Bulletin # 170 (22 February 2008)



Can anybody live like this?

"Can anybody live like this?"

Taslima Nasreen remains confined to a room at an undisclosed location

By Sanal Edamaruku
President, Rationalist International

Taslima Nasreen

India has granted visa extension to exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen for six more months. For now, the nightmare of an ill and desperate Taslima being forcefully expelled from her adoptive home of seven years to start another odyssey into an uncertain future is over. "All I want to do is live peacefully in this country. I have nowhere else to go," wrote Taslima in an open letter. When the showdown began and time was running out, Rationalist International started a campaign and appealed to the Prime Minister of India. Within three days, our appeal was supported by more than three thousand eight hundred letters from India, USA, Canada, Australia and all over Europe. Under public pressure by Taslima's many supporters, the Government of India allowed her to stay.

The success, however, is tarnished. While staying in India, Taslima Nasreen's life will - according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry - be restricted to the "status quo". And that is what horrifies her. The "status quo" describes a rather inhuman situation. It is nearly three months now that the Government of India keeps Taslima Nasreen in complete isolation at an undisclosed location near Delhi. Nobody, not even she herself, knows her whereabouts. Guarded by some officials, she has not even been allowed to meet close friends. Her only connections to the outer world are mobile phone and laptop.

I am in regular phone contact with Taslima. She feels her life has turned a never-ending nightmare. "I am like the living dead: benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic confines of my room", she writes in a letter. Under the pressure of her enforced isolation, her health is deteriorating. Being a physician herself, she felt alarmed about her symptoms some weeks back and request to see a cardiologist. After several days, some anonymous and obviously unqualified physician gave her a medication that nearly killed her. She had to be rushed into the Intensive Care Unit of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. After first signs of improvement, she was swiftly taken back to the isolation of her room in nowhere.

Her ordeal began on 21st November 2007. That day, the government of the Indian state of West Bengal forced her to leave within minutes her house in Calcutta, where she had been living and working since more than seven years peacefully and unchallenged. They claimed that they could not protect her against the wrath of some Muslim fundamentalist groups and forced her to leave the state by flight - hidden under a veil. She was not able to take anything with her but her mobile phone and her laptop.

Taslima Nasreen's forceful deportation from West Bengal was clearly a move to appease Muslim fanatics in the hope they could influence the Muslim "vote bank". Precisely, she was used as a lightening protector at the very time of mass protest against the state government's confiscation of Muslim owned farmland for an industrial mega project in Nandigram. Taslima Nasreen had been victim of the Left Front government's preemptive submission to fundamentalist demands earlier. Some years ago, they banned her book Dwikhondito, but the ban was finally lifted by the Calcutta High Court.

On the fateful 21st November, Taslima landed in Rajastan. After one day, the Rajastan state government shunted her off to Delhi, where she spent several uncertain days in the Rajastan House, before the Indian central government took charge of her. Then she was spirited away and never seen again. Even when the French President Sarkozy, ahead of his India visit in January, expressed the wish to personally present Taslima Nasreen with the coveted Prix Simone de Beauvoir on the day of the French author's 100th birth anniversary, Delhi turned the proposal down.

Taslima Nasreen is desperate to escape her isolation cell. She yearns for the day of her return to Calcutta. After fleeing from Bangladesh in 1994 to escape fatwa and death threats by Muslim fanatics, she lived in Sweden, Germany, USA and France, before she moved to Calcutta in 2000. She made West Bengal her adoptive home, as it shares language and culture with her native country. Only here, if not in Bangladesh, she feels at home and is able to write. "I am a Bengali within and without; I live, breathe, and dream in Bengali", Taslima writes about her life in West Bengal. If the West Bengal Government and the Indian Government in Delhi have their say, she may never be able to return to her life and work in Calcutta.

"I am only breathing. I don't think I am alive like you are. Can anybody live like this? It was beyond my imagination that in a secular democracy like India, such a thing could happen to a writer," writes Taslima.

Copyright © 2008 Rationalist International.
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