Taslima Nasrin তসলিমা নাসরিন
The Independent (1997 – first published in Bengali in 1993), 232 pages
Shame is a controversial novel. Nasrin had to flee her native Bangladesh and Shame is banned there. The novel looks at the effects of the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu extremists in India in 1992. The destruction of the mosque led to attacks on the minority Hindu population in Bangladesh. Nasrin traces the decline of Hindu fortunes in Bangladesh following independence from Pakistan in 1971. The Bengali nationalism that united Bangladeshis of different faiths has been eroded by religious extremism.
Nasrin looks at the fate of the Hindu Dutta family as they try to decide their future in an increasingly hostile Bangladesh. Suranjan, the son of Sudhamoy and Kiranaymee, struggles to come to terms with the fact that his left wing Bengali outlook has been destroyed by religious fanaticism. The turmoil is used by people to settle personal scores, kill opponents,rape women, and extort money and land while the police either fail to intervene or actively take part in crimes. Suranjan’s sister Nilanjana is abducted and is presumed to have been killed after being raped. Suranjan subsequently rapes a Muslim prostitute in a twisted act of revenge for his family’s suffering.
Shame is a fascinating insight into the communalism that plagues Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. The violent communalism of these countries has echos of the sectarianism in parts of Ireland. Nasrin shows the very personal effects that violence has on abused minorities. Shame shows how a well paid political class can divert attention away from its failures to provide a basic standard of living by stoking the fires of religious extremism. Whilst a fascinating and passionate book Shame’s characters are not drawn very deeply, they are literary types, whose purpose is to show the various political and social problems of Bangladeshi society. They are moved around the board like chess pieces to provide the reader a view of certain scenarios (but maybe that was the author’s aim). There are numerous pages of historical information detailing Bangladeshi history and lists of atrocities committed. Whilst these are interesting in their own right they sit somewhat uneasily in a novel. Nonetheless Shame’s power and truth is shown by the Bangladeshi government’s need to ban the work.