin moved to Sweden in 2008 and later worked as a research scholar at New York University.[33] Since, as she claims, "her soul lived in India," she also pledged her body to that country, by awarding it for posthumous medical use to Gana Darpan, a Kolkata-based NGO, in 2005.[34] She eventually returned to India, but was forced to stay in New Delhi as the West Bengal government refused to permit her entry.

Literary works

Nasrin started writing poetry when she was thirteen. While still at college in Mymensingh, she published and edited a literary magazine, SeNjuti ("Light in the dark"), from 1978 to 1983. She published her first collection of poems in 1986. Her second collection, Nirbashito Bahire Ontore ("Banished within and without") was published in 1989. She succeeded in attracting a wider readership when she started writing columns in late 1980s, and, in the early 1990s, she began writing novels, for which she has won significant acclaim.[21] In all, she has written more than thirty books of poetry, essays, novels, short stories, and memoirs, and her books have been translated into 20 different languages.

Her own experience of sexual abuse during adolescence and her work as a gynaecologist influenced her a great deal in writing about the treatment of women in Islam and against religion in general.[31] Her writing is characterised by two connected elements: her struggle with the Islam of her native culture, and her feminist philosophy. She cites Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir as influences, and, when pushed to think of one closer to home, Begum Rokeya, who lived during the time of undivided Bengal.[35] Her later poetry also evidences a connection to place, to Bangladesh and India.[36]

Columns and essays

In 1989 Nasrin began to contribute to the weekly political magazine Khaborer Kagoj, edited by her second husband, Nayeemul Islam Khan, and published from Dhaka. Her feminist views and anti-religion remarks articles succeeded in drawing broad attention, and she shocked the religious and conservative society of Bangladesh by her radical comments and suggestions. Later she collected these columns in a volume titled Nirbachita Column, which in 1992 won her first Ananda Purashkar award, a prestigious award for Bengali writers. During her life in Kolkata, she contributed a weekly essay to the Bengali version of The Statesman, called Dainik Statesman.

Novels

In 1992 Nasrin produced two novellas which failed to draw attention.

Her breakthrough novel Lajja (Shame) was published in 1993, and attracted wide attention because of its controversial subject matter. It contained the struggle of a patriotic Bangladeshi Hindu family in a Muslim environment.[37][38] Initially written as a thin documentary, Lajja grew into a full-length novel as the author later revised it substantially. In six months' time, it sold 50,000 copies in Bangladesh before being banned by the government that same year.[37]

Her other famous novel is French Lover, published in 2002.

Autobiography

Her memoirs are renowned for their candidness, 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.[39] Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), the second part of her memoir, was banned by the Bangladesh government in 2002.[40] 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; some 3,000 copies were seized immediately.[41] The decision to ban the book was criticised by "a host of authors" in West Bengal,[42] but the ban wasn't lifted until 2005.[43][44] Sei Sob Ondhokar Din guli (Those Dark Days), the fourth part of her memoir, was banned by the Bangladesh government in 2004.[45][46]

She received her second Ananda Purashkar award in 2000, for her memoir Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood, published in English in 2002).

Nasrin's life and works in adaptation

Nasrin's life is the subject of a number of plays and songs, in the east and the west. The Swedish singer Magoria sang "Goddess in you, Taslima,"[47] and the French band Zebda composed "Don't worry, Taslima" as a homage.[48]

Her work has been adapted for TV and even turned into music. Jhumur was a 2006 TV serial based on a story written especially for the show.[49] Bengali singers like Fakir Alamgir, Samina Nabi, Rakhi Sen sang her songs. Steve Lacy, the jazz soprano saxophonist, met Nasrin in 1996 and collaborated with her on an adaptation of her poetry to music. The result, a "controversial" and "compelling" work called The Cry, was performed in Europe and North America.[50] Initially, Nasrin was to recite during the performance, but these recitations were dropped after the 1996 Berlin world premiere because of security concerns.[51]

Writers and intellectuals for and against Nasrin

Nasrin has been criticised by writers and intellectuals in both Bangladesh and West Bengal for targeted scandalisation. Because of "obnoxious, false and ludicrous" comments in Ka, "written with the 'intention to injure the reputation of the plaintiff'", Syed Shamsul Haq, 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 had a relationship with his sister-in-law.[52] 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.[53]

