Taslima Nasreen has been forced to leave India. This might have brought a sense of relief, and even a degree of triumphalism, to the West Bengal and the Central governments. This is also a cause of deep frustration for all those like us who have been trying to defend her human rights and secure for her justice and a treatment in tradition with Indian culture and civilisation. What is most disconcerting is that her departure in the circumstances in which it took place, is a severe blow to the fundamental principles of secularism, democracy and freedom of expression on which the Indian state is founded. It has also tarnished India’s image abroad. The most serious consequence of this episode is the license it provides to religious extremism to pursue with impunity its policy of intimidation, disruption and violence. It is tragic that those who threatened and attacked her have been allowed to move around freely, while Taslima, the victim, was incarcerated and driven to desperation where she was left with no option but to quit the country.
It is well known that before Taslima was forced out of Kolkata, she had stayed there for several years, without a shred of evidence of her being responsible for any disturbance of public order. After being forced to live in isolation in a so-called “safe house” in Delhi, she was repeatedly pressurised, including from very high political levels, through the device of false promises and excuse of threats to her life, to leave the country. It is also beyond controversy that she was not allowed to lead a normal life. With a few rare exceptions, she was not allowed to stir out or meet her relatives, friends or well-wishers. Several eminent citizens of the country, prominent international personalities and institutions, as well as Taslima herself, addressed letters to the Prime Minister and the Chairperson of the UPA to end her agony, but these did not elicit any response.
Taslima did not succumb to any of the threats to compel her to leave India. The poems written by her in her confinement are an eloquent testimony to her desire to make India her home country and Kolkata her home place, and to her belief that India is not only her past history but the place of her cultural roots and the source of her creative inspiration and empowerment as a woman.
It was only when she was driven to the brink that she decided to leave India. The isolation in which she was kept would have shattered the physical and mental health of any normal person. In the case of Taslima, who has a history of suffering from high blood pressure, the tension created by the violent rupture in her normal life and continued isolation, according to doctors, damaged her eyesight and put strain on her heart. She was, therefore, left with no alternative but to pack up in a hurry and leave as there was no assurance of an end to her stressful existence in the “safe house” in Delhi.
We believe that in the present circumstances, the only honourable course for the Government of India is to ask her to return as soon as her health conditions improve, with the assurance that no obstacles will be placed in her leading a normal life in the country and that adequate security protection will be provided to her as has been the case with several other foreigners who have been given shelter in India. We are of the opinion that henceforth no such creative personality should be forced to leave the country and the secular temper as well as tolerance to each other’s feelings should be preserved by all. We also urge both the CPI-M-led Government in West Bengal and the Central Government to give up their policy of placating extremist elements among religious groups. For, this is totally unexpected from those publicly committed to secularism and freedom of expression and voted to power on the basis of this commitment. But more important than that, if this policy continues to be pursued, it will pose a threat to the social fabric, security, peace and stability in the country, with the potentiality of culminating in the failure of the state as has been witnessed in our neighbourhood.
Signatories : I.K. Gujral, Mahasweta Devi, Suvaprasanna, Sukumari Bhattacharya, Aparna Sen, Tarun Sanyal, Bibhas Chakravartty, D. Bandyopadhyay, Ashis Nandy, Kuldip Nayar, Muchkund Dubey, Sailendra Nath Ghosh, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar, Sunanda Sanyal, Sujato Bhadra, Giasuddin, Gholam Yajdani, Saifuddin Choudhury, Meher Engineer, Rabi Ranjan Chattopadhyay, Sailen Basu, Sumita Basu, Arun Kumar, Neerja Chowdhury, Amitava Ghosh, Rana Pratap Roy, Radheshyam Brahmachari, Dilip Chakraborty, Sumit Chakravartty.
April 1, 2008