Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Taslima Nasreen and secularism in India

Last week Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer and free thinker, was assaulted by lunatics of a right wing political outfit at a function in Hyderabad city. Taslima's main concern, among other issues of religious oppression, has been the miserable plight of women in Islam and she has time and again tried to highlight this issue through her writings and speeches. She is hated by fundamentalist Muslims and has been hounded out of her country where she faces death threats from self styled guardians of religion and zealots who are ready to kill anyone not agreeing with their definition of faith. She is living in India on a temporary visa that is extended on expiry. Though she has applied for permanently living in India the government has yet to decide on such a status for her.

It is alarming that this murderous attack on Taslima happened in India where we constantly beat the drums of our secular traditions and religious tolerance. Worse still, the attackers included some legislators who are under oath to protect the constitution of the country and practice what is right in the eyes of law. Giving further fillip to these tendencies of lawlessness, another similar outfit has blamed the attackers for letting her escape alive. Taslima reportedly locked herself inside a room while the criminals vandalised the premises of the press club where she was attending a book release function.

There has been a widespread condemnation by saner minds, cutting across political and religious lines, of this shameless attack on an individual's right to dissent and freedom of expression. However, we have yet to see a seemingly judicious move by the authorities. Let us see what the authorities are saying and doing in this matter.

Firstly, the police department. The police, as is their wont, claim they had no information about the event at the press club. Had they been told in advance they would have certainly taken preventive measures, they said. Very true, the police in India have always to be goaded into action. Then came the most comic part of the police action. They booked Taslima for inciting religious hatred and disturbing communal harmony on the complaint of the same legislator who took leading part in the murderous attack on her and then threatened that she would be beheaded the next time she entered the city.

And now, what the government said. One minister visited the press club and proudly announced that the restoration work would be done by the government out of public funds. That means using taxpayer's money to compensate for a criminal act of a political ally. In other words that is tantamount to granting license for vandalism. Why not ask the religious-political outfit whose cadres were involved to pay up for the damage done to the property? Simply, because that would be politically inconvenient. So much for the keepers of liberal values and individual freedom in India. This is perhaps another glaring example of how to make the law subservient to political expediency. Will this type of mindset help India tackle various societal problems that mainly arise out of a flawed definition of secularism and practices of blatant religious opportunism?

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