Taslima Nasrin’s book “Dwikhandito” (Split in two), which was banned by the West Bengal government in 2003 for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Muslim community, is now available in English.
Nasrin is known for her writing on women’s rights and criticism of religious fundamentalism. This defiance on her part had led to the ban on the Bengali original of the book by the then Left Front in West Bengal as well as the government of Bangladesh.
While the West Bengal government lifted the injunction after the ban was struck down by the Calcutta High Court in 2005, Nasrin was eventually driven out of Kolkata and forced to expunge passages from the book, besides facing a four-million-dollar defamation lawsuit.
Now published in English as “Split: A Life” by Penguin Random House India, the book tells about Nasrin’s experiences and works, her stint as a doctor, how she became the target of fundamentalists, how “Lajja” was banned and her life in exile in India. “In my country, fundamentalism was on the rise and the winds were blowing in their favour. As usual, women were the first to fall victim to the fatwas issued by fatwaphilic maulanas in villages across the country,” she writes in the book, translated by Maharghya Chakraborty.
About her writings, she says she wrote with a lot of trepidation and awkwardness and was never fully happy with the final outcome. “Despite the nagging voices in my head regarding my novels, there was one thing at least that I could achieve in them. With each woman whose life I laid bare in the pages of my novels I tried to reaffirm that a woman’s body and her heart were her own and not someone else’s property to treat as they pleased,” she writes.
On the ban on “Lajja”and the subsequent fatwa against her, Nasrin describes how the foreign media was after her, requesting interviews, op-ed pieces and reactions. “A mosque was not safe for me, nor was the home of someone staunchly conservative, nor a dark alley, an empty road, a terrorist’ hideout, a den of drunks, some religious event, a Jamaat congregation or literally a villain’s lair,” she says, adding the safest place was the confines of her home.
Narin says “Lajja” wasn’t the main reason behind the ire of the fundamentalists. “The fundamentalists had been upset with me for some time; the ban had only managed to add fuel to the fire that had been simmering for a long time. This explained the fatwa. The government’s inaction had bolstered their courage and further fanned the flames. This explained the nationwide movement,” she writes.