Posted by Agnivo Niyogi
21 November 2007. It was about 1 PM in the afternoon. I was waiting to board a metro to College Street, at Maidan station when i got this frantic call from Bham. He advised me to go back home as riots had broken out in Park Circus and were spreading in areas of Central Calcutta. Reason – a few Mollahs had taken exception to sections of Taslima Nasreen’s latest book Dwikhandito and demanded it to be banned. Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque also wanted Taslima’s head as prized collection.
What followed is not unknown to us! The then Left Front government let mob rule the streets. Despite horrific scenes of loot, arson, rioting flashing across TV screens, government did not act. It deployed army late in the evening, when rioters were satiated with scaring little kids returning from school, terrorising housewives out to buy grocery, burning shops and vandalising public property. Curfew was imposed across several parts of the city of “Joy”, citizens had to carry “proof” of belonging to the city to venture out in their own home state! State government was busy consolidating minority vote bank!
Finally, our “cultural” Chief Minister deported Taslima Nasreen out of the city in the darkness of night! A city which boasted of spearheading freedom movement of India, a city where freedom of thought was always celebrated and worshiped, a city which gave birth to revolutionaries, set examples for the rest of the nation to follow, denied a writer her refuge. Taslima’s deportation blacklisted Calcutta as a city which breeds fundamentalism.
Intellectuals, “buddhijibi” they call themselves, hit the streets in protest back then. Political parties scored brownie points by blaming the Left Front government and the Chief Minister (and rightly so) of intellectual bankruptcy. We hoped, a change in the corridors of power will enable Taslima’s return to her home, will resurrect Kolkata’s damaged soul. For four years the voices kept echoing the assertion of freedom of thought and expression. And finally “Poriborton” came in May 2011.
Riding on millions of hopes, Mamata Banerjee assumed the post of Chief Minister promising to do away with the vices that wrecked Bengal for 34 years. We hoped she will do away with the weak administration that bows before fundamentalists who quash the voice of freedom and liberalism in the name of religion. We expected, the intellectuals who had once rallied in favour of Taslima will raise the issue of her return. We waited for a woman CM give another woman the dignity of her home back. Thus far, we are disappointed!
The debate about Taslima is not about religion. It is about the freedom to express oneself fearlesly. It is about the freedom to be able to pen down our opinions without being instructed by any authority. We have every right to take offense to what Taslima writes. We can debate with her, we can take her to court. We can make her pay fine. But never can we demand her death just because she said what she feels. We can never ask her to leave the city that is her home because a few rogue elements held the city to ransom. The highest court of Justice held nothing wrong in Taslima’s book and lifted ban on it. How can an Imam of a mosque override that judgment?
India failed Maqbool Fida Hussain. Kolkata should not fail Taslima. The poet who advocated mind without fear, he who preached us to rise above our pety religious beliefs and strive for humanism, were all born in this great city! The prestige of Calcutta is at stake.