Nasreen bats for Uniform Civil Code amid protests at JLF

Nasreen bats for Uniform Civil Code amid protests at JLF

Exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen today batted for a Uniform Civil Code as a tool for "empowerment" as her "suprise" session at the Jaipur Literature Festival saw protests by some Muslim organisations.

The celebrated author, who has been living in exile since 1994 after she faced the ire of fundamentalists in her own country for her unorthodox views, said the Islamic society needed to be more tolerant towards criticism to make progress.

"It is necessary for Islamic society to be tolerant and accept criticism without which they cannot progress. Uniform Civil Code is urgently required for empowering people with human rights," she said.

The writer, who was in conversation with Salil Tripathi, a former board member of English PEN, an organisation engaged in promoting literature and its understanding and upholding freedom of writers around the world, slammed religious fanatics, saying she did not believe in terms like "nationalism" or "religious fundamentalism".

"I don't believe in nationalism, religious fundamentalism. I believe in one world. I believe in rights, freedom, humanism and rationalism. Until Islam accepts criticism, no Islamic country can be considered secular. Whenever I criticise, people want to kill me," she said.

Citing the treatment meted out to her by the West Bengal government after a fatwa was issued against her in 2007 by Muslim clerics, she questioned why secular writers were forced to leave the country or murdered.

"Why are secular writers being forced to leave the country or murdered, while religious fanatics are sheltered. I was attacked in Kolkata. Fatwa was issued against me.

"Secularism doesn't mean to save and shelter such people just to cash in on Muslim votes. Hindu and Muslim fanatics have equally attacked me, but they were never punished," she said.

Nasreen's session witnessed protests by organisations like Rajasthan Muslim Forum, All India Milli Council, Jamaat- e-Islami and Muslim Personal Law Board.

The protesters later met the festival founder Sanjoy K Roy and claimed they were assured by him that Nasreen will not be invited to the literary event again.

The fact that Nasreen's session, titled 'Exile', did not mention the names of speakers on the programme schedule of the festival until this morning, was presumably an attempt to shield her from the sort of protests that rocked the pink city 10 years ago.

The festival's co-organiser William Dalrymple appeared unwilling to disclose anything more. "I vaguely knew that she was coming," was the most he would offer when asked by PTI.

An attempt to speak to Sanjoy did not yield results with sources saying that the organisers did not want to comment on the issue officially.

However, Mehrunnisa Khan, state president of Women India Movement, who was among the protesters, said they recieved an assurance from the organisers that no invitation would be extended to Nasreen again.

"Nasreen is a disputed personality. JLF organisers did not name her in the schedule in JLF booklet. Organisers played hide and seek game and police administration too supported her and allowed her in a session. So we had gone to protest.

"We had a meeting with organisers where producer Sanjoy Roy promised that they will not provide platform to Salman Rushdie and Nasreen from next year," Mehrunnisa said.

Nasreen was also spotted the previous night at a dinner in a hotel where journalists and delegates usually mingle, but somehow flew under the radar.

In 2007, when the writer, then living in Kolkata, was shown the door by the West Bengal government, she turned to Jaipur for refuge only to be turned away.

Her stay in the city was opposed by the then state vice president of All India Milli Council, Engineer Mohd Saleem who, slamming Nasreen, had said freedom did not mean that one could abuse any religion, and threatened to hold demonstrations in the city if the writer was kept in the state for long.

Nasreena, who was putting up at the Shikha hotel here with 30 policemen guarding her, was then shifted to the national capital where she continues to live at an undisclosed location.

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