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L'affaire Taslima

Trouble seems to follow Taslima Nasreen in India.

Various issues have, as usual, become intertwined in the recent outrage in Karnataka. 

First, the weekly magazine section, Saptahika Prabha, of the Kannada daily, Kannada Prabha (New Indian Express group), published an article purportedly by controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, titled Purdah hai purdah. The newspaper did mention that it was translated from the original English by “Sindhu”.  The source of the article or the date of its original writing was not mentioned.

Meanwhile, an Urdu newspaper Siasat reportedly carried a misleading commentary on the article on March 1. I have not been able to get a copy of their report yet. [See post script:1]

"Protests and riots" follow in Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s home district, Shimoga, killing two people -- one in police firing, and the other succumbing to injuries sustained in stone-pelting. More are injured.

The newspapers express regret. An FIR is filed against both under sections I53A, 153B and 295A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) "for provoking the public and causing misunderstanding between two communities".

Taslima Nasreen expresses shock at the turn of events, denies having written any article for any Kannada newspaper ever. She also clarifies that she "has never mentioned that Prophet Muhammad was against burqa" and concludes: "Therefore this is a distorted story".

It turns out that the article was an unauthorised translation of a piece first published by Outlook way back in 2007, and also available on her own website, and of course elsewhere on the web.

The translation is said to be quite close to the original, but the jury is still out whether it is an exact word by word translation; many claim that some of the words in the translated version seem more provocative than in the original. [2]

The timing of the article (soon after Taslima applied for permanent residency in India and on Milad-ud-Nabi, when Muslims the world over celebrate the Prophet's birthday) and the place of protests (why should they be in Karnataka chief minister's home district alone when the Muslim concentration is more elsewhere in the state) and the nature of the organised protests, particularly as they are said to be based on distorted reports and incitements about her remarks about the Prophet, and that too on his birthday, has predictably led to questions being raised about foul play.

While it needs to be clearly determined who was behind the incitement and rioting in Hassan and Shimoga, those protesting need to realise that such incidents only perpetuate and strengthen the stereotype of "intolerant" Muslims.

As I write this, comes the news that there have been attacks on the offices of the concerned newspapers.

The newspapers concerned clearly will need to deal with more than just the copyright issues with Taslima Nasreen, but what they immediately need is to be provided full security by the state government.  Other media outfits clearly need to ensure that they do not misreport such sensitive issues. The chief minister has done well to reassure the Muslim community on the floor of the house, but his administration has a very clear task at hand. It needs to not only credibly investigate and bring to book those behind the whole episode, but also press home the point that no matter what the provocation of the written word, there can be NO excuse for any violence of any kind. The fight should be in the battleground of ideas and not on the streets. If anyone disagrees with what has been published, even if it is something she did not write, the way to engage with it is counter-arguments, as letters to editor or as op-eds joining issue. But for that, those protesting need to first check their facts.

Coming soon after l'affaire M.F. Husain, it is time for all sections of society to come together in reemphasising that violence is a totally unacceptable response that simply has no justification and will not be condoned.

Post Script:

1. More context from the Indian Express:

On Monday, Siasat, whose Karnataka edition is managed by Congress leader Roshan Baig, published a report alleging that the Kannada daily had published derogatory remarks against Muslims in the Sunday piece....

Baig said his paper only carried a news item on the Kannada paper’s coverage. “It’s a 2007 article by Taslima Nasreen, which has been up on some hardline Hindu websites and was carried very prominently by Kannada Prabha on Sunday, with a provocative headline from an old Hindi song ‘Purdah hai Purdah’, and pictures of women in burqas. My paper just carried a news item on that coverage which was printed on Monday,” Baig said.

“My mother had passed away on Sunday, so I was not in the office or overseeing things that day. Otherwise, I may have ensured that this was not carried. Anyway, what we carried was a brief report,” he said.

According to Baig, his newspaper cannot be connected to the violence in Shimoga. “It had nothing to do with our coverage as our paper reaches Shimoga only by about 12 noon or 1 pm. Urdu is also not read that much by Muslims in that part of the state. They are mostly Kannada-speaking. There is no way our paper could have contributed to the outrage,” he said. 

2. Hindustan Times: In Bangalore, representatives of the Muslim community met senior members of the Express Group of newspapers (which publishes Kannada Prabha). Many agreed Taslima’s words in her original article don’t seem as provocative as they appeared after translation.

3. The Siyasat report has now been posted -- March 4, 2010

Also See: Joint statement in February 2007 from Khushwant Singh, Arundhati Roy, Leila Seth, Kuldip Nayyar, Vijay Tendulkar, Aruna Roy, Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Saeed Naqvi, Y.P. Chibber (General-Secretary, PUCL), Shanker Singh (MKSS, Rajasthan), Nikhil Dey (MKSS, Rajasthan) in response to the Outlook article:

We uphold Taslima Nasrin’s right to speak forthrightly on any subject, including the burqa. It is her fundamental right. Instead of taking her on intellectually, her detractors are using a reprehensible way of suppressing her opinions. They are gathering outside her apartment in Calcutta, and demanding that the government should throw her out of the country. Keeping in mind that her visa expires by next week, this is a clear sign of intimidating her into retracting her views. It would be a shame if we who pride ourselves on our democratic traditions should refuse her asylum on this count. Or at the very least an extension of her visa

To read more published responses to the article, please click here

Trouble seems to follow Taslima Nasreen in India.

