Friday, 14 December 2007

A Brief Biography of Taslima Nasrin

Taslima Nasreen was born in August 1962 in a Muslim family in Mymensingh, East Pakistan. Because the area became independent in 1971, her city of birth is now in the country called Bangladesh.

Growing up in a highly restrictive and conservative environment, Taslima was fond of literature while she also excelled in science. She started writing when she was 15 years old, beginning with poetry in literary magazines, and afterwards herself editing a literary periodical called SeNjuti (1978 - 1983). She was the president of a literary organization while in medical college, where she staged many cultural programs. Earning her medical degree in 1984, she worked in public hospitals for eight years.
Her first book of poetry was published in 1986. Her second became a huge success in 1989, and editors of progressive daily and weekly newspapers suggested that she write regular columns. Next she started writing about women's oppression. With no hesitation she criticized religion, traditions, and the oppressive cultures and customs that discriminate against women. Her strong language and uncompromising attitude against male domination stirred many people, eliciting both love and hatred from her readers.
In 1992 she received the prestigious literary award Ananda from West Bengal in India for her Nirbachito Kolam (Selected Columns), the first writer from Bangladesh to earn that award. Despite allegations of jealousy among other writers about this, the topmost intellectuals and writers continued to support her.
Islamic fundamentalists launched a campaign against her in 1990, staging street demonstrations and processions. They broke into newspaper offices that she used to regularly write from, sued her editors and publishers, and put her life in danger, a danger that only increased over time. She was publicly assaulted several times by fundamentalist mobs. No longer was she welcomed to any public places, not even to book fairs that she loved to visit. In 1993, a fundamentalist organization called Soldiers of Islam issued a fatwa against her, a price was set on her head because of her criticism of Islam, and she was confined to her house. The government confiscated her passport and asked her to quit writing if she hoped to keep her job as a medical doctor in Dhaka Medical College Hospital.. She was thus forced to quit her job. Inasmuch as she had become a best-selling author in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India, she managed to survive the hostility. The government, however, banned Lajja (Shame), in which she described the atrocities against Hindu minorities by Muslim fundamentalists, her main message being "Let humanism be the other name of religion." According to Taslima, the religious scriptures are out of time, out of place. Instead of religious laws, she maintains, what is needed is a uniform civil code that accords women equality and justice. Her views caused fourteen different political and non-political religious organizations to unite for the first time, starting violent demonstrations, calling general strikes, blocking government offices, and demanding her immediate execution by hanging. The government, instead of taking action against the fundamentalists, turned against her. A case was filed charging that she hurt people's religious feelings, and a non-bail-able arrest warrant was issued. Deeming prison to be an extremely unsafe place, Taslima went into hiding.. In the meantime two more fatwas were issued by Islamic extremists, two more prices were set on her head, and hundreds of thousands of fundamentalists took to the streets, demanding her death. The majority who were not fundamentalists remained silent. Regardless, some anti-fundamentalist political groups did protest the fundamentalist uprising, but did not defend Taslima as a writer and a human being who should have the freedom to express her views. Only a few writers defended her rights. But the international organization of writers, and many humanist organizations beyond the borders of Bangladesh, came to Taslima's support. News of her plight became known throughout the world. Some western democratic governments that endorse human rights and freedom of expression tried saving her life. After long miserable days in hiding, she was finally granted bail but was also forced to leave her country. Wherever she lived, she fought for human rights and women’s rights. In 1998, without the government's permission she risked a return, to be with her ailing mother. Again, fundamentalists demanded she be killed. When her mother - a religious Muslim - died, nobody came from any mosque to lead her funeral, her crime being that she was the mother of an 'infidel'. A case again was filed against her on the charges of hurting religious feelings of the people. After a few weeks of staying, Taslima was forced to leave her country once more. Taslima was desperate to see her father when he was ill, but the government did not let her go to Bangladesh. Her passport was not renewed, her rights as a citizen had constantly been violated by the governmental authority.
Taslima has been living in exile in Europe. She has written twenty eight books of poetry, essays, novels, and short stories in her native language of Bengali. Many have been translated into twenty different languages. Her applications to the Bangladesh government to be allowed to return have been denied repeatedly. One Bangladesh court sentenced her in absentia to a one-year prison term. The Bangladesh government has recently banned three other of her books, Amar Meyebela ( My girlhood), Utol Hawa (Wild wind) and Sei sob ondhokar(Those dark days). Writers and intellectuals both in Bangladesh and West Bengal went to court to ban her autobiography Ko( speak up) and Dwikhandito( Split in Two). Two million-dollar defamations suits were filed against Taslima by her fellow writers. The West Bengal government finally managed to ban Dwikhandito on the charges of hurting religious feelings of the people. A Human Rights organization in Kolkata flied a case against West Bengal government for banning a book that is against freedom of expression. After two years, the ban was lifted by the Kolkata High Court, which, Taslima says, is a victory for freedom of expression.
The numerous prestigious awards she has received in western countries have resulted in increased international attention to her struggle for women's rights and freedom of expression. She has become a symbol of free-speech. Taslima has been invited to speak in many countries and at renowned universities throughout the world. Her dreams of secularization of society and secular instead of religious education are becoming increasingly more accepted and honored by those who value freedom. Her many books including "Lajja" and "Bigriyaki Keti" has been tranlated to Nepali language too but the translator got life threatening by some muslim fundamentalists.
Taslima now lives in Kolkata

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