Taslima describes 'slow death' of life in hiding
Monday, 14 January 2008

Agence France-Presse . Paris

Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, under Indian government protection from Islamist death threats, described her life in hiding as a 'slow and lingering death' in a text released in France on Friday.

'I am merely a disembodied voice. Those who once stood by me have disappeared into the darkness,' the 45-year-old Taslima wrote in an article published in Saturday's edition of Le Monde newspaper.

Taslima complains she feels abandoned to her fate, after being whisked from Bengali-speaking Kolkata last month to an undisclosed safe house in New Delhi following violent Muslim protests over her writings.

'I am like the living dead: benumbed; robbed of the pleasure of existence and experience; unable to move beyond the claustrophobic confines of my room... It is like a slow and lingering death, like sipping delicately from a cupful of slow-acting poison that is gradually killing all my faculties.'

Taslima left Bangladesh in 1994 after receiving death threats from Islamic extremists, and has since lived in exile in Europe, the United States and, since 2004, in the east Indian city of Kolkata.

Extremist Muslims accuse Taslima, who was born into a Muslim family but now calls herself an atheist, of blasphemy over her 1994 novel 'Lajja' or 'Shame', which depicts the life of a Hindu family persecuted by Muslims in Bangladesh.

The Indian government has pledged to protect Taslima but has warned her not to make any statements that might 'hurt the sentiments of our people', an apparent reference to India's 140-million-plus Muslims.

'What crime have I committed that I have to spend my life hidden away, relegated to the shadows? For what crimes am I being punished by this society, this land?' Taslima asks.

'I am but a simple writer who neither knows nor understands the dynamics of politics,' she writes, saying she had been made 'a political pawn'.

While acknowledging India's 'hospitality', Taslima laments her failure to find a city of welcome due to pressure from Muslim fundamentalists.

'The force of fundamentalism, which I have opposed and fought for many years, has only been strengthened by my defeat.'

She writes of an India 'where not a single political party of any persuasion has spoken out in my favour, where no non-governmental organisation, women's rights or human rights group has stood by me.'

'Frankly, this facet of the new India terrifies me,' she said, while acknowledging the support of Indian journalists and intellectuals, who have asked the government to relax her 'prison conditions'.

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