Letter: Sufferings of a Hindu family in Bangladesh

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Sir: Shehabuddin Ahmed, the minister of press for the High Commission of Bangladesh, insists (letter, 21 March) that the Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen lives in a luxury apartment which cannot be called a 'cage'. But the word 'cage' in the article he was replying to metaphorically referred to the restricted movement and the constant anxiety of the writer living under physical threats, not to any lack of affluence.

Mr Ahmed reports that her residence is 'a property no poet of her age in Bangladesh could ever dream of buying'. Does this indicate that Ms Nasreen has any unfair means of income, or does Mr Ahmed unwillingly suggest that she is an exceptionally successful writer?

Mr Ahmed implies that her novel Lajja (Shame) depicts a picture of Bangladesh only in the wake of the destruction of a mosque in India in 1992. The novel, however, actually describes the continuous suffering of a Bangladeshi Hindu family since 1947 when India was partitioned. The head of the family, Dr Sudhamay Dutta, did not get his overdue promotions in the medical college for belonging to a religious minority, his male organ was chopped off, his six-year-old daughter was abducted, the family had to adopt Muslim names and give up traditional (Hindu) dresses.

Despite all this, Sudhamay was a nationalist as he considered that Bangladesh was his own land. In the aftermath of the above incident in India their suffering reached its climax, as his daughter disappeared and he became almost paralysed, so that even Sudhamay, disillusioned and crushed, decided to abandon his ancestral place.

The novel describes in graphic detail the destruction of many temples and Hindu properties in Bangladesh (long before the quoted incident in India). It also reveals the statistics of an abysmally low proportion of Hindus in any high position there - either in the government, police, judiciary, military or commerce - a continuous reduction in the Hindu population due to migration (according to the novel, Hindus were 28 per cent in 1941, 13.5 per cent in 1974, 12.1 per cent in 1981), and the rise of a fundamental political party.

In the novel, Nasreen criticises all extremists, and presents a shocking and penetrating narration, in the context of her own social and political surroundings, of the suffering inflicted by religious fundamentalism on a minority community (notwithstanding Mr Ahmed's implication that extremists live on the other side of the fence, in India). Any rational reader would agree with her opening message (a universal abstraction from a specific novel): 'Let, from today, the other name of religion be humanity.'

Yours sincerely,