Twenty years after she was expelled from Bangladesh, controversial author Taslima Nasreen still has no idea whether she will ever return home, but she refuses to give up trying, writes Subhajyoti Ghosh of BBC Bengali.
A strong critic of fundamentalist Islam, the 52-year-old feminist writer was forced to leave Bangladesh in 1994 after receiving death threats from radical Muslim groups who condemned a number of her writings as blasphemous.
Her Bangladeshi passport was revoked soon afterwards – a move Nasreen has always considered the highest affront and a denial of her rights.
She came to India initially but left for Sweden in 2008 after further protests. She has since returned to India and over the years though some local Muslim groups have protested against her presence in the country, she lives in the capital, Delhi.
And though Bangladesh has remained unwavering on the issue of her citizenship, she is adamant on returning home.
“Almost every month, I visit the Bangladesh high commission in Delhi to renew my passport and return empty handed. No reason is supplied why my application is refused. Some of the embassy staff are even sympathetic to me, but they can’t go against the government diktat,” she explains.
‘Won’t give up’
It makes no difference who the government of the day in Dhaka is – whether it’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League, opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s Khaleda Zia or a caretaker government – they are all united on the issue of barring Nasreen from entering the country.
“My fight will continue. I won’t give up that easily,” says Nasreen, resolute, sitting in her Delhi apartment which she was able to inhabit only after a long tussle with the Indian government over her visa.
Having lived in France, the US and Sweden (the country which granted her nationality after her Bangladeshi passport was revoked) over the last two decades, the writer adopted the city of Calcutta in West Bengal state as her home for a brief period.
But after protests by Muslim groups against her presence there, she was forced to move out of the city in 2008.
With wall-to-wall bookshelves her fifth-floor apartment in leafy south Delhi seems like a writers’ den; only the armed sentry at the door appears out of place.
Nasreen leads a busy life – in addition to all the reading and writing, she’s a strong online presence on Twitter and has to take care of her cat Minu. But, in spite of all this, she still finds time to knock on the door of the Bangladesh high commission at regular intervals.
“Only a small group of Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh are against my writings. But why is the government scared of these people? Shall I have to stay out of my country just because they can’t stand my opinions?” she asks.
Nasreen has not considered diluting her stance – “it’s ridiculous”, she argues, that to please a tiny section of the population, her citizenship of her homeland is perpetually rejected.
“I have shaken the society with my anger. I’m nothing without the anger, so no compromise on that,” she asserts.
The author has asked India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government to take up her case with Bangladesh.
“If they raise the issue [of my return] with Dhaka, I’ll be immensely grateful to them,” she says.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the dissident Russian author, returned to Russia after 16 years in exile. The French writer Emile Zola returned to France from London before a year was out.
After 20 years, Nasreen understands that she is not officially a citizen of the country that she calls home. It may even be said that she understands why. But that is not to say that she is resigned.
“Remember, this is not about me as an individual. This is about freedom of expression,” she says as she surveys the apartment where she has “resolved not to live forever”.
Source: The Daily Star