Why secularists are silent on religious bullying of writers

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Taslima Nasrin. Photo: Handout

The silence from India’s secular society has been quite astounding after Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin was stopped at Aurangabad airport on Saturday by the same Muslim fringe group that attacked her 10 years ago at a book launch in Hyderabad.

Nasrin did not come to Aurangabad, in Maharashtra province, to make a speech. She only came to see Buddhist cave monuments in Ajanta and Ellora. But the slogan-shouting members of the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) asked her to go return to Delhi or face more trouble.

AIMIM’s lawmaker Imtiyaz Jaleel defended the protest, saying Nasrin’s writings hurt her group’s religious sentiments. Local police advised Nasrin to drop her tour plans and proceed to Mumbai on the same flight. She readily agreed.

Jaleel’s party can celebrate again. In August 2007, a group of 20 AIMIM workers led by three lawmakers roughed Nasrin up during the release of the Telugu translation of her novel ‘Shodh’ (Getting Even).

Nasrin principal ‘offense’ is that her Bengali novel ‘Lajja’ (Shame) exposed the revenge atrocities committed by Muslims on Hindus in Bangladesh after a mob razed the 16th century Babri mosque in India in 1992.

These incidents show how little writers are protected in a society that has become increasingly intolerant to divergent views

Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses against whom Iran issued a fatwa in 1989, faced a similar situation in India in 1993. A day before his Kolkata visit, however, the state police said he would not be allowed to enter the city and would be put on the next plane out. Rushdie canceled his trip.

These and many more such incidents show how little writers are protected in a society that has become increasingly intolerant to divergent views.

Illustrating that the problem derives not only from Muslim intolerance, three rationalists – Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi – were shot dead by suspected Hindu fringe groups between 2013 and 2015.

More recently, Deepa Nisanth, a professor from Kerala, received death threats from Hindu fringe groups last month for approving a nude painting of Goddess Saraswathi by the late MF Hussain at a campus exhibition.

Also last month, a progressive Keralan writer, KP Ramanunni, received an anonymous letter threatening that his limbs would be chopped off if he did not convert to Islam within six months. The letter reminded him of the fate of Professor TJ Joseph, whose right hand was chopped off by a radical Muslim group as he was returning home from church in July 2010.

Tamil novelist Perumal Murugan even decided to give up writing after his novel ‘Mathorubhagan’ (One Part Woman) came under attack by Hindu fringe groups in 2015, although he changed his mind following a high court order urging him to keep on writing.

Since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, nearly 40 writers have returned their Sahitya Akademi awards, protesting curbs on their freedom of expression and violence against intellectuals. The BJP sees these acts as being politically orchestrated.

Muslim and Hindu fringe groups are attacking writers for the following reasons:

The silence from India’s secular society over Nasrin’s predicament is understandable. In India, one gains the tag “secular” through backing minority groups. All too often, those who support the majority group are branded “fascists” by intellectuals. And no “secular” intellectual will risk damaging his reputation by speaking out against minority – in this instance, Muslim – ills, as this would be seen to favor the Hindu majority. In Nasrin’s case, they may be thinking “After all, she is a foreigner, why bother?”

But Nasreen considers India as her country and home. Secularists should have been full-throated in their condemnations of the protests against her at Aurangabad airport.

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