Nearly 4 million dollars were claimed in defamation lawsuits against Nasrin by fellow writers in Bangladesh and West Bengal after the publication of Ka / Dwikhandita. Writer Sunil Gangopadhyay, with 24 other intellectuals pressured the West Bengal government to ban Nasrin's book in 2003.[54] Taslima answered why she wrote about known people without their permission when some commented that she did it to earn fame. Taslima defended herself against all the allegations. She wrote why she dared not to hide her sexual relations,[55] she said that she wrote her life's story, not others'. Yet Nasrin enjoyed support of Bengali writers and intellectuals like Annada Shankar Ray, Sibnarayan Ray and Amlan Dutta.[56]

Recently she was supported and defended by personalities such as author Mahasweta Devi, theatre director Bibhas Chakrabarty, poet Joy Goswami, artist Prakash Karmakar and Paritosh Sen.[57] In India, noted writers Arundhati Roy, Girish Karnad, and many others defended her when she was under house arrest in Delhi in 2007, and co-signed a statement calling on the Indian government to grant her permanent residency in India or, should she ask for it, citizenship.[58] In Bangladesh Kabir Chaudhury (writer and philosopher)[59] also supported her strongly.

Awards

Taslima has received a number of international awards in recognition of her uncompromising demand for freedom of expression. Awards and Honours given to her include the following:

Bibliography

Books by Taslima Nasrin

Poetry

  • Shikore Bipul Khudha (Hunger in the Roots), 1982
  • Nirbashito Bahire Ontore (Banished Without and Within), 1989
  • Amar Kichu Jay Ashe Ne (I Couldn’t Care Less), 1990
  • Atole Ontorin (Captive in the Abyss), 1991
  • Balikar Gollachut (Game of the Girls), 1992
  • Behula Eka Bhashiyechilo Bhela (Behula Floated the Raft Alone), 1993
  • Ay Kosto Jhepe, Jibon Debo Mepe (Pain Come Roaring Down, I’ll Measure Out My Life for You), 1994
  • Nirbashito Narir Kobita (Poems From Exile), 1996
  • Jolpodyo (Waterlilies), 2000
  • Khali Khali Lage (Feeling Empty), 2004
  • Kicchukhan Thako (Stay for a While), 2005
  • Bhalobaso? Cchai baso (It's your love! or a heap of trash!), 2007
  • Bondini (Prisoner), 2008

Essay collections

  • Nirbachito Column (Selected Columns), 1990
  • Jabo na keno? jabo (I will go; why won't I?), 1991
  • Noshto meyer noshto goddo (Fallen prose of a fallen girl), 1992
  • ChoTo choTo dukkho kotha (Tale of trivial sorrows), 1994
  • Narir Kono Desh Nei (Women have no country), 2007

Novels

  • Oporpokkho (The Opponent), 1992.
  • Shodh, 1992. ISBN 978-81-88575-05-3. Trans. in English as Getting Even.
  • Nimontron (Invitation), 1993.
  • Phera (Return), 1993.
  • Lajja, 1993. ISBN 978-0-14-024051-1. Trans. in English as Shame.
  • Bhromor Koio Gia (Tell Him The Secret), 1994.
  • Forashi Premik (French Lover), 2002.
  • Shorom (Shame Again), 2009.

Short stories

  • Dukkhoboty meye (Sad girls), 1994
  • Minu, 2007

Autobiography

  • Utal Hawa (Wild Wind), 2002
  • Ka (Speak Up), 2003; published in West Bengal as Dwikhondito (Split-up in Two), 2003
  • Sei Sob Andhokar (Those Dark Days), 2004
  • Ami Bhalo Nei, Tumi Bhalo Theko Priyo Desh ("I am not okay, but you stay well my beloved homeland"), 2006.
  • Nei, Kichu Nei ( Nothing is there), 2010
  • Nirbasan ( Exile), 2012

Titles in English

  • Trans. of Phera.
  • Trans. of Lajja.
  • Trans. of Meyebela
  • Trans. of Tasalimā Nāsarinera nirācita kalāma.

Secondary works

  • Includes an interview with and two unpublished poems by Nasrin.

See also

Poetry portal

References

External links

  • Official homepage – TaslimaNasrin.com
  • Personal Twitter account
  • Women’s untold stories: Michael Deibert interviews with Taslima Nasrin
  • Need to escape from death chamber by Taslima Nasreen
  • – by Taslima Nasrin
  • Bangladeshi Writer Wins UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize – IFEX

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