Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Am But A Disembodied Voice, The Living Dead

What have I done that I can neither cross my own threshold nor enjoy
human company?
Where am I? I am certain no one will believe me if I say I have no answer
to this apparently straightforward question, but the truth is I just do not
know. And if I were to be asked how I am, I would again answer: I don’t
know. I am like the living dead: benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of
existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic
confines of my room. Day and night, night and day. Yes, this is how I have
been surviving.
This nightmare did not begin when I was suddenly bundled out of
Calcutta—it has been going on for a while. It is like a slow and lingering
death, like sipping delicately from a cupful of slow-acting poison that is
gradually killing all my faculties. This is a conspiracy to murder my essence,
my being, once so courageous, so brave, so dynamic, so playful. I realize
what is going on around me but am utterly helpless, despite my best
efforts, to wage a battle on my own behalf. I am merely a disembodied
voice. Those who once stood by me have disappeared into the darkness.
I ask myself: what heinous crime have I committed? What sort of life is this
where I can neither cross my own threshold nor know the joys of human
company? What crime have I committed that I have to spend my life
hidden away, relegated to the shadows? For what crimes am I being
punished by this society, this land? I wrote of my beliefs and my
convictions. I used words, not violence, to express my ideas. I did not take
recourse to pelting stones or bloodshed to make my point. Yet, I am

considered a criminal. I am being persecuted because it was felt that the
right of others to express their opinions was more legitimate than mine.
Does India not realize how immense the suffering must be for an individual
to renounce her most deeply-held beliefs? How humiliated, frightened,
and insecure I must have been to allow my words to be censored. If I had
not agreed to the grotesque bowdlerization of my writings by those who
insisted on it, I would have been hounded and pursued till I dropped
dead. Their politics, their faith, their barbarism, and their diabolical
purposes are all intent on sucking the lifeblood out of me, because the
truths I write are so difficult for them to stomach. How can I—a powerless
and unprotected individual—battle brute force? But come what may, I
cannot take recourse to untruth.
What have I to offer but love and compassion? In the way that they used
hatred to rip out my words, I would like to use compassion and love to rip
the hatred out of them. Certainly, I am enough of a realist to
acknowledge that strife, hatred, cruelty and barbarism are integral
elements of the human condition. This will not change; and how can an
insignificant creature like me change all this? If I were to be eradicated or
exterminated, it would not matter one whit to the world at large. I know all
this. Yet, I had imagined Bengal would be different. I had thought the
madness of her people was temporary. I had thought that the Bengal I
loved so passionately would never forsake me. She did.
Exiled from Bangladesh, I wandered around the world for many years like
a lost orphan. The moment I was given shelter in West Bengal, it felt as
though all those years of numbing tiredness just melted away. I was able
to resume a normal life in a beloved and familiar land. So long as I survive,
I will carry within me the vistas of Bengal, her sunshine, her wet earth, her
very essence. The same Bengal whose sanctuary I once walked many
blood-soaked miles to reach has now turned its back upon me. I am a
Bengali within and without; I live, breathe, and dream in Bengali. I find it
hard to believe that I am no longer wanted in Bengal.
I am a guest in this land, I must be careful of what I say. I must do nothing
that violates the code of hospitality. I did not come here to hurt anyone’s
sentiments or feelings. Wounded and hurt in my own country, I suffered
slights and injuries in many lands before I reached India, where I knew I
would be hurt yet again. For this is, after all, a democratic and secular
land where the politics of the vote bank imply that being secular is
equated with being pro-Muslim fundamentalist. I do not wish to believe all
this. I do not wish to hear all this. Yet, all around me I read, hear, and see
evidence of this. I sometimes wish I could be like those mythical monkeys,
oblivious to all the evil that is going on around me. Death who visits me in
many forms now feels like a friend. I feel like talking to him, unburdening
myself to him. I have no one else to speak to, no one else to whom I can
unburden myself.
I have lost my beloved Bengal. No child torn from its mother’s breast could
have suffered as much as I did during that painful parting. Once again, I
have lost the mother from whose womb I was born. The pain is no less
than the day I lost my biological mother. My mother had always wanted
me to return home. That was something I could not do. After settling down
in Calcutta, I was able to tell my mother, who by then was a memory
within me, that I had indeed returned home. How did it matter which side
of an artificial divide I was on? Now, I do not have the courage to tell my
mother that I have been unceremoniously expelled by those who had
once given me shelter, that my life now is that of a nomad. My sensitive
mother would be shattered if I were to tell her all this. Instead, I have now
taken to convincing myself that I must have transgressed somewhere,
committed some grievous error. Why else would I be in such a situation? Is
daring to utter the truth a terrible sin in this era of falsehood and deceit? Is
it because I am a woman?
I know I have not been condemned by the masses. If their opinion had
been sought, I am certain the majority would have wanted me to stay on
in Bengal. But when has a democracy reflected the voice of the masses?
A democracy is run by those who hold the reins of power, who do exactly
what they think fit. An insignificant individual, I must now live life on my
own terms and write about what I believe in and hold dear. It is not my
desire to harm, malign, or deceive. I do not lie. I try not to be offensive. I
am but a simple writer who neither knows nor understands the dynamics
of politics. The way in which I was turned into a political pawn, however,
and treated at the hands of base politicians, beggars belief. For what
end, you may well ask. A few measly votes. The force of fundamentalism,
which I have opposed and fought for many years, has only been
strengthened by my defeat.
This is my beloved India, where I have been living and writing on secular
humanism, human rights and emancipation of women. This is also the land
where I have had to suffer and pay the price for my most deeply held
and fundamental convictions, where not a single political party of any
persuasion has spoken out in my favour, where no non-governmental
organization, women’s rights or human rights group has stood by me or
condemned the vicious attacks launched upon me. This is an India I have
never before known. Yes, it is true that individuals in a scattered,
unorganized manner are fighting for my cause, and journalists, writers, and
intellectuals have spoken out in my favour, even if they have never read a
word I have written. Yet, I am grateful for their opinions and support.
Wherever individuals gather in groups, they seem to lose their power to
speak out. Frankly, this facet of the new India terrifies me. Then again, is
this a new India, or is it the true face of the nation? I do not know. Since my
earliest childhood I have regarded India as a great land and a fearless
nation. The land of my dreams: enlightened, strong, progressive, and
tolerant. I want to be proud of that India. I will die a happy person the day
I know India has forsaken darkness for light, bigotry for tolerance. I await
that day. I do not know whether I will survive, but India and what she
stands for has to survive.
Delhi /18 Dec

