The young Bangladesh writer has walked into the eye of a cultural storm by speaking out unflinchingly about the condition
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 uphold.
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