I have been hearing about Taslima Nasrin from the time I was a child. The Muslim Bangla woman was accused of writing blasphemous anecdotes about Islam in her 1993 novel Lajja, which drew a number of protests, including at least one group calling for her death and offering a reward; Lajja was banned in Bangladesh following widespread protest against its contents.
So it was natural that I picked up a copy of Lajja when I recently found it in a roadside bookshop, as it was hard to find a copy in established book houses in India. Nasrin’s work over the last twenty years since the publication of Lajja has been controversial as well, but this post will focus on Lajja specifically.
Lajja is about a Bengali family, the Duttas, who are Hindus by birth, but are atheists in their belief system. The family consists of Sudhamoy and his wife, Kiranmoyee, and their two adult children, Maya and Suranjan. Though the book is written about the 1992 Riots in Bangladesh following the Babri Masjid Demolition, during which there was widespread violent riots in Bangladesh, against its Hindu minority community, it also mentions in detail two other significant events in Bangladesh history:
1. The 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, which was fought with the State of Pakistan, where Bangladesh fought to become an independent secular state. This is told through flashbacks from Sudhamoy’s experience as a young man.
2. The 1990 Babri Masjid dispute in Ayodhya India, during which large scale communal disturbances were caused in Bangladesh.
The book chronicles the story of the family in the 13 days following the Babri Masjid Demolition. While news of an ensuing riot fills the news channels, Sudhamoy is reminded of his grim experiences during the Bangladesh Liberation war, where he was captured by Pakistanis and tortured. His wife had to stop wearing the Sindhur, which is a compulsory custom among married Hindu women, for fear of being identified . However, following the declaration of Bangladesh as an independent state, Sudhamoy believed all his trials and tribulations would be over. Much to Sudhamoy’s dismay, Bangladesh, which was founded on secularism, was later converted to an Islamic state.