Saturday, November 1, 2008

Guest or Prisoner?










The tenure of the UPA Government saw what can only be described as the shameful mistreatment of Bangaldeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. Miss Nasreen, who has thrown out from her country by Islamic fundamentalists who are opposed to the freedom of speech, faced riots, death threats, violence, virtual house arrest and threats to her mental well-being, all that in only one year!

It started with an attack on Miss Nasreen in Hyderabad by activists of the MIM, a communal organisation that uses the threat of fire and extreme violence to break every law in the Constitution. The YSR Reddy government (Congress) did not take any action against these criminals and they went about threatening to behead her if she entered Hyderabad again!

Then there were a series of riots in Kolkata against Miss Nasreen, all of them led by Islamic fundamentalists, and she was rushed away to an undisclosed location by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). There, she was placed under virtual house arrest for months, only being able to contact journalists by phone. She was not even allowed to take a walk in the park. In an interview to NDTV's Barkha Dutt, she described her temporary location as a dungeon.

Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she left for Europe, where she is an honorary citizen in many countries. But she has always said that she considers India as her home and wants to live in Kolkata.

The issue of Taslima Nasreen brings me to a major characteristic of the UPA: minority appeasement. A writer who has received so many honours, a woman who fights for female enfranchisement and a human being with such compassion for other people: Taslima Nasreen did not deserve to be treated like a prisoner.

Miss Nasreen was continuously pressurised to leave India by the Government. From the UPA to the Left Front in West Bengal: nobody showed enough courage to protect her, fearful of losing their 'votebank.' It was only Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who offered her a home and a better life. 

The safety of an asylum-seeker is the joint responsibility of the central and State Governments. Both have failed to do so: Miss Nasreen is still living outside the country and yearns to be back with her friends in Kolkata. India has ended up doing what a military-ruled, Islamist-fundamentalist, theocratic country like Bangladesh did. Atithi Devo Bhava (a guest is like God), the old Indian adage, was easily forgotten for the sake of votes.

However, the UPA did renew her visa several times and has not stooped as low as listening to fundamentalists who demand that she be thrown out from the country. The Government deserves praise for this. But this praise is infinitesimal in comparison to the gross failure and apparent apathy shown towards her protection. The right thing to do now would be to grant Miss Nasreen Indian citizenship. But of course, the minorities will feel alienated, as Lalu Yadav likes to put it.

Factor: Protection and well-being of Taslima Nasreen
General Performance: Poor

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