Nasreen the new Rushdie sparks riots in India

Sumantra Maitra - Kolkata, India
  
Freedom of speech, Islamic fundamentalism, vandalism, rioting … do these words sound familiar? Yes, these are the issues that have rocked the state of West Bengal over some passages of a book Dwikhandito (broken in two) by controversial author Taslima Nasreen.
The furore that had been there for quite a long time, took a nasty turn a few months back, resulting in unprecedented vandalism and total chaos, ultimately leading to curfew in Kolkata (Calcutta) after 15 years, the last being when India's Babri Masjid mosque was demolished by Hindu militants.
  
From then on, there had been a never-ending chain of claims and counter claims leaving the common people completely bamboozled. But there is more to this than meets the eye. Let us carefully analyse each perspective categorically.
  
Now, before going into details, I should like to clarify a few things. I am not here to comment on the literary aspect of the novel because it is outside the scope of this discussion, though I will do injustice if I decline to say that, I have read it and it didn't appeal to me as one of the greatest pieces of Bengali literature, or a collectors item to die for. Nor do I approve of any kind of fundamentalism or people having even the faintest amount of support for it.
  
The people who want their women to wear Eskimo suits in the hottest of summers in the name of religion are no more than sick psychopaths. And if this trend of pacifism is kept on by both the central and state governments, then devil knows we are going to reach a time when even a groan will be condemned by some odd group in some obscure part of our country.
  
All this should be stopped immediately. First, coming to the point of the uproar: It was for everyone to see, in this age of booming tele-media that the action was all planned, contrary to what is being said. The people taking part in it were mostly hooligans and goons grabbing the opportunity to loot and riot when anarchy was reigning supreme.
  
The majority of the youths taking part in the  'movement' were illiterate, and probably having an IQ  "30 per cent lower than that of an absent minded jellyfish", to borrow the words of PG Wodehouse. The police, normally sloppy, acted with extreme caution and did a commendable and praiseworthy job. And ironically the intellectuals of Kolkata, who are in the habit of thinking themselves to be some sort of privileged demi-gods, tending to look down upon lesser mortals, and those who had been over-active in the past few months frowning at people with even a left squint, were stone quiet on the issue.
  
They never organised a single candle lighting competition, or took out a road march. Were they afraid of backlash? Or are they, by nature, tilted? It is for the people to decide. But we felt cheated. And now it is high time they should be reminded that they are not that important, sorry.
  
Now, about the novel: It is a matter of debate about how much leniency should be given to creative freedom. What are the checks and who defines those. It is said that the mass is greater than the individual, and the state is even greater than the mass. Then should we not expect someone who is a guest of a nation after having been expelled from her own country due to some odd reason, however impractical and unjustified the reason, to at least not do anything that hampers the relation of the state with its neighbouring nations?
  
Though it does not justify violence, but still it cannot be denied that that the feelings of a particular community was hurt, as was the feelings of another community by the acts of controversial Indian painter MF Husain. Responsibility should be there for every work of art and every thing cannot and will not be justified in the name of freedom. We can't expect pornography, to be justified as an erotic art with great aesthetic value, can we? I mean it is just not done.
  
Lastly, the greatest of them all …the political parties: the ruling Communists, who had previously imprisoned Bangladesh-born Nasreen, responded by expelling her from West Bengal and appeasing the Muslim communalists. They forgot that they created a Frankenstein by supporting the same people who sneaked into this country illegally from god knows where and now threatens the very foundation of the set up.

The Trinamool Congress, with its omniscient leaders, somehow didn't get the grasp of the situation, and preferred to stay quite, though I somehow feel that their share of the vote bank guided this. The Hindu BJP party, having a minimal presence in Bengal, failed to make any impact, though it tried to steal the show at the national level by sympathising with Taslima.

The Congress Party, never seriously tried to think beyond their sphere of influence, and left the matter to decay with time, only formally delivering a statement cajoling both  'Tweedeldum and Tweedeldee'. Helpless Nasreen, thinking of the advisability of losing a place to stay, ultimately decided against it.