Brickbats for ban and Taslima book - Bengal's authors oppose restriction on sale but see little literary value

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By OUR BUREAU in Calcutta
  • Published 19.11.03

Calcutta, Nov. 19: Ever controversial, Bangladeshi author-in-exile Taslima Nasreen has drawn a second injunction against her latest book — full of explicit descriptions of her sexual encounters with well-known writers — in Bengal after a ban in her home country.

Fellow authors here opposed any kind of restriction on sale of a book as a matter of principle, though many did not see much literary merit in Dwikhandita (Split in Two).

Responding to a petition by Calcutta-based poet Syed Hasmat Jalal, Calcutta High Court yesterday stopped marketing and circulation of the book till the next date of hearing after a fortnight. Jalal alleged that the book was defamatory and presented a skewed picture of his moral character and religious standing, drawing particular attention to four pages (pages 197, 198, 231 and 232) in the 395-page Bengali book.

He has filed a Rs 11-crore defamation suit for the “false, frivolous and imaginary” writings where Nasreen describes her physical intimacy with Jalal over a few days she spent in Calcutta. She also attributes several anti-Hindu sentiments to Jalal.

Calcutta’s authors — a community which defended Nasreen strongly when she had to run from Bangladesh — say these are the very aspects that separate Dwikhandita from Lajja, which had enraged Islamic fundamentalists in her home country. They use this distinction to explain why, unlike last time, they cannot hit the streets for Nasreen.

Novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay has read the book and has seen “slanderous comments” about certain individuals. “Personally, I am not afraid of that,” he said.

There have been indications that she could come out with revelations about some more eminent literary personalities in her next book, akin to what she has done to Jalal — and, with greater devastation, to leading authors of Bangladesh, like poets Shamsur Rahman and Syed Shamsul Huq.

Huq, who she has accused of confessing to her to having illicit relations with his sister-in-law, has filed a defamation suit of Taka 10 crore (one taka is a little less than a rupee).

Gangopadhyay said though Lajja and Dwikhandita were different, he opposed the ban in this case, too. He explained that he was only concerned about the parts that could provoke fundamentalists and hurt individuals.

“The publisher should have edited the book more carefully but I support the right to freedom of expression,” he said.

Author Nabaneeta Deb Sen has not read the book, but, as a general rule, she opposed any ban. “I am concerned with the repercussion the book may have on communal amity,” she said. “Lajja concerns much greater issues than this book (as much as I have been able to gather from others).”

Critic Hossainur Rahman made a more ruthless distinction between the two books and used that to explain the differences in response. “For penning Lajja, she was hailed as a symbol of protest against society’s lack of humanism,” he said, adding that he could recall hundreds of Bangladeshi women hail her as the champion of women’s rights.

Although he felt there should be some control on personal slander, he insisted that a ban was not the answer. “Bans only result in increased sales.”

Which is exactly what is happening in Bangladesh. More than two weeks after the November 12 ban, the book, titled Ka in Bangladesh, sells in the black market at prices three times the original Taka 250. Many are borrowing the book from friends.

Social commentator Abdur Rauf opposed the ban, but felt Jalal had no option other than to go to court. “How does he defend himself?”

The Bengal government has not decided what its stand should be on the issue. “The government is yet to take a stand and neither have we received any response from authors and artists,” home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said.

Deputy commissioner (detective department) Soumen Mitra disclaimed all responsibility of enforcing the ban. “It’s a matter between the judiciary, the petitioner and the publisher and I haven’t received any court directive till date.”