Book Review

Book: SHAME by Taslima Nasrin, translated from the Bengali by Tutul Gup ta.
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The Independent Culture
THIS book has added Taslima Nasrin to the long list of writers who have been threatened with death for their work. This fact makes it impossible to read the book in a normal way, but it is not a literary novel so much as what she calls "a document of ourcollective defeat" - the persecution of Hindus by Muslims in her native Bangladesh.

The action covers 13 days in December 1992, when the destruction of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya by Hindu fanatics in India was answered by riots and outrages by Muslim fanatics throughout the Indian subcontinent, and especially in Bangladesh. Rather tha n any real plot or characters, there is an almost journalistic narrative of increasingly dreadful events suffered by a family of Hindus who have rejected both religious and communal Hinduism for secularism and socialism. They regard themselves not as Hind us but as human beings - in vain. The climax is the abduction of the daughter by a Muslim gang and the revenge rape of a Muslim prostitute by the son, and the conclusion is the family's reluctant decision to take refuge in India. At this point the father breaks down, "as the shame swept over him". The shame, of course, belongs not to him but to the fanatics of Bangladesh and the other parts of the subcontinent. It also belongs to the British Raj, which played the communities against each other and in 19

05 first partitioned Bengal between the predominantly Hindu West and Muslim East, along the lines separating Bangladesh from Indian Bengal today.

Taslima Nasrin, a young doctor from the Muslim community who became a poet and journalist, made her reputation through her writings about the predicament of women in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent. It is curious that she tells this story almost entirely through men: perhaps it would have been too harrowing if told through women's voices. Not that it helped, since the book was condemned by Muslim religious authorities and soon banned by the political authorities. Then, last year, she was misquoted by the Calcutta Statesman as calling for the revision of the Koran (she meant the Sharia, the Islamic law code); she was prosecuted by the political authorities and threatened with death by religious mobs. She was forced into hiding and ev entually into exile. She is now living in Europe as a guest of Swedish PEN, and makes occasional public appearances under the auspices of human rights, feminist and humanist organisations.

Shame was quickly written and published in Bangladesh in 1993; a revised and enlarged edition was published in India in the same year; the English translation was published in India in 1994 and is now available in Britain. The book is dedicated "To the people of the Indian subcontinent", and the epigraph is "Let Another Name for Religion be Humanism". The author has added a preface, beginning, "I detest fundamentalism and communalism", and insisting: "I am convinced that the only way the fundamentalist

forces can be stopped is if all of us who are secular and humanistic join together and fight their malignant influence. I, for one, will not be silenced." Her book doesn't pretend to be a great work of art, but it is an essential document of an age whichwe still haven't learnt to take tragically.

SHAME by Taslima Nasrin, translated from the Bengali by Tutul Gupta, Penguin Books India £5.95.

`Shame' is distributed in Britain by Soma Books at 38 Kennington Lane, London SE11 4LS, 071 735 2101.