Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Devil's Advocate: Taslima Nasrin

"I dream of a beautiful world where no women will be oppressed"

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. As the Indian Government takes its time responding to Taslima Nasrin's application for citizenship how does she respond to her critics? Those are the two issues I shall tackle today in an interview with Taslima Nasrin. Ms Nasrin you recently said 'I would like to be known more as an activist who can influence society than as a writer. Are trying to change the world'.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes. I have a dream, I dream of a beautiful world where no women will be oppressed.

Karan Thapar: You have also said something else which I find very perplexing. You said 'if you want to be a human being, a good person you have to first be bad in this society.' Are you suggesting that good people defy society they defy its values and its conventions and therefore they are considered bad.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes I think so.

Karan Thapar: And are you a bad person in that sense.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: You defy society.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: And you defy its conventions.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: And you enjoy doing so.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Your critics say that this is just posturing. They say Taslima Nasrin says things, she does things, she adopts positions to attract attention and give herself publicity.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not true.

Karan Thapar: Are your critics being unfair?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: Let's begin by talking about some of the things you have said about Islam. You have said it's not true that Islam is good for humanity its not all good. Islam completely denies human rights. And then later elsewhere you have written about what you called the 'venomous snake' of Islam. How do you justify these extreme views?

Taslima Nasrin: You know if any religion keeps people in ignorance, if any religion allows the people to persecute other people of different faith and if any religion keeps women in slavery then I can't accept that religion.

Karan Thapar: You are saying Islam does all of that.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: But the truth Taslima Nasrin is that all over the world Islam is recognised as a religion that perhaps has done more for women's rights than any other in the area of education, inheritance even giving them a legal identity in their marriage.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not true. There is no equality between man and women in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance under Islam.

Karan Thapar: In Islam for instance just to take inheritance women have a right to inherit, it's an inalienable right. Again in Islam a woman in a marriage is a legal entity of her own. The marriage itself is not just a sacrament it's a contract.

Taslima Nasrin: Yes but women do not get equality. Women get half of the property than their brothers get.

Karan Thapar: Can I put something to you? As someone who is born as Muslim you know that the fault really lies in the way Islam is interpreted or the way Islam is enforced. But by blaming Islam itself, which is what you are doing, aren't you pandering to the Western world's present prejudice with Islam.

Taslima Nasrin: Of course not. I criticize Islam and also I criticize Christianity, Judaism I criticize Hinduism because women are oppressed by old religions. Old religions are anti-women. Religions were made for men and men made religions for there own fun, for there own interest.

Karan Thapar: So you are the enemy of all religions?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes.

Karan Thapar: When I say enemy, should I in fact be saying do you hate religion?

Taslima Nasrin: You know there are many people who believe in religion. I do not hate those people. I consider them as human being. But they believe in religion – that religion itself is against women. It's not only the fundamentalists. Religion actually was created by men for their own interest. Yes some people can believe in religion I don't object it but the thing is that we should not practice religion because it's against humanity, against humanism, against human rights, against women's rights, against freedom of expression…

Karan Thapar: You are going even further than Marx ever went. Marx described religion as the sigh of the oppressed creature, as the heart of a heartless world, as the soul of soulless conditions. You are saying something quite different. You are saying it's against humanity.

Taslima Nasrin: It's against humanity.

Karan Thapar: And you don't say this for effect.

Taslima Nasrin: Because you know if women are oppressed by old religions and if you do not believe in women's rights then you do not believe in human rights, then you do not believe in humanism.

Karan Thapar: But your critics say that you are only saying this to attract attention, that you are only saying this to give yourself publicity to make yourself controversial…

Taslima Nasrin: No I don't need publicity. It's a dangerous thing to say. The fundamentalist issued fatwa against me, they set price on my head and I couldn't live in my own country I had to live in exile for more than 12 years.

Karan Thapar: So you sincerely believe all these things?

Taslima Nasrin: I sincerely believe all these things.

Karan Thapar: All right lets come to something else that your critic says. Let's come to your autobiographies. You have gone out of your way in your autobiographies to give explicit details of your sexual liaisons without consulting the other party and without carrying about other party's right of privacy. How do you justify that except on the grounds of providing 'forgive me cheap titillation'?

Taslima Nasrin: You know I wrote my autobiography and I wanted to tell everything what happened to me everything.

Karan Thapar: But what about the other party, doesn't the other party have a right to some privacy.

Taslima Nasrin: They didn't tell me that they need privacy.

