By Piya Srinivasan

exile

One thing we know about Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin, whether through her writings or hearsay, is that she doesn’t mince words. Her memoir follows this legacy. Exile is about the fight of a woman against the state, a commentary on India’s struggle to maintain its secular credentials, the rapidly diminishing arena of free expression, and the ugly effect of vote bank politics on her life. Her open attacks on religion, patriarchy and intolerance are distilled into a retelling of her seven-month ordeal in 2007 against the Indian state’s coercive mechanisms.

Nasrin has many epithets: former physician, humanist, human rights activist, proponent of freedom of expression and women’s rights, battler of fatwas. Forced to leave Bangladesh in 1994 after the religious furore caused by her book Lajja, she led a nomadic existence in Europe and America for a decade. Her repeated attempts to return to Bangladesh were rejected by the government. The last of her three-part memoir, Ka, published as Dwikhandito in West Bengal, was banned by the local government in 2003 for hurting Muslim religious sentiments. In 2004, she was granted a residency permit in India and made a home in Kolkata, the place closest to her homeland in language and culture.

Her narrative — through musings, letters, conversations, diary entries and newspaper reports – uncovers the grit and grime of politics. After an attack on her by religious ideologues linked to the political party AIMIM at the launch of her book Shodh in Hyderabad, a violent protest march by rabble rousers demanding her expulsion from Kolkata expedited the state government’s “Exit Taslima” mission.  She was subsequently put under house arrest on her return to Kolkata, for fear of communal disturbances over her presence. When asked to arrest the protesters, the Commissioner of Police refused, saying this was a “minority issue”. She offers this as proof of manufactured dissent by the state government to secure the Muslim vote bank.

She challenges Buddhadeb Bhattacharya who was the chief minister at the time, on his studied silence over the Dwikhandito ban, approved by him after 25 prominent literary figures read the book and condemned it, clearly belying the Left Front’s progressive ideals. She condemns many of the city’s intellectuals and exposes the media-politics alliance through the instance of Anandabazar Patrika editor-in-chief Aveek Sarkar stalling her interview for the newspaper on the then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee’s behest, allegedly to appease fundamentalist factions in West Bengal.

As Dalrymple changes his mind on Rajiv Malhotra, JLF attendees must take on Dinanath Batra and the threat to books in India, says Hartosh Singh Bal

william_dalrympleThe Jaipur Literature Festival, or to give it its rightful name this year, the ZEE-Jaipur Literature Festival, has, like every other year, attracted a number of well-known authors. But this year in India is not like any other year. We have a new government in place, and the change from one dispensation to another is reflected in the festival as Tarun Tejpal gives way to Tarun Vijay.

Of course it is not incumbent upon the festival to reflect on this change; politics need not be the stuff of literature. But over the past year, a man named Dinanath Batra—who has the full endorsement of the current dispensation—has had considerable success in ensuring that publishers think more than twice about publishing anything that may annoy the Sangh Parivar, which is but a name for the vast amorphous machinery of Hindutva ideologues that drives the BJP. So even if politics does not concern the festival, its impact on literature should.