Bangladeshi writer and human rights activist Taslima Nasreen, who has been living in exile since 1994 after facing the ire of fundamentalists in her country, today batted for a Uniform Civil Code, saying that the measure was "urgently" needed to empower people with their rights.
In an impromptu session at the Jaipur Literature Festival here (JLF), the author said the Islamic society needed to be more tolerant towards criticism to make progress.
She said that criticism of Islam is the only way to establish secularism in Islamic countries.
In conversation with Salil Tripathi, the chair of the Writers-in-Prison Committee of PEN International, Nasrin said: "When I or anyone else criticise Hinduism, Buddhism or other religions nothing happens. But the moment you criticise Islam, people come running after your life.
"They issue fatwas against you and they want to kill you. But why do they need to do so? If they disagree with me, they can write against me, share their views like we do. They can have conversations rather than fatwas," the 55-year-old writer contended.
Nasrin said that Muslim women are "oppressed" and that uniform civil law is the need of the hour to protect their rights.
"It is necessary for Islamic society to be tolerant and accept criticism without which they cannot progress. Uniform Civil Code is urgently required for empowering people with human rights," she said.
The controversial writer slammed religious fanatics saying she did not believe in terms like "nationalism" or "religious fundamentalism".
"I don't believe in nationalism, religious fundamentalism. I believe in one world. I believe in rights, freedom, humanism and rationalism. Until Islam accepts criticism, no Islamic country can be considered secular. Whenever I criticise, people want to kill me."
The session featuring Nasreen was itself full of controversyas it took place after halting an ongoing session. As soon as it began, a group of 8-10 protetesters arrived to disrupt the session.
Citing the treatment meted out to her by the West Bengal government that issued a fatwa against her in 2007, she questioned why secular writers were forced to leave the country or murdered.
"Why are secular writers being forced to leave the country or murdered, while religious fanatics are sheltered. I was attacked in Kolkata. Fatwa was issued against me," she said.
"Secularism doesn't mean to save and shelter such people just to cash in on Muslim votes. Hindu and Muslim fanatics have equally attacked me, but they were never punished," she said.
Noting that "true secularism" was not being practised, she said both the right to believe in a religion and not to believe in one must be respected by the state.
"People do not practice true secularism. Everyone has a right to believe in their religion and I respect it. The problem is that the state and the society respect the right to believe in a religion, but not the right to not believe in one.
The state must not be religious. All laws must be based on equality and justice," she said.
She also said that all religions were "against women" and only education can help mitigate the "rising intolerance".
"Be it any religion, they are always against women. I believe in absolute freedom of expression. To curb rising intolerance in society and atrocities on women, education can play a major role.
"When I talk about women rights, I criticise religions that do not have equal rights for women. Hindu women in Bangladesh do not get the freedom they have in India. What kind of democracy is it?" she said.
From a poet in the late 1980s, Nasrin rose to global attention by the end of the 20th century owing to her essays and novels from the feminist viewppoint and severe criticism of Islam. Her 1993 novel "Lajja" garnered severe criticism in Bangladesh, forcing her to leave the country.
After multiple threats and attacks against her in the backdrop of "Lajja", Nasrin escaped to Sweden in 1994 and spent the next 10 years in exile in Europe and America. Coming to India in 2004, she settled in Kolkata, where she lived till November 2007 and then moved to New Delhi. she again moved to Sweden in 2008 and later worked as a research scholar at New York University.
Nasrin is now a Swedish citizen. She has been continuously getting Indian visas since 2004 and currently lives in New Delhi.
The session was themed around her latest memoir "Exile" a" a cumulative chronicle of her days in Kolkata and the circumstances under which she was, in her own words, "hurriedly shifted, first to Jaipur and then to Delhi, confined to an obscure safe houses, and faced incessant pressure from senior officials and politicians to leave India" and is replete with dark imageries and repeated provocations.