Karan Thapar: Do they need to tell you?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes or if they told me I would not have listened to them. If they cheated me if they exploited me why should I hide that?

Karan Thapar: But did they exploit you? They made love to you they didn't expect that to be revealed to the world.

Taslima Nasrin: Why shouldn't I. I wanted to.

Karan Thapar: Is it ethical?

Taslima Nasrin: I think so.

Karan Thapar: Or was it simply done to attract attention to the book.

Taslima Nasrin: I don't need any attract attention.

Karan Thapar: You see its not just people's privacy that you have invaded you have also compromised third party. For instance in one of your autobiographies you reveal that Syed Shamsul Haq told you that he was having a relationship with his sister-in-law. That poor woman perhaps didn't want the world to know but you trumpet all over her rights by revealing it.

Taslima Nasrin: You know I only mentioned the things what was important to me.

Karan Thapar: Why was this important to you?

Taslima Nasrin: Because first time I heard that one big man whom I considered my idol or who was a big writer whom I respected very much and he was saying that he was having sex with that woman or this woman, he wanted to do that thing or this thing, that I actually couldn't imagine.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. You wanted to teach him a lesson or you wanted to pay him back in his own coin but as a result you have compromised the poor sister-in-law. She may have wanted privacy, she may have wanted secrecy she may not have wanted the world to know that she was having a relationship with her brother-in-law you have done that for her.

Taslima Nasrin: I have no intentions to embarrass her.

Karan Thapar: But you have done it.

Taslima Nasrin: No I did my things. I was writing my autobiography so I have to tell everything that I knew was truth and I had to tell the truth.

Karan Thapar: All right you say you have to tell the truth in which case why did you settle out of court with H Jalal. When H Jalal first accused you of writing fantasy and fiction you retorted that he was speaking a pack of lies and yet when he took you to court you settled out of court. You agreed to remove his name you agreed to in fact expunge large sections of the description of your relationship with him. Why?

Taslima Nasrin: It was actually done by my publisher.

Karan Thapar: You could have refused.

Taslima Nasrin: I refused that…

Karan Thapar: So you mean they did it without your permission?

Taslima Nasrin: It was just they changed the name. Already his name was known and he filed case against me.

Karan Thapar: But then addition to changing the name large sections of description of your relationship with him was expunged.

Taslima Nasrin: No.

Karan Thapar: It says so in the Hindu newspaper. December 19, 2003.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's false.

Karan Thapar: You never corrected it you never denied it.

Taslima Nasrin: I did that in the Bengali newspaper.

Karan Thapar: Why not in English?

Taslima Nasrin: They didn't ask me.

Karan Thapar: All right at least you changed the name. If you believe what you are doing was justifiable and that you are telling the truth why changed the name?

Taslima Nasrin: I didn't want to change the name but it was publisher's pressure that I had to change the name.

Karan Thapar: Why did you give in to pressure.

Taslima Nasrin: I didn't want to … but publishes sends out my book a lot…

Karan Thapar: Without your permission?

Taslima Nasrin: Without my permission.

Karan Thapar: Did you considered taking the publishers to court?

Taslima Nasrin: I did not and I don't think that it is a compromise. There are lots of books of mine, which were banned by Bangladesh government.

Karan Thapar: Your books may be banned but I am talking about the principle of revealing people's personal details of invading their privacy. I put it to you that your critics say Taslima Nasrin only does this to titillate to attract attention to create controversy.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not true.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you then another sentence from your autobiography, which people say it proofs that she only writes to attract attention. You say "I think a woman can maintain her chastity even after maintaining sexual relationships with ten men. " That may sound clever it may be catchy but it's meaningless.

Taslima Nasrin: No it's not meaningless. Actually what I said that honesty.. one person can be honest one woman can be honest.

Karan Thapar: There is difference between honesty and chastity. Chastity is not a state of mind it's a physical state.

Taslima Nasrin: You know there is a word in Bengali, which is sath means honest and shotti means chaste woman. So there is no word for man in that sense. So I related the word sath and shotti. Sath means honest so one woman can be honest after having sexual relations with ten men.

Karan Thapar: You sound a bit like humpty dumpty. He said I use words to mean what I want them to mean. You have every right to do that as an author the problem is it becomes very difficult to communicate and almost impossible to understand. If you keep using words in this way you are simply playing with them.

Taslima Nasrin: No actually you don't know Bengali. If you knew Bengali you would understand that the two words sound the same like sath and shotti.

Karan Thapar: Your critics say that Taslima Nasrin is her own worst enemy.

