Those acquainted with contemporary Bengali literature would agree that dissident Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen is not a talented writer. But there are few who would disagree that she is an extremely courageous woman who has struck out at Islamic fanatics and mullahs whose sole passion in life is to come up with the most perverse interpretations of the Quran so that they can live out their dark fantasies born of obscurantism and twisted notions of patriarchy. Ms Nasreen gave up her profession as a qualified physician to take on radical Islamists who had begun to gather strength under the tutelage of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Dhaka cantonment queen Begum Khaleda Zia, as well as Awami League, headed by a fork-tongued Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Her newspaper columns were hugely popular, especially among Bangladeshi women, although the Jamaat-e-Islami was none too pleased that someone should dare question the mullahs' diktats.
Ms Nasreen became a celebrity of sorts in Kolkata after the publication of Nirbachito Column, a collection of her newspaper columns, which won her a prestigious literary award. Back in Dhaka, her success raised the hackles of those discomfited by the fact that rather than disappear behind a burqa and meekly accept the oppressive ways of the clergy, a Bangladeshi woman had begun to inspire others to emulate her defiance. They began to sharpen their knives for the kill; in the meanwhile, they turned on Bangladesh's minuscule and disinherited, disempowered Hindu community, committing horrendous atrocities. After the demolition of the disputed Babri structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, they let loose a reign of terror, killing Hindu men, raping Hindu women and destroying Hindu temples. Lest all this be denied by Islamic fanatics on both sides of Padma -- including those who fly the banners of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, All-India Milli Council and assorted organisations like All-India Minority Forum that make up the Brotherhood in Green -- and their 'secular' patrons, the most casual scan of newspapers of those days will reveal the extent of the crimes committed against Hindus in Bangladesh in the guise of protesting the demolition of the disputed Babri structure.
It is a tribute to Ms Nasreen's courage that rather than silently watch the persecution of Bangladeshi Hindus, she recorded those crimes in a slim volume, Lajja. Within days of the publication of the novel -- it was 'fiction' based on incontrovertible facts -- it was slammed by the Government of Bangladesh, which had clearly colluded with the fanatics by allowing them a free run, and the mullahs who, typically, were outraged that a Muslim (although Ms Nasreen says she is a 'humanist') should have dared put their misdeeds on record. The book was banned and a mullah issued a fatwa, calling for her execution as she had committed 'blasphemy'! During Friday prayers in mosques across Bangladesh, believers were urged to murder Ms Nasreen if the Government failed to carry out the death sentence. Another mullah offered a reward of $2,000, which was really more a reflection of his cash flow problems than his desire to see her head brought to him on an aluminium platter borrowed from his kitchen....
If Ms Nasreen is forced to leave India, make no mistake that a time will come when anybody who doesn't subscribe to the twisted worldview of Islamic fanatics will be similarly hounded in this wondrous secular democracy of ours.