The planned launch of an Indian television serial scripted by a Bangladeshi-feminist author living in exile has been scrapped after several Muslim groups demanded that her writings be banned.
Dussahobas ( Miserable Life Together), a Bengali serial written by Taslima Nasreen, was to go on air on Thursday, but the TV channel behind the programme was forced to defer its plan after local police said the serial could stir unrest.
“In her writings, she routinely seeks to ridicule Islam and vilify our revered Prophet Mohammed. In this serial, she might come up with something to show Islam in bad light again,” Syed Mohammad Noorur Rahman Barkati, the Shahi Imam (custodian) of the Tipu Sultan mosque in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, told Al Jazeera.
A medical doctor turned writer, Nasreen was forced to flee Bangladesh in 1994 after her novel Lajja (Shame) was banned. She allegedly called for changes in the Quran, antagonizing sections of the country’s population that prompted death threats against her.
After spending 11 years in Europe and the US, Nasreen moved to India in 2005. Since she preferred to live in a Bengali environment, she rented a house in Kolkata – the provincial capital of West Bengal state where Bengali is the local language – and planned to set up her “second home” there.
But she was hounded out of the city in 2007, after a local newspaper carried excerpts of her controversial autobiography Dwikhandito (Split in Two).
Muslim groups took to the Kolkata streets demanding her expulsion from the city. The protests turned violent and the army had to be deployed to restore order.
Fearing for her safety, the authorities shifted her first to the western state of Rajasthan and then to Delhi, where she has been living been since.
The news of the television serial scripted by her has again incensed several groups.
“With this serial, after years, she is seeking to connect with Bengal in her aim to return to Kolkata.,” Barkati, who had issued a fatwa against the author in 2007, said.
“Whenever Taslima gets a chance , she seeks to malign Islam, directly or indirectly. As do most of the community members in other parts of south Asia, Muslims in West Bengal hate her for her sacrilegious writings against Islam,” alleged Mohammad Quamruzzaman, general secretary of the All Bengal Minority Youth Fderation.
Ishita Surana, spokesperson of Channel Aat, the Kolkata-based channel that commissioned the serial, said the serial did not have anything that hurts the religious sentiments of Muslims.
Nasreen insists her script talks only of women who became victims of dowry, forced marriage, rape, prostitution and other social evils.
“Unlike other TV serials which glorify women as being submissive or relegate them to the role of housewives, this serial portrays them as strong individuals…and how they keep fighting for their rights,” she told the Indian news-agency PTI.
Authorities in West Bengal have reacted cautiously, saying they were keeping a watch on the situation.
I am a Bengali author and it’s good to stay where Bengali is the language because if I stay away from the language then I have observed that my fluency gets affected…I tend to forget some words of Bengali,
“We are keeping a watch on developments surrounding the TV serial. We are collecting information right now. If we happen to know in advance that the serial could hurt religious sentiment of the Muslims, we shall immediately stall its broadcast,” Firhad Hakim, the state urban development minister, told Al Jazeera.
“Our government is very serious about protecting the rights and interests of every community, including Muslims.”
Nasreen, however, insists her intentions are good and dropped hints she would love to return to Kolkata.
“I am a Bengali author and it’s good to stay where Bengali is the language because if I stay away from the language then I have observed that my fluency gets affected…I tend to forget some words of Bengali,” she told a news agency.
But Zafarul-Islam Khan, the national president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), said India should not host Nasreen as she is wanted by Bangladesh’s courts.
“Contrary to the practice in India, she gets long-term visa which is extended regularly. It is difficult to understand and rationalise why a section of the Indian ruling class, spanning over both BJP and Congress, is so keen to provide shelter to someone who is fugitive from law in her own country,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I find it strange that the same ruling class which is eager to offer refuge to an alien, could not protect one of its greatest living artists, M F Hussain, who was hounded out of India by Hindutva activists and had to die in a foreign country.”
Hussain, incidentally left India and took up Qatari citizenship after Hindu-right wing groups objected to his depictions of Hindu deities. He died in 2011.