Taslima Nasrin: I don't think so. Critics can say anything. I know what I am doing and I am telling the truth. I want to change the society I want to make women conscious about their rights and freedom. I don't want any religious law I don't want any patriarchal system.

Karan Thapar: Lets turn to your application to become an Indian citizen. Its been almost two-years since you applied and even today a decision has not ben taken on it. Meanwhile you visa has only been extended for six-months at a time. Do you think you have been treated fairly?

Taslima Nasrin: I don't think so. Most of the people in this country as far as I know want me to be a citizen of India. I was persecuted in my country and I had to live in exile for over 12-years. I speak Bengali and I would love to live in Bengal, in India. I think its humane to allow me to live in this country.

Karan Thapar: For two-years now the Indian Government hasn't given you its decision. How much unhappiness has that caused you?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes I am unhappy and its really not a very good condition that I'm living in. I live in constant tension that I might have to leave.

Karan Thapar: The other thing is that they wont give you a visa for more than six-months at a time. Businessmen can get a visa for a year or more but they only give you an extension of six-months. Is that unfair?

Taslima Nasrin: I dint know whether it is fair or unfair. But I am unhappy with the way I have been treated by the Indian Government.

Karan Thapar: In March you told the PTI that the hold-up was because the West Bengal government hadn't given a letter of recommendation to you saying that you should be made an Indian citizen. Why did the West Bengal government do so?

Taslima Nasrin: I think the West Bengal government banned my book because they wanted to make Muslims of West Bengal happy. May be, if I live there the Muslims will be unhappy.

Karan Thapar: So it's become a political issue?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes it has. I think so.

Karan Thapar: Have you raised this with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee?

Taslima Nasrin: I tried meeting him so many times but it seems it's impossible to get an access to him. He refused to meet me and I might try again.

Karan Thapar: Are you trying with confidence or are you just trying it because you think, you have to keep trying?

Taslima Nasrin: I have to keep trying because I love to live in India. It's important for me to live in India.

Karan Thapar: In the meantime the All India Ibtehad Council has announced a bounty of Rs 5 lakh for your life. Do you feel safe in India?

Taslima Nasrin: Though it's not safe here but still I love to live in India. I would live in India despite threats.

Karan Thapar: But aren't you scared that some fundamentalist, some mad man might come and shoot you because there is a Rs 5 lakh bounty on your head?

Taslima Nasrin: It can happen in any part of the world. Fundamentalists are there everywhere. When I was living in Bangladesh, the fundamentalist could kill me any moment. When I was living in Europe, I got security but still fundamentalist could kill me there. There was a constant threat.

Karan Thapar: So you aren't scared that some fundamentalist might come and kill you because there is a bounty on your head?

Taslima Nasrin: No I'm not scared at all.

Karan Thapar: The paradox is that political situation is changing in Bangladesh dramatically. Democracy is being revived, jehadist are being arrested and even killed and people are breathing easy again. How do you regard those changes in your own country?

Taslima Nasrin: I think it's temporary.

Karan Thapar: You don't see this as the beginning of a change in Bangladesh?

Taslima Nasrin: I would like to think that its the beginning of a change in Bangladesh. But who would to power? It would be the same old political parties who are pro-fundamentalists use Islam for their own interests, to get votes from the ignorant masses. They would come to power and would never allow me to live in my own country.

Karan Thapar: So are you saying that things in Bangladesh would only change when the leaders of the Awami league and the Bangladeshi nation party will be completely removed from politics? And that an altogether new blood, new people be allowed to step in?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes I think so. A revolution is needed in Bangladesh.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what the editor of the Bangladesh newspaper The Daily Star wrote about you on March 21. He said "it is time that the state moves to reinstate the rights of a woman who has been wronged for over 13-years. She belongs here, whether or not anybody likes it."

Taslima Nasrin: It's wonderful. I felt happy that somebody supported me in Bangladesh. But this is one lonely voice and certainly not enough to make to go back.

Karan Thapar: So India has to be your home in the foreseeable future, since Bangladesh is not safe.

Taslima Nasrin: I think so.

Karan Thapar: Why don't you speak to the Indian government asking them to be allowed to stay here, be given a longer visa and be given citizenship?

Taslima Nasrin: Yes, I would like to say that.

Karan Thapar: Regardless of the fact that your critics say she is posturing.

Taslima Nasrin: That's false.

Karan Thapar: It was a pleasure talking to you.

Taslima Nasrin: Thanks you. #

The interview was broadcast on By IBNlive.com, 22 April 2007