Facing death threats and fatwas from Islamic fundamentalists, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen has been living in exile for more than two decades — first in Europe and USA and now in India since 2004. Nasreen tells News18’s Eram Agha why India should reconsider its stand on refusing shelter to Rohingya refugees displaced by ethnic violence in Myanmar. Edited excerpts:
Government of India believes Rohingya refugees are a security threat and should be sent back. Do you think asylum should also be extended to Rohingyas being displaced by ethnic violence in Myanmar?
If the government decides that Rohingyas are security threat then it is their decision, I would still request Indian government to reconsider its decision. In that sense, they are a security threat for Bangladesh as well, but Dhaka has given shelter to refugees. I am saying this because I always defend oppressed people, when women are oppressed, I defend them; I stand for their rights and freedom. Likewise, when Hindus are oppressed in Bangladesh, I defend them; when Muslims are oppressed in Palestine, Bosnia and Gujarat I defend them; when Christians are oppressed in Pakistan, I defend them.
I am critical of religion. Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism or any other religion because I think all are against women’s rights, human rights and free speech. Many people think I am against Muslims just because I am against Islam. When secularists and atheists are oppressed, I defend them too.
India followed international conventions in providing refuge to oppressed people from Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bangladesh, etc. Why do you think the question of national security is being raised in case of Rohingyas?
All Muslims are not terrorists, all Rohingyas are not terrorists. And maybe some of them are, but if they live in India I believe Indian government can check terrorism much better than Bangladesh government can do or Pakistan can do. And that is because India is a democracy and much stronger than other neighbouring countries. India has power in this region, if Indian government identifies terrorist elements they can punish them. Bangladesh now has more than 4 lakh Rohingya refugees, I think it is not possible for them to check any kind of terrorism.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi has publicly asked PM Modi, “If Nasreen can stay in India, why not Rohingyas? If she is your sister, why can’t Rohingyas be your brothers?” How would you respond to this statement?
I don’t know why so much importance is given to that man. He terrorises people. His people came to me in Kolkata in 2007 and issued fatwa against me, and announced unlimited amount of money as a reward for killing me. I always see this in Indian media that instead of giving importance to educated people, who believe in human rights, women’s rights and free speech in the Muslim community, they give importance to only filthy fanatics. Maybe they talk stupid and many people can get excited hearing this.
You described Owaisi as a ‘fundamentalist’, but what are your views on Islamophobes?
Islamophobe? I don’t like this word. It was created by Islamic fanatics that whoever criticises Islam is an Islamophobic. Why? People should be critical of all religions. If you are critical of Hinduism or scrutinize Hinduism you won’t be called a Hindu-phobe. But if you criticise Islam then you will be called an Islamophobe. People don’t like to be called Islamophobe, it is already such a bad word, a slang for them. But I don’t care.
I know that Islam should be criticised like other religions were criticised. Without criticism you cannot change society. If you speak that ‘women must not be oppressed’ and ‘we do not need religious laws’, ‘you need Uniform Civil Code or laws based on equality’, ‘we don’t need Quranic laws’… then you are an Islamophobe? No. I am not an Islamophobe, I am pro-Muslim because it would be good for Muslims to reform. There should be reform. All religious societies reformed except Islam, they were not reformed like other religious countries. Anybody can talk about reforms, you can be an atheist and talk about reforms. I do. There should not be restrictions.
There has been an outrage over the murders of rationalists in India. Are you reminded of Bangladesh, where rationalists are threatened and killed?
Yes, I am reminded of Bangladesh. There also rationalists, atheists and secularists were hacked to death. I am very sad to see this, I never thought that Hindus can do it, I thought only Muslims do this because they are not educated enough, civilised enough and by education I do not mean academic qualification, but realisation of not committing crime, standing for equality etc.
When it happens in India, it saddens me because it is a democracy... we don’t know who are these people. Did the killers of rationalists in India learn from Muslims? I don’t know. The killers are not yet found, neither in India nor in Bangladesh. We can all understand those are Muslim terrorists. Here, probably, they are Hindu extremists... Hindu extremists killed Gandhi too.
You stand for reforms in Muslim society. Recently Indian Muslim women won a big battle against the practice of instant triple talaq. But Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and All India Muslim Personal Law Board have not welcomed it. Why?
Why do you care about those fundamentalists? They will always like to oppress women, they don’t believe in free speech. They get all the platform to speak, there are rationalists among Muslims as well, speak to them. If you want to change society, you should consider the voices of rationalists.
Last but not the least, how is Delhi treating you?
I am having a housing problem. I wanted to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji and Home Minister Rajnath Singh ji... I have to meet them because it is difficult for me to rent an apartment. I have been having this problem for years that is because I have security and I get death threats, terrorists can kill me. I am desperate to meet them. If my current landlords have a problem, they can ask me to leave anytime. I don’t know what to do.