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India: Controversy Erupts Over Bangladeshi Writer

By Anjana Pasricha

Controversy Erupts in India Over Bangladeshi Writer

India has promised to protect a controversial Bangladeshi woman writer, who fled her own country 13 years ago after angering conservative Muslims with her writings. The author has now promised to withdraw from one of her books, passages that led Muslims in India to stage violent protests against her.

Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen had been living quietly in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata for nearly three years.

The writer came to India after spending nearly a decade in Europe, where she lived after fleeing Muslim-majority Bangladesh in 1994.

She left Dhaka when she raised the wrath of Bangladeshi Muslim fundamentalist groups. They called her writings blasphemous, and some extremists even demanded her execution.

Several days ago, Nasreen found she was again in the eye of a storm - this time in India.

A group called the Muslim All-India Minority Forum led violent protests in Kolkata demanding her expulsion from India, saying her writings had seriously offended Muslim sentiments.

Nasreen has not released any new writings recently, and it is not clear what sparked the protests. Whatever the reasons, the authorities in West Bengal state decided to rush her out of the city. She was first moved to the western state of Rajasthan, but was transferred to New Delhi under heavy security when Muslim groups in Rajasthan threatened new protests there.

After a fierce debate erupted on her future, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament that Nasreen will be allowed to stay in India.

"Throughout history, India has never refused shelter to those who have come and sought our protection," said Mukherjee. "This civilizational heritage, which is now government policy, will continue, and India will provide shelter to Miss Nasreen."

However, the promise of refuge came with a warning: the foreign minister said the author must refrain from what he called "expressions and activities that may hurt the sentiments of our people."

Nasreen is paying heed to the warning. She says she will withdraw sections from her years-old autobiography, which some Muslim groups say are derogatory to Islam. She says she did not mean to hurt anyone's religious feelings.

Her announcement is likely to calm the storm that erupted over her presence in India. But analysts say the controversy reveals the difficulty India faces to avoid offending its large Muslim minority. Muslims make up about 12 percent of the billion-plus population. They also constitute a powerful voting bloc, and are wooed by various political parties during elections.

Critics have charged that Nasreen was forced to quit Kolkata because the communist-run state government wanted to pacify Muslims, who prop up allied parties in the state.

Nasreen has chosen to live in Kolkata because it shares the Bengali language and culture of Bangladesh. She says she wants to return to the city.


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