Taslima Nasreen/Taslima Nasrin
Research Scholar, New York University


Born: 25 August, 1962, Mymensingh, Bangladesh
Citizenship: Bangladesh, Sweden
Deported: From Bangladesh in 1994, then from India in 2008 because of her views
on women’s rights, secular humanism, and freedom of expression.


Degree: M.B.B.S. (Equivalent to M.D.), 1984
Honorary: Ghent University in 1995; American University of Paris in 2005.
Training: 1985 – In-service Training at Mymensingh Medical College and Hospital
Work: 1986 – 1993 Numerous Bangladesh health clinics and public hospitals

Lectures ( In the Universities)
From 1994 to 2009
1.Oxford University, UK. 2.Nottingham University, UK 3.Edinburgh University, UK 4.Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland 5.University College of Dublin, Ireland 6.La Sorbonne University, France 7.Université Jésuite, France 8. Udine University, Italy 9.University of Graz, Austria 10.Gent University, Belgium 11.Uppsala University, Sweden 12.Helsinki University, Finland 13.Johannesburg University, South Africa 14.Harvard University, U.S.A. 15.Michigan State University, U.S.A. 16.California State University, U.S.A. 17.Maryland State University, U.S.A. 18.Boston University, U.S.A. 19.Tufts University, U.S.A. 20.Wellesley College, U.S.A. 21.Dartmouth College, U.S.A. 22.College of Charleston, U.S.A.23.Yale University, U.S.A. 24.Concordia University, Canada 25.Quebec University, Canada 26.Toronto University, Canada 27.Brusseles University, Belgium 28.Lille University, France 29. American University of Paris, France 30. Barcelona University, Spain 31.Kolkata University, India 32. Taipei National University of Arts, Taiwan etc.

