Indian human rights activists on Monday blamed a conservative Muslim group for starting a protest that stopped exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin from visiting Maharashtra state’s Aurangabad town, where the controversial writer had planned a short vacation.
She was forced to turn away from the Aurangabad airport on Saturday as protests led by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) erupted in the city, which is home to the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, police said.
Nasrin was asked to board a flight to Mumbai as a crowd of demonstrators had gathered outside the city’s Chikalthana Airport and the hotel where she was to stay, shouting slogans such as “Taslima go back,” deputy commissioner of police Rahil Shrirame told reporters.
“Her visit could have triggered a law-and-order situation, so we requested her not to venture outside the airport and to take the next flight out to Mumbai. She readily agreed,” Shrirame said.
Nasrin fled Bangladesh in 1994 after receiving death threats following the release of her book titled “Lajja,” an indictment of religious extremism and banned by her country’s government.
Nasrin, 54, who holds a Swedish passport and has been living in India since 2004, took to Twitter on Monday to criticize the protests.
“I had a dream to visit Ajanta and Ellora Caves. Can’t believe it was not possible in the largest democracy in the world.
“Can any of them tell what I wrote about the prophet? They can’t because they haven’t read my books. They only use me for their political interests,” she said.
Nasrin, who has on many occasions expressed a desire to settle down in West Bengal state, was forced to leave Kolkata in 2007 following violent street protests by a section of Muslims against her works. She has since been living in New Delhi.
‘A symbol of protest’
The bestselling “Lajja” tells the story of a Hindu family living in Bangladesh whose world begins to fall apart after the demolition of the Babri Mosque in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in 1992.
“Many believe that I have criticized Islam in ‘Lajja’ and the Muslim fundamentalists in Bangladesh have issued a fatwa against me – both untrue. I have not criticized Islam in ‘Lajja’ and the fatwa is not because of ‘Lajja’. The fatwa is because I have criticized Islam in many of my other books,” Nasrin wrote in the preface of a new English translation of the book.
“‘Lajja’ can be seen as a symbol of protest. It is a protest against the violence, hatred and killings that are going on all over the world in the name of religion,” Nasrin wrote.
“My book is primarily a testament to the savagery of religions in the Indian subcontinent, Religion drives people to madness, at which point they do not hesitate to abandon even basic humanity,” she said.
Rightwing Muslim fundamentalism
Hasina Khan, a leading Muslim human rights activist, said the protests by AIMIM against the award-winning author smacked of rightwing Muslim fundamentalism.
“It is open knowledge that rightwing Muslims harbor abhorrence towards her. But this kind of move will only help other rightwing organizations to justify and rationalize violent actions,” Khan told BenarNews.
“Disagreeing with a writer does not give any outfit the right to indulge in uncouth behavior or violence or vandalism,” Irfan Engineer of the Mumbai-based Center for Study of Society and Secularism told BenarNews.
“The police should have taken proper steps to ease tensions,” he added.
‘Deliberately stokes controversy’
Others criticized Nasrin.
“One needs to understand that Nasrin’s books have hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslim community. She deliberately stokes controversy and that too is in bad taste. That is why it is easy to mobilize people against her,” Mohammad Jamshed, a noted Islamic calligraphist, told BenarNews.
Saeed Ahmad Khan, a senior Urdu journalist, agreed.
“Deliberately insulting and berating someone’s faith and beliefs is bound to evoke strong emotive reactions,” Khan told Benar.
AIMIM legislator Imitiyaz Jaleel, who led the protests, told reporters people in Aurangabad were already on a short fuse because of the ongoing demolition of illegal structures.
“That is one of the reasons we asked the police to deny entry to Nasrin,” Jaleel said.
“We had informed the police that the protesters had planned to throw eggs and tomatoes at Nasrin if she ventured outside the airport,” he said.