For Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, the refusal by the organisers of the 36 Kolkata Book Fair to release the seventh volume of her autobiographical series Nirbasan (Exile) at the scheduled venue is part of a concerted attack, not just an attempt to “black out” her writings but to “ban her.”
“It is about banning a writer, not just a book. This is extremely dangerous”, Ms. Nasreen told The Hindu over the telephone from New Delhi on Wednesday evening.
“It is not just a personal matter; it has a social and, indeed, a national significance,” she said, adding that the development was the handiwork of “a handful of fundamentalists with political interests.”
“But why do politicians have any regard for such people? I do not understand. The city of Kolkata should come up with an explanation,” Ms. Nasreen said.
“These fundamentalists have been hounding me for the past nearly 20 years. It had all started in Bangladesh, where processions were brought out in protest against my writings, copies of my book burned and I being forced to leave that country [in 1994]. Finally, when I was settling down in Kolkata and had adopted it as my home and where I still think I belong, the attacks again resumed… Is there not a limit to one's intolerance?” she asked.
Pointing out that she was not allowed to return to Kolkata — after being virtually escorted out of the city in 2007 — even after the “paribartan” (change in government) in West Bengal in May 2011, Ms. Nasreen said: “That after the paribartan I have not been allowed to go back is one thing even though I keep hoping, as Kolkata is where my heart is. What I could not even think of was the release of a book by me not being allowed by the fair organisers, as was scheduled, even in my absence.”
With a tinge of sarcasm, she says: “We hear that Kolkata is a progressive city. But in such a major progressive city a Bengali writer is being expected to remain silent, with our mouths closed. Let the progressives decide which book should be released and which should not.”
But such incidents will not, in any way, keep Ms. Nasreen from her writings. “By no means will they; no amount of banishments or blackouts will. My job is to write, which I will continue to do for as long as I live even if I am not allowed to be read. But if politicians keep saying this cannot be written, this cannot be allowed, it does deeply wound one's sentiments; but only to add intensity to the struggles ahead for a writer.”
“When a writer is dictated to, either by politicians or other organisations, nothing remains of the freedom of expression. Democracy then is in peril, for, after all, freedom of expression is the biggest pillar of democracy and what it means is that violence will not be resorted to, to prevent a writer from expressing his or her beliefs.”