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With a bindi, from Bangladesh

By R.K. Radhakrishnan


CHENNAI, DEC. 22. "A Taslima Nasreen could not have been born or have become a Taslima Nasreen in any South Asian country other than Bangladesh, especially not in India. India would have never produced [such] a Muslim woman... '' says Lubna Marium (in picture), Bangladeshi dancer, writer and ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Research) Fellow in India. According to her, the daughter of a former sector commander of the Mukthi Bahini, the liberation force that fought to make East Pakistan an independent country, this is because the situation of Indian Muslims is such that the woman has no voice. "You have abandoned her. Just as you abandoned Shah Bano; just as you abandoned the Muslim girls in Malabar who do not want to wear [burkhas]... ''

What obtains in India, according to her, does not constitute religious freedom. What France did (banning students of public schools from sporting prominent religious symbols), she says, was "one of the most beautiful things. That is freedom. Why does not the Indian Government have the strength and conviction to do what France did?"

In her view, Bangladesh is the ``most successful state in South Asia.''

"Of course we have problems, of poverty, criminalisation of politics, corruption. But as a Muslim woman, I wouldn't want to be born in any other South Asian country... In Bangladesh, we have a voice of our own, we have a platform of our own, we have a space of our own and I think we can do a lot for our Muslim sisters here," says Ms. Marium, who is now studying Sanskrit in Calicut University.

Very few women in Bangladesh wear a burkha. "It is not mandated in the Koran," she says. According to her, in other parts of the world women wear it because of the interpretation of the Koran made by mullahs.

What needs to be done for the Indian Muslim woman? "Take her to Bangladesh and show her women there!" she quips. Then, on a more serious note: "Give her a voice, so that she can speak out without the fear of society... ''

She says Indian girls often ask her why she wears a bindi and studies Sanskrit. "I tell them, `Sanskrit is where my language came from. If it belongs to the Hindus, it belongs to me also. If I have to study my history I have to study Sanskrit.''

The bindi is ornamentation. "The Koran does not say that you cannot have ornamentation. I do not think it is a symbol of Hinduism. It is a symbol of culture. Women in Bangladesh wear it."

Why is the Bangladeshi Muslim woman seen as being more free than her counterparts elsewhere? "I have thought about this a great deal... whatever little movement we had has been cultural," she says. This was because the Muslim identity is subsumed in the Bengali identity. "We are Bengalis first. There is no dichotomy." This feeling permeates down to the subaltern classes, she says.

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