Jaipur: On a frightful night in November 2007, controversial writer Taslima Nasrin was juggling with authorities in the Pink City, unsure of what lay ahead and very concerned about her security. Multiple fatwas saw the Bangladeshi writer being moved from Kolkata to Jaipur but one sinister night, etched forever in her memoir; also saw the city of Jaipur refusing to accept her. A decade on, the clock has turned full circle.
Monday must have been an extraordinary day as the Pink City embraced Nasrin with open arms when she arrived here at the Jaipur Literature Festival for a surprise session on her book, “Exile”.
As the magnificent Diggi Palace turned into a fortress with security staff on their toes, a battalion of police and firefighters stationed at the entrance, most visitors could sense that something was brewing.
In the end, Nasrin not only attended her session but also won the love of the city which once refused to accept her.
In conversation with Salil Tripathi, the chair of the Writers-in-Prison Committee of PEN International, Nasrin said: “When I or anyone else criticise Hinduism, Buddhism or other religions nothing happens. But the moment you criticise Islam, people come running after your life.
Nasrin said that Muslim women are “oppressed” and that uniform civil law is the need of the hour to protect their rights.
“If you have a set of laws for Hindus, if Hindu women can divorce their husbands and have a say in their property, and we have seen how progressive that has been, then why are Islamic fundamentalists against a uniform civil law? Is not having a uniform civil law democratic,” she asked.
“A uniform civil law is urgently needed in India for the protection of women. The fundamentalists should introspect and ask themselves why they are not ready to accept criticism.
“What do you mean by secularism, does it require you to encourage Muslim fundamentalists? For Muslim votes, you throw a writer out of the country and continue to patronise misogynists,” she maintained.
“Why shouldn’t Muslim women have the same rights? Is it democracy? Encouraging fundamentalists and misogynists from any side is neither democratic nor secular. I am against all kinds of fundamentalists.
“Without serious criticism of Islam, you will not be able to make Islamic countries secular. The women will continue to suffer and be oppressed,” she said.
More than many, Nasrin should know what suffering and oppression is all about.
On November 21, 2007 violence had erupted in Kolkata after a protest against the writer turned into large-scale rioting, prompting the army to be called out to restore order.
The city came to a rude, screeching halt as a virulent mob of religious fanatics took to the streets. Armed with a fatwa from their ideologues, the mob demanded that Nasrin leave the city immediately.
Nasrin was then asked by the authorities to leave the city.
“There is nothing to think of. You have to leave (Kolkata) as soon as possible,” Nasrin was told, according to her memoir, by the then Kolkata Police Commissioner after an almost two-hour conversation.
It was then decided by the authorities that she should move to Jaipur. Several states in India had already refused to allow Nasrin in. Much against her will, she decided to move to Jaipur as the authorities assured her of both safety as well as good hospitality in the Pink City.
Barely hours after she had arrived in Jaipur, the police officers informed her that she was not safe and that she had to move to a safer place.
What followed was the sinister night when Nasrin felt as if she was being kidnapped. The verification of police officers was not confirmed. The drivers changed on the mid-way and even the vehicle was changed. She was then informed that she was being shifted to New Delhi, which actually happened.
A part of the memoir also deals with her struggles in Jaipur on that sinister night. Nasrin mentions that she was a “victim of vote bank politics” and that the then Rajasthan government, also led by the current Chief M Vasundhara Raje, did not want to trouble its Muslim vote bank in Rajasthan and other Indian states.
Cut to the preset.
The Jaipur Literature Festival organisers did not reveal her presence before her session.
She came, she saw, she conquered and she disappeared in no time. Picture perfect!