Interview | Hijab is akin to chastity belt that turns women into sex objects, says Taslima Nasrin as she bats for Uniform Civil Code

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She is in exile today, as the name of her recent book suggests. And her unfiltered mind and politically-incorrect utterances have gotten her into trouble so many times. But Taslima Nasrin remains committed to telling what she believes is true. As the Karnataka hijab controversy takes the nation by storm, with politico-social position deeply divided along ideological-communal lines, Firstpost reaches out to the noted novelist and writer for her thoughts on hijab, Islam and the idea of democracy in India. Excerpts:

What’s your take on the ongoing controversy in Karnataka’s Udupi district where a few girls came to a college in a hijab?

I believe an educational institution in a secular country is well within its rights to mandate secular dress codes for its students. There is nothing wrong with school/college authorities telling students to keep their religious identities at home. Schools can’t be a place for religious bigotry, fundamentalism and superstitions; the principles of individual freedom, gender equality, liberalism, humanism and scientific temper must be taught there. Hijabs, niqabs and burqas have a singular aim of commodifying women as sex objects. The fact that women need to hide from men who sexually salivate at their very sight is so demeaning and this practice must stop at the earliest.

There is a large section of people who defend the girls’ hijab act saying that the dress is an inherent part of Islam. What’s your take?

The issue is not whether it’s central to Islam or not. The issue is that we are living in the 21st century and laws made in the seventh century can’t — and shouldn’t— be applicable now. We also need to understand that a burqa and hijab can never be a woman’s choice. They are worn only when choices are taken away. It’s often the family members who force their womenfolk to wear burqa/hijab. We need to understand that burqa/hijab can never be an integral part of a person's identity. A burqa or hijab is akin to the chastity belt of the past; it is as humiliating as a chastity belt!

India's hijab row. PTI

Do you think the Modi government should try to bring the Uniform Civil Code?

I believe any secular state should have Uniform Civil Code in place. Why should any community in a secular state have separate personal laws? Everyone, especially Muslims, must understand that by being a part of the mainstream they can easily fight poverty, and gender and religious discrimination.

You have never shied away from saying that Islam is not compatible with modernity. What makes you take this stringent position?

Look, I grew up in a family of a staunch believer and an absolute non-believer. While my mother was a religious person, my father was an atheist. So, I had the opportunity to experience both sides, and this helped me question things that my mother would push in the name of religion. For instance, I would ask why should I study the Quran when I don’t understand its meaning and language. Why should we be forced to learn Arabic when we have a beautiful language in Bengali? My mother would say that I should read because Allah would be happy! But then Allah would be knowing Bengali, no? Exasperated, one day my mother told me if I said anything bad about Allah, my tongue would fall off. Curious as I was as an eight-year-old girl, I locked myself in a bathroom and said something foul about Him. But my tongue didn’t fall off! At the age of 12, I got hold of a translation of the Quran and Hadith, and after reading them I became an atheist. And I continue to remain an atheist till date. Because I find the strands of gender disparity, fundamentalism in all religions, in different degrees of course.

Ideally, you should have been the darling of Left-liberals, but that’s not the case. They, in fact, charge you with inciting people, of being unnecessarily rigid and uncompromising. How do you see this?

I am very clear about the fact that these so-called Left-liberals aren’t the true well-wishers of the Muslim community. If you wish Muslims well, as I do, you would never shy away from telling them the truth whether they like it or not. Today’s liberals take a hypocritical position: They don’t like fundamentalists, but they also don’t approve of criticism of Islam. They play safe. By doing so, they accept the barbarism of all religions. For me, secularism is the complete separation of state and religion.

Another typical double-standard, especially found among Muslim intellectuals, is that while they applaud Hindus and Christians criticising their respective religions, they don’t approve of the same for a Muslim. No society can be truly secular if its people are not free to critically examine their own religion.

In your recent book Exile, you mentioned in detail how you were thrown out of Kolkata. Did you ever go back to Kolkata after that?

No, I could never go back to the city I loved so much. Mamata Banerjee and communists hated each other, but when it came to Taslima Nasrin they became one: They both hated me. When Mamata became chief minister, I was hopeful that I would be back in Kolkata. Besides being someone who suffered so much at the hands of Marxists, she was a woman above all. But I was wrong. She seems to approve of the communist action against me.

***

Also Read

Karnataka hijab controversy: Indian democracy enters uncharted territory of grave danger

Opinion | On ‘Hijab Day’, the only choice is to drop the cloth for ‘No Hijab Day’

Karnataka hijab controversy: Why Modi government should seriously think about Uniform Civil Code

History will not be kind to ‘liberals’ cheerleading for hijab and burqa

Udupi hijab row: A pre-planned move to stoke communal tension in Karnataka’s sensitive coastal belt?

There’s a good case to ban hijab in schools, but Congress cheers orthodoxy

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What about Bangladesh? Do you miss your place of birth? Are you hopeful of going back there ever again?

I don’t see any hope of going to Bangladesh again. Like Bengal, Bangladesh has had women prime ministers for so many decades and yet they had problems with a woman who worked for gender equality faces discrimination, persecution. I am also getting pessimistic because Bangladesh has transformed into a fundamentalist country. When I was staying there, I would not see so many women wearing hijabs and burqas. Now it’s a normal sight. The country is very much Islamised today.

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Interview | Hijab is akin to chastity belt that turns women into sex objects, says Taslima Nasrin as she bats for Uniform Civil Code
Interview | Hijab is akin to chastity belt that turns women into sex objects, says Taslima Nasrin as she bats for Uniform Civil Code
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