Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Taslima Nasrin and Free Speech



Mahashweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Ashish Nandy and Girish Karnad have issued this statement on Taslima Nasrin and Free Speech.

Public Statement by Forum For The Protection of Free Speech and Expression

At a time when India is projecting itself on the
world's stage as a modern democracy, while it hosts
international literary festivals and book fairs, the
Government of India, most mainstream political parties
and their armed squads are mounting a concerted
assault on peoples' right to Free Speech.

It is a matter of abiding shame that even as some of
the world's best-known writers were attending the
Jaipur literary festival and prestigious publishers
were doing business at the World Book fair in Delhi,
the exiled Bengali writer Taslima Nasrin was (and is)
being held in custody by the Government of India in an
undisclosed location somewhere in or around Delhi in
conditions that amount to house arrest. Contrary to
misleading press reports stating that her visa has
been extended, her visa expires on the 18th of
February, after which she is liable to be deported or
remain confined as an illegal alien.

Taslima Nasrin is only one in a long list of
journalists, writers, scholars and artists who have
been persecuted, banned, imprisoned, forced into exile
or had their work desecrated in this country. At
different points of time, different governments have
either directly or indirectly resorted to these
measures in order to fan the flames of religious,
regional and ethnic obscurantism to gain popularity
and expand their 'vote-banks'. Every day the threat to
Free Speech and Expression increases.

In the case of Taslima Nasrin it was the CPI (M) and
not any religious or sectarian group who first tried
to ban her book Dwikhondito some years ago. The ban
was lifted by the Calcutta High Court and the book was
in the market and on bestseller lists in West Bengal
for several years. During those years Taslima Nasrin
lived and worked as a free person in Calcutta without
any threat to her person, without being the cause of
public disorder, protests or demonstrations.
Ironically, Taslima Nasrin's troubles in India began
immediately after the Nandigram uprising when the
people of Nandigram, mostly Dalits and Muslims, rose
to resist the West Bengal Government's attempt to
takeover their land, and tens of thousands of people
marched in Calcutta to protest the government's
actions. Within days a little known group claiming to
speak for the Muslim community asked for a ban on
Dwikhondito and demanded that Taslima Nasrin be
deported. The CPI(M)-led government of West Bengal
immediately caved in to the demand, informed her that
it could not offer her security, and lost no time in
deporting her from West Bengal against her will. The
Congress-led UPA Government has condoned this act by
holding her in custody in Delhi and refusing, thus
far, to extend her visa and relieve her of her public
humiliation. They have once again played the suicidal
card of pitting minority communalism against majority
communalism, a game that can only end in disaster.

Inevitably, hoping to make political capital out of
the situation, the BJP is publicly shedding crocodile
tears over Taslima Nasrin, going to the extent of
offering her asylum in Gujarat. It seems to expect
people to forget that the BJP, VHP and RSS cadres have
been at the forefront of harassing, persecuting,
threatening and vandalizing newspaper offices,
television studios, galleries, cinema halls,
filmmakers, artists and writers. Or that they have
forced M.F. Husain, one of India's best-known
painters, into exile.

Meanwhile, in states like Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh
and Karnataka, away from the public glare of press
conferences and television cameras, journalists are
being threatened and even imprisoned. Prashant Rahi
from Uttarakhand, Praful Jha from Chattisgarh,
Srisailum from Andhra Pradesh, P. Govind Kutty from
Kerala are a few examples. As we speak Govind Kutty,
who is on a hunger strike in prison is being
force-fed, bound hand and foot. Scores of ordinary
people, including people like Binayak Sen have been
arrested and held illegally under false charges.

We the undersigned do not necessarily agree with,
endorse or admire the views or the work of those whose
rights we seek to defend. Many of us have serious
differences with them. We agree that many of them do
offend our (or someone else's) religious, political
and ideological sensibilities. However, we believe
that instead of making them simultaneously into both
victims and heroes, their work should be viewed, read,
criticized and vigorously debated. We believe that the
Freedom of Speech and Expression is an Absolute and
Inalienable Right, and is the keystone of a modern
democracy.

If the Indian Government deports Taslima Nasrin, or
holds her as an illegal alien, it will shame and
diminish all of us. We demand that she be given a
Resident's Permit or, if she has applied for it,
Indian citizenship, and that she be allowed to live
and work freely in India. We demand that the spurious
cases filed against M.F. Husain be dropped and that he
be allowed to return to a normal life in India. We
demand that the journalists who are being illegally
detained in prison against all principles of natural
justice be released immediately.

Read Dr Mrinal Bose's appeal on Taslima here.

Read the letter on Taslima Nasrin by Mahmood Farooqui, Delhi-based columnist, writer and actor here.

Read writer Ruchir Joshi's article on the 21 November 2007 anti-Taslima riot in Calcutta here.

1 comment:

A_N_Nanda said...

Hi Nilakantha,

What you say is perfectly sensible. Let there be an end to demagogy. With so much love for cheap popularity, I wonder, where are we people heading for?

Nanda
http://remixoforchid.blogspot.com
http://ramblingnanda.blogspot.com