The young Bangladesh writer has walked
into the eye of a cultural storm by speaking out unflinchingly about
of minorities and women in a conservative society.
Taslima Nasreen’s voice of dissent makes us awake and realise the
pathologies this male-dominated world which we, otherwise, take for
granted. This power she has gained not because she is just another
feminist writer with awards and prizes. We all know that there is no
dearth of feminist writers and feminism has well been appropriated by
the dominant cultural industry.
But the fact is that Taslima Nasreen is different; she is unique. She
is not a “contemplative” thinker, she does not theorise; her writings
are refreshingly free from poststructuralist/postmodernist jargon. She
does not have any academic pretension. Truth, she knows, is simple and
direct. And that is her power. Her every word, it seems, is born out of
her intense experience.
That is why, one can see her poetry, essays and novels being read and
appreciated by a wide spectrum of people; from a school girl to a
housewife to a university professor. These days it is difficult to find
any sensible person in Bengal not talking about Taslima. Her Bengali is extraordinary
lyrical. She makes one realise once again how rich and
powerful this language is. And, particularly at a time when the
cultural elites of the sub-continent are obsessed with English,
Taslima comes as a refreshing departure. To read Taslima is to feel the
richness of our own language.
Taslima Nasreen belongs to Bangladesh. She is only thirty one years
old. She is a doctor. And, she is a writer, an essayist, a novelist, a
poet. But she is beyond all these professional roles. She, it would not
be an exaggeration to say, symbolises the lost sanity. That is
why, she can feel every moment of insanity, oppression and injustice.
Truth has given her the courage.
She cannot remain silent. She writes, she speaks. She reacts. In her
poetry, for instance, women speak. She enters into their subjective
states of mind, allows them to tell their stories,: their misery and
suffering, their hopes and aspirations. She restores the lost
subjectivity to women. In her recently published novel Lajja (
Shame), she speaks what ought to be spoken—the suffering of the
minority community in her own country. And every page of her Nirbachita
Column ( selections from columns) takes us to a world in which the
prevailing patriarchal ideologies get demystified.
In other words, Taslima is alive, intensely alive. It is this aliveness
that a dead society cannot bear. That is why, Taslima is a threat; she
is a “betrayer”; she is a negation of “religion”, she is an
antithesis of “tradition”! Stop her voice! Finish her!
How insecure the fundamentalist forces are! There cannot be any
reconciliation between life and death , between truth and falsehood,
Taslima would not accept her defeat. She writes, “ I have seen death. I
have seen terrible terrible darkness. Yet, I am moving continually
towards life ..I am a woman, and I am proud of that. I know my
strength, my honesty, my purity.”
Nor surprisingly, what disturbs Taslima is the excessive “ body
consciousness” women have been induced to cultivate. How sad it is,
women are not seen as complete persons with creativity, rationality and
intelligence. Women get reduced into bodies: soulless bodies. And
“men have always loved to eat those bodies.” The entire function
of socialisation, Taslima argues, is to make a woman feel that she is
nothing but her body. If she is not “physically beautiful”, if she
fails to “fascinate” men, she is finished, finished forever.
What does Taslima see? Taslima sees women obsessed with their bodies, “
obsessed with cold cream, powder, soap, lipstick.. ” Men are clever
enough to give a new meaning to this vulgarisation of beauty. Women,
they call, are “like flowers”. Flowers, showpieces, but by no means
equal human beings! And when flowers are not blooming they can be
thrown into the dustbin as “damaged” materials. “Like egg, milk and
fish, women can be “destroyed”. Men cannot be destroyed. Women are
“things”. And like all other things women can be destroyed!
While reflecting on this everyday degradation of women Taslima raises
her voice against all “patriarchal religions”. Be it Islam or the Vedic
religion—nothing has escaped Taslima’s critical reflection. All these
religions are based on ”the principles of exclusion”. No light
has been allowed to enter this dark world. Religion, Taslima says,
belittles women, makes them secondary, dependent on men. Freedom
requires the courage to debunk all the ”ideals” religion seem to
With this criticality Taslima looks at contemporary capitalism, its
market economy, its consumerist ethos. There is nothing in this
”modernity” that Taslima would celebrate. It too ”reduces women into
images, images, to be bought and sold in the market place”. Taslima
knows that this ”liberation” is superficial; she cannot give her
consent to the ”commodification” of Eros!
That is why, perhaps, Taslima cannot forget V.I. Lenin. Socialism is
out of fashion; Lenin has been reduced into a historical memory. Yet,
Taslima would recall Lenin, his emancipator urge, the promise of his
socialism – the way it would liberate women, make them realise their
humanity and create a world in which, for the first time, there would
be reciprocity, humanity and equality. If this civilisation denies
Lenin and his great historic mission, Taslima reminds us, ”one would
lose more than women”.
Likewise, Taslima recalls Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar – the great rebel
of the nineteenth century of India – for his life-long battle for
women’s cause and widow remarriage. ”Why are we forgetting,” Taslima
asks, ”these historic lessons?”
Is there any way out? Taslima’s message is: ”Rise up women, rise up!”
For years women have believed that the only meaning of their existence
is to live for men, serve men”. This case they have to break.
This finitude, this limitedness they have to overcome. They are endowed
with ”infinite possibilities”. ”Learn to live, women! This sky is
yours; all its stars are yours, This river, this forest, this mountain
– everything is yours.... Rise up, women, begin to move. The entire
world is yours”.
That is Taslima Nasreen. If, because of our cowardice, we want to stop
her voice, we would lose another opportunity to purify ourselves.
INDIAN EXPRESS, 10 October 1993