Says she’ll continue her crusade against the forces that have banished her from the city she calls home

Exactly five years ago controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen was hounded out of Kolkata following violent protests against her works and amid calls for revocation of her visa. Today she desperately clings on to a fast fading hope of coming back to the city, wondering how much longer she would have to wait before returning to the city that is not just a home to her but also a metaphor.

“Kolkata is a dream but more — a right to choose my own destination, and even more — a demand made before secular authorities. The day the government there allows me to enter the city I am ready to go. But sadly there has been no sign yet of that happening… Will it, during my lifetime? Can anyone hear my cry,” Ms. Nasreen asked, during a conversation with The Hindu over telephone from New Delhi on Thursday.

“There has been a change in government in West Bengal, but like in the case of Bangladesh, which has also seen regime changes since I was forced into exile 19 years ago, there has been no change in the attitude of the respective authorities towards me. The very faces of fundamentalism that drove me out of the city because of my writings glare down at the people from the political platforms they share with the faces representing power — whether it is that of Sheikh Hasina or Mamata Banerjee. And they are everywhere, not just in the sub-continent but across the world,” she said.

Has she ever considered appealing to the West Bengal Chief Minister to allow her to return to Kolkata? “Letters have been written, petitions made; it’s only that there have been no replies.” However, all she learnt was that the State government did not want her back.

“But it is not just about me. Why should one not have a right to stay where one wants to in a democracy?” she asked.

“The authorities in Bangladesh will not allow me to get back ever perhaps. But India gave me a chance to at least be closer to that country and so I made Kolkata my home; where I could share a special intimacy with people whose language I write in and who read me in the original. I have never believed in barbed-wires separating cultural identities; there has never been one between Bangladesh and West Bengal,” she said.

To the author her saga was not just an account of what it was like to be in exile, her travels and temporary residences — whether in Europe or the U.S. It did not end with her being granted resident visa by the Indian government and her arrival in Kolkata in 2004, a city where life helped her “forget my troubles.”

The narrative keeps unfolding. “I keep on writing, and I will. For what is at stake is the future of the freedom I so cherish and which is the stuff of my books; the rights of women, the right to social equality; of human dignity faced with the threats of obscurantism and religious fundamentalism,” Ms. Nasreen said.

“My literary crusade is against these dark, anti-humanist forces; those very forces which are not just dragging back society as it lurches towards progress, but which have also banished me from a city which is my home.”

Mahasweta’s plea

Shiv Sahay Singh reports:

The Trinamool Congress government should take measures to ensure Ms. Nasreen’s return, Magsaysay award winner and veteran civil rights activist Mahasweta Devi has said.

“She has not committed any crime in West Bengal. She is nothing but a writer and should be allowed to return,” Ms. Devi told The Hindu.

“When everyone is allowed to stay in the city; why should Ms. Nasreen, a Bengali writer, not be welcome here?” she said.

Lajja DibashLajja

“I sincerely hope and wish that she returns to Kolkata and keeps writing like she used to. Writing in the State is not an offence,” Ms. Devi said. Ms. Nasreen’s readers have the right to accept or to reject her.

Civil rights activist Sujato Bhadra said Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had refused to provide any help to facilitate the author’s return.