Extracts from an article in the Times of India by   . Taslima Nasreen:  She has been harassed for her opposition to the oppressive practices against women by practitioners of islam, and claiming relegious sanctity. Ed

Writers need to say things that people don’t want to hear
.          A leading politician has just declared in the Indian parliament that I should not be allowed any access to the media to express any views whatsoever on Islam. Instead of countering funda mentalism, the government only appeases it. Everything that I was made to go through -the TMC ban on my book Exile (titled Nirbashon in Bengali); my ouster from West Bengal, then from Rajasthan and eventually India; stopping my articles from being published in newspapers; stopping the production of the TV drama series written by me -was a result of the government’s blatant appeasement of fundamentalist elements.
          A politics built on sycophancy is the first sign of a rotting democracy . Aren’t our political mavericks aware of the fact that fanatics seek to plunge society into darkness, that they are against human rights and women’s rights, and consider that any opinion contrary to theirs must be silenced?
Writers across the world are being persecuted, whipped, tortured, murdered, incarcerated and exiled.Apart from dictators, even so-called democratic governments are no longer interested in freedom of expression.Whenever I try to point out the significance of such a fundamental right, I am informed that even freedom of speech must have its limitations and cannot be used to hurt someone’s sentiments. Wouldn’t it be extremely difficult to ensure that you never hurt someone’s sentiments?
People keep hurting us, intentionally or not, by words or deeds. Our world is populated by a multitude of opposing mindsets. They clash and hurt each other but also have an inbuilt mechanism to manage hurt.

 

Unfortunately , Islamic bigots use the excuse of injured sentiments to cause further mischief, refusing to listen or be placated.

It is a moment of crisis for democracy when citizens are robbed of their right to speak openly . Social change makes it necessary that a few feathers will be ruffled. Progress cannot be achieved without hurting religious sentiments. A lot of people had been outraged when the crown and the state were forcibly separated in Europe. Galileo’s and Darwin’s views had upset many pious people of their times. The superstitious are routinely offended by the advancement of science. If we stop expressing our opinions because someone will be hurt by them, if we curb the growth of scientific knowledge, if we forcibly try to stall the march of civilization, we will end up inhabiting a stagnant quagmire instead of basking in a raging cascade of knowledge and plenitude.

Freedom of speech is the freedom to say something someone else might not like to hear. Those who never hurt another’s sentiments do not need freedom of speech. A state that chooses to side with those who seek to oppose such freedoms, instead of ensuring that they are brought to book, will be responsible for its own eventual annihilation.

Some time back one such draconian law against free dom of speech was abolished by the Government of India.I was among those who had worked towards this goal and our success was a significant acknowledgment of the systematic persecution many have had to go through because of such laws. I have had to face it too, which is why I am glad to have been part of such a reform initiative, despite not being a pure-born citizen of India. The world is constantly vigilant that no one hurts the sentiments of those who are opposed to human rights and women’s rights. When will the world learn to see all as equal? When will it learn to stop pleasing extremists and begin according some much-delayed respect to reason and humanism?
This crisis is not India’s alone; it is being felt across the world. It’s not so much a battle between two faiths but a war between two opposing worldviews-the secular and the fundamentalist, the progressive and the prejudiced, the rational and the superstitious. Between awareness and ignorance, freedom and enslavement. In this fight I know whose side I am on; I am forever in fa vour of my opponents’ freedom of opinion even if I do not wish to support or respect it. My lack of support does not mean that I will attack my opponents during their morning jog, or shoot them in public, or hack them to death. I will instead express my opinions through my writings. If someone does not like what I have to say , they have the right to respond in kind -in words. They do not have the right to kill or threaten me. This is a basic condition for freedom of speech, which many fanatics wilfully choose to ignore.

The narrow-minded zealots, aided by their political appeasers, will forever seek to plunge society into darkness and chaos, while a handful of others will strive for the betterment of society and to have good sense prevail. It’s always a few people who seek to bring about change; that is how it has always been.

I hope no one else is exiled for being different ever again. I hope no one ever has to suffer the ignominy I went through

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