KOLKATA: A life-long rebel, Bangladeshi poet Taslima Nasrin, believes that those of her compatriots who are bothered about atrocities against Palestinians should also be equally bothered about the plight of minorities in their own country. At 62, the spark within Nasrin, which saw her defying convention and writing to expose hypocrisy and “misogynistic” religious practices in her society, has not died down and she strongly believes she has a duty to continue the “good fight” against injustice wherever and whenever she finds it. In a free-wheeling interview to PTI, Nasrin said on Sunday, “I hear that my fellow Bangladeshi citizens are very agitated about atrocities on Palestinians and some even wish to go Palestine to help them. I personally condemn any atrocity anywhere in the world including on Israelis and Palestinians.” “However, I would like to point out that if my countrymen are so concerned about atrocities and the stream of refugees created by attacks in Palestine, then their conscience should also be disturbed when minorities in Bangladesh are attacked even today and many are forced to leave their lands to become refugees elsewhere,” she added. Last month, an octogenarian poet from a minority community was beaten up in a long list of similar attacks in Bangladesh. In August 2023, a human rights watch report by an organisation ‘Shrishti o Chetona’ highlighted that “attacks on temples and other community properties” or general anti-minority slurs, threats of “expulsion from the country and abuse” were among incidents that were reported. “Despite the impressive economic development that my motherland has seen, Bangladesh is still witnessing a rise in fundamentalism. Gender imbalance continues to be a factor. Rank communalists are being given public and political space,” said the acclaimed poet, who has in the past won the Simone de Beauvoir Prize and the Sakharov Prize. Nasrin’s writings won critical acclaim and global attention in the early 1990s. However, her radical writings exposing hypocrisy as well as fundamentalism also infuriated the orthodox clergy in her homeland, some of whom passed ‘fatwas’ against her, forcing her to flee to Europe and the US. She later moved to India and now lives in Delhi. “On the one hand, Bangladesh’s per capita income is going up and spanking new infrastructure is coming up, on the other Qaumi Madrasas, which teach kids fundamentalism, are being encouraged,” she alleged. Bangladesh has witnessed in recent years, the rise of the Hefazat-e-Islam, which the ruling Awami League has warily used to counter its ideological rivals the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. However, critics like Nasrin view the Hefazat’s prominence with alarm as over the years the government has conceded to key orthodox Islamist demands, including the removal of stories and poems by secular and non-Muslim writers from textbooks, removal of the statue of Lady Justice in front of the country’s Supreme Court, and recognition to a degree by Qaumi Madrasas controlled by the organisation as equal to a master’s degree. “Sheikh Hasina is extremely popular. She could have easily chosen to restore the 1972 constitutional provisions on secularism. She could have easily brought laws on gender equality in marriage, divorce and property inheritance rights, but these things have not happened so far,” the writer pointed out. Speaking of the forthcoming elections to Dhaka’s parliament, she claimed, “Elections are really not elections in Bangladesh,” echoing concerns voiced in the West over the quality of elections in her home country. She also criticised the denial of travel permission to opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia of the BNP. “Khaleda Zia turned me out, banned my books in Bangladesh. Still, I would say she should be allowed to go abroad for treatment,” Nasrin said. Elections are slated to be held in December 2023-January 2024 and negotiations are still on between political parties on participating in the elections. The main opposition BNP has demanded that elections be held under a caretaker government, a condition which the ruling Awami League is unwilling to concede. Speaking of her writings, Nasrin lamented that a newspaper column that she used to write for a mass circulated daily published from Dhaka has been stopped. She is currently finishing a book ‘Dusahas’ (Audacity) on medical mistreatment meted out to her by a city hospital that allegedly performed a hip replacement surgery on her without her consent. Nasrin is also excited about her first-ever comprehensive collection of poetry translated from the original Bengali into English named ‘Burning Roses’. One of her poems reads: “Have I not, having kept a man for years, learnt that it’s like raising a snake? So many animals on this earth, why keep a man of all things?”

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