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Physician from Bangladesh on mission for women
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Dr. Taslima Nasrin visits a Brenau University Junior Honors Seminar class Wednesday afternoon to speak about her books, which have been banned in her native country of Bangladesh.

Taslima Nasrin wants to help the millions of oppressed women in the world.

Nasrin, a doctor born to a Muslim family in Bangladesh, watched the lives of her mother, female friends and female patients and decided to fight against the country's patriarchal system.

"Girls are sent to school but drop out at 15 or 16 when they are given into marriage by their parents," Nasrin told a group of Brenau University students and faculty in the Thurmond McRae auditorium Wednesday night.

"They are not allowed to continue studying in school or college and become totally dependent on their husbands," she said. "They're told to be a good housewife and mother and caretaker. I grew up with much fear because I had to keep inside my heart all my desires for freedom and curiosity in what was happening in the outside world."

Nasrin recounted her discomfort with daily prayers and reading the Quran in Arabic when she only read and spoke Bengali.

"My mother used to tell me that Allah knows everything, but when we prayed and uttered the verses of the Quran, I didn't understand the Arabic verses and wanted to pray in Bengali," she said. "I asked innocently, ‘If Allah knows everything, then why doesn't Allah know Bengali?' and my mother became very angry and embarrassed. I asked my relatives, and they became angry, too, so it made me more curious to know the meaning of the verses."

Once Nasrin found a translated version of the Quran, she immediately turned from Islam as a religion.

"I didn't need to read a book about atheism to become one," she said. "The Quran said men are superior to women, can have four wives and are allowed to divorce and beat women. The more I studied religion, the more I was shocked to find that women were not considered separate or equal in any of (the religions)."

Her beliefs led to her first book of poetry in 1986.

Nasrin has written more than 30 books of poetry, essays, novels and short stories, and her works are translated into more than 20 languages. She's faced protests from Muslim fundamentalists in several countries and was banned from Bangladesh in 1994 and India in 2008.

"I want women to understand that they are oppressed, and this is everywhere a government has been founded on patriarchy and religion. I want women to fight for their rights and freedom and have a chance to think differently," she said. "The fundamentalists took a stand of not tolerating any of my views, and they couldn't tolerate me saying the Quran is out of place and out of time. I had no other alternative than to go into hiding."

Nasrin was placed on house arrest both in Bangladesh and India at different times. In October 1993 an Islamic fundamentalist group, the Council of Islamic Soldiers, offered a bounty for her death, and threats of harm continue from several groups. A few months ago, a magazine in India printed an article Nasrin wrote three years ago about the burka, or the head-to-toe veil that covers women's bodies.

"I was able to become a doctor and do things that girls can't even dream of, so my books describe what made me think differently and do things differently and give others the strength to revolt under the system I grew up under," she said. "I know women feel I am telling their stories, too, and I want them to demand loudly and refused to be shackled.
Shame on us for not protesting and not fighting and for permitting the system to continue that will traumatize our daughters."

Nasrin is blocked from the one place she wishes to return - Bangladesh. She moves around different European countries but always feels like a stranger.

"I am homeless but I have a home. The hearts of people are my home and nation. There is no place in the world I can call home, but the people who support me and express solidarity with me are my home," she said. "I do not regret what I have done so far, and I do not regret anything I have written. I will continue my struggle against extremists without any compromise."

 

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