Calcutta, Nov. 28: A few years ago, the Left Front government invited Deepa Mehta to shoot in Bengal when she was hounded out of Varanasi by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal for hurting religious sentiments in the now abandoned film Water.
Yesterday, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government banned Taslima Nasreen’s book, Dwikhandita, also because it hurt religious sentiments.
If there is a contradiction between the red carpet for Mehta and the gag on Taslima, it hasn’t eluded the eyes of the controversial Bangladeshi author.
“A lot of people told me that Kolkata and Dhaka were ideologically the same,” Taslima told PTI. “But I had refused to believe them since for me West Bengal represented the citadel of democracy. Today I know they were right.”
The chief minister did not accept there was a contradiction. “These discussions are time-consuming,” he said. “But let me also say we did our research before taking a decision. I have not only read the book but also taken opinion from at least 20 to 25 persons who matter.”
Who are these people “who matter”' He did not say.
Sources close to the government said Bhattacharjee had consulted authors Dibyendu Palit, Sankha Ghosh and Sunil Gangopadhyay, among others.
Ghosh admitted being spoken to. “But it will be wrong to talk about Deepa Mehta’s film in this context. It did not attack any religious leader. The decision (to ban) has been taken because the book contains objectionable comments on Prophet Mohammed,” he said.
There are books that hurt religious sentiments but have not been banned. The Last Temptation of Christ, for instance.
Taslima cites her own books to highlight the contradiction.
“Aamar Meyebela (My Girlhood) was far more anti-Islamic than this one. Why didn’t they ban it'” she asked. Indeed, Lajja was banned in Bangladesh for the same reasons the Left Front government is citing, but it was not proscribed in Bengal. Why'
Novelist Palit said: “They must have imposed the ban after taking note of the appeal made by Muslim intellectuals who had apprehended that the book might foment communal discord. The Left Front government is known for upholding freedom of speech. When it has taken a step like this, there must be good reason for it,” he said.
Palit is not the only one who has abundant faith in the judgement of this government. Novelist Suchitra Bhattacharya said she heard certain portions of the book could foment communal tension.
“We are going through a crucial time. Those who have banned the book must have taken the decision after going through it carefully.”
There are others like novelist Buddhadeb Guha and academician Sunanda Sanyal who fail to see “good reason”.
“Anyone can write anything. People generally tell the truth in autobiographies,” Guha said.
The government’s critics are saying it embraced Mehta with open arms to score points off organisations affiliated to the BJP.
Rallying behind Bhattacharjee, the CPM state secretary, Anil Biswas, said: “We have banned the book because it hurts the sentiments of a particular community. In a secular country, it is the responsibility of the majority to protect the minority community and maintain communal harmony at any cost.”