Honors and Awards

1992 Ananda Literary Award, India
Natyasava Award, Bangladesh

1994 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thoughts, European Parliament
Human Rights Award, Government of France
Edict of Nantes Prize, Nantes, France
Kurt Tucholsky Prize, Swedish P.E.N., Sweden
Hellman-Hammett Grant, Human Rights Watch, USA
Humanist Award, Human-Etisk Forbund, Norway
Feminist of the Year 1994, Feminist Majority Foundation

1995 Honorary Doctorate, Ghent University, Belgium
Scholarship, German Academic Exchange Service, Germany
Monismanien Prize, Uppsala University, Sweden

1996 Distinguished Humanist Award, International Humanist and Ethical Union, (IHEU) Great Britain
Humanist Laureate, International Academy of Humanism, USA
Scholarship, Villa Waldverta, Germany

1999 Scholarship, Moulin D’ande, Normandy, France
Scholarship from Cultural Ministry, France

2000 Ananda Literary Award, India
Global Leader for Tomorrow, World Economic Forum

2002 Erwin Fischer Award, International League of Non-religious and Atheists
(IBKA), Germany
Free thought Heroine Award, Freedom From Religion Foundation, USA
Fellowship at Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, John F. Kennedy
school of Government, Harvard University. USA
My Girlhood awarded one of best non-fiction books by Los Angeles Times
(California) and Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

2003 Resident Scholar, Harvard University

2004 UNESCO Prize for the promotion of tolerance and

2005 Honorary Doctorate American University of Paris, France
Grand Prix International Condorcet-Aron, from the French Parliament in

2006 Sharatchandra literary award , West Bengal, India

2008 Honorary citizenship of Paris, France
Simone de Beauvoir Feminist Award, France

2008 Resident Scholar, New York University

2009 Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, USA


▪ Shikore Bipul Khudha (Hunger in the Roots), 1986
▪ Nirbashito Bahire Ontore (Banished Without and Within), 1989
▪ Amar Kichu Jay Ashe Ne (I Couldn’t Care Less), 1990
▪ Atole Ontorin (Captive In the Abyss), 1991
▪ Balikar Gollachut (Game of the Girls), 1992
▪ Behula Eka Bhashiyechilo Bhela (Behula Floated the Raft Alone), 1993
▪ Ay Kosto Jhepe, Jibon Debo Mepe (Pain Come Roaring Down, I’ll Measure Out My Life for You), 1994
▪ Nirbashito Narir Kobita (Poems From Exile), 1996
▪ Jolpodyo (Waterlilies), 2000
▪ Khali Khali Lage (Feeling Empty), 2004
▪ Kicchukhan Thako (Stay For A While), 2005
▪ Bhalobaso? Cchai baso (It's your love! or a heap of trash!), 2007
▪ Bondini (Prisoner), 2008

Essay collections
▪ Nirbachito column (Selected Columns), 1990
▪ Jabo na Keno? jabo (I will not go; why should I?), 1991
▪ Noshto meyer noshto goddo (Fallen prose of a fallen girl), 1992
▪ ChoTo choTo dukkho kotha (Tale of trivial sorrows), 1994
▪ Narir Kono Desh Nei (Women have no country), 2007
▪ Oporpokkho (The Opponent) 1992
▪ Shodh (Revenge), 1992
▪ Nimontron (Invitation) 1993
▪ Phera (Return) 1993
▪ Lajja (Shame), 1993
▪ Bhromor Koio Gia (Tell Him The Secret) 1994
▪ Forashi Premik (French Lover) 2002
▪ Shorom (Shame Again) 2009

Short Story
▪ Dukkhoboty meye (Sad girls) 1994
▪ Minu 2007

▪ Amar Meyebel (My Girlhood) 1999
▪ Utal Hawa (Gusty Wind) 2002
▪ Ka (Speak Up) 2003
▪ Dwikhondito (The Life Divided) 2003
▪ Sei Sob Andhokar (Those Dark Days) 2004
▪ Ami Bhalo Nei, Tumi Bhalo Theko Priyo Desh (My Exile) 2006.

1. Lajja ( Shame) was banned by the Bangladesh Government in 1993
2 Amar Meyebela ( My Girlhood) was banned by the Bangladesh Government in 1999.
3 Utal Hawa ( Gusty Wind) was banned by the Bangladesh Government in 2002.
4 Ko ( Speak Up) was banned by the High Court of Bangladesh in 2003.
5 Sei Sob Ondhokar ( Those Dark Days) was banned by the Bangladesh Government in 2004.
6. Dwikhandito ( The Life Divided) was banned in India in 2003. But the High Court lifted the ban on the book in 2005.

Islamic fundamentalists issued three fatwas in Bangladesh to date against Nasrin, and four were issued against her in India. They all set price on her head.

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