Various issues have, as usual, become intertwined in the recent outrage in Karnataka. 

First, the weekly magazine section, Saptahika Prabha, of the Kannada daily, Kannada Prabha (New Indian Express group), published an article purportedly by controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, titled Purdah hai purdah. The newspaper did mention that it was translated from the original English by “Sindhu”.  The source of the article or the date of its original writing was not mentioned.

Meanwhile, an Urdu newspaper Siasat reportedly carried a misleading commentary on the article on March 1. I have not been able to get a copy of their report yet. [See post script:1]

"Protests and riots" follow in Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s home district, Shimoga, killing two people -- one in police firing, and the other succumbing to injuries sustained in stone-pelting. More are injured.

The newspapers express regret. An FIR is filed against both under sections I53A, 153B and 295A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code) "for provoking the public and causing misunderstanding between two communities".

Taslima Nasreen expresses shock at the turn of events, denies having written any article for any Kannada newspaper ever. She also clarifies that she "has never mentioned that Prophet Muhammad was against burqa" and concludes: "Therefore this is a distorted story".

It turns out that the article was an unauthorised translation of a piece first published by Outlook way back in 2007, and also available on her own website, and of course elsewhere on the web.

The translation is said to be quite close to the original, but the jury is still out whether it is an exact word by word translation; many claim that some of the words in the translated version seem more provocative than in the original. [2]

The timing of the article (soon after Taslima applied for permanent residency in India and on Milad-ud-Nabi, when Muslims the world over celebrate the Prophet's birthday) and the place of protests (why should they be in Karnataka chief minister's home district alone when the Muslim concentration is more elsewhere in the state) and the nature of the organised protests, particularly as they are said to be based on distorted reports and incitements about her remarks about the Prophet, and that too on his birthday, has predictably led to questions being raised about foul play.

While it needs to be clearly determined who was behind the incitement and rioting in Hassan and Shimoga, those protesting need to realise that such incidents only perpetuate and strengthen the stereotype of "intolerant" Muslims.

As I write this, comes the news that there have been attacks on the offices of the concerned newspapers.

The newspapers concerned clearly will need to deal with more than just the copyright issues with Taslima Nasreen, but what they immediately need is to be provided full security by the state government.  Other media outfits clearly need to ensure that they do not misreport such sensitive issues. The chief minister has done well to reassure the Muslim community on the floor of the house, but his administration has a very clear task at hand. It needs to not only credibly investigate and bring to book those behind the whole episode, but also press home the point that no matter what the provocation of the written word, there can be NO excuse for any violence of any kind. The fight should be in the battleground of ideas and not on the streets. If anyone disagrees with what has been published, even if it is something she did not write, the way to engage with it is counter-arguments, as letters to editor or as op-eds joining issue. But for that, those protesting need to first check their facts.

Coming soon after l'affaire M.F. Husain, it is time for all sections of society to come together in reemphasising that violence is a totally unacceptable response that simply has no justification and will not be condoned.

Post Script:

1. More context from the Indian Express:

On Monday, Siasat, whose Karnataka edition is managed by Congress leader Roshan Baig, published a report alleging that the Kannada daily had published derogatory remarks against Muslims in the Sunday piece....

Baig said his paper only carried a news item on the Kannada paper’s coverage. “It’s a 2007 article by Taslima Nasreen, which has been up on some hardline Hindu websites and was carried very prominently by Kannada Prabha on Sunday, with a provocative headline from an old Hindi song ‘Purdah hai Purdah’, and pictures of women in burqas. My paper just carried a news item on that coverage which was printed on Monday,” Baig said.

“My mother had passed away on Sunday, so I was not in the office or overseeing things that day. Otherwise, I may have ensured that this was not carried. Anyway, what we carried was a brief report,” he said.

According to Baig, his newspaper cannot be connected to the violence in Shimoga. “It had nothing to do with our coverage as our paper reaches Shimoga only by about 12 noon or 1 pm. Urdu is also not read that much by Muslims in that part of the state. They are mostly Kannada-speaking. There is no way our paper could have contributed to the outrage,” he said. 

2. Hindustan Times: In Bangalore, representatives of the Muslim community met senior members of the Express Group of newspapers (which publishes Kannada Prabha). Many agreed Taslima’s words in her original article don’t seem as provocative as they appeared after translation.

3. The Siyasat report has now been posted -- March 4, 2010

Also See: Joint statement in February 2007 from Khushwant Singh, Arundhati Roy, Leila Seth, Kuldip Nayyar, Vijay Tendulkar, Aruna Roy, Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Saeed Naqvi, Y.P. Chibber (General-Secretary, PUCL), Shanker Singh (MKSS, Rajasthan), Nikhil Dey (MKSS, Rajasthan) in response to the Outlook article:

We uphold Taslima Nasrin’s right to speak forthrightly on any subject, including the burqa. It is her fundamental right. Instead of taking her on intellectually, her detractors are using a reprehensible way of suppressing her opinions. They are gathering outside her apartment in Calcutta, and demanding that the government should throw her out of the country. Keeping in mind that her visa expires by next week, this is a clear sign of intimidating her into retracting her views. It would be a shame if we who pride ourselves on our democratic traditions should refuse her asylum on this count. Or at the very least an extension of her visa

To read more published responses to the article, please click here

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