PARIS (AFP) — Exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen said she plans to return to her adoptive home India by August, just months after she was hounded out of the country by Islamic radical death threats.
Nasreen fled to Sweden in March after five months in an Indian government safe house, where she said the stress from her isolated, prison-like conditions sent her blood pressure soaring and affected her heart and eyesight.
In Paris for three days for the release of a book on her time in hiding, she told AFP she had recovered her health, and planned to fly back to India before August 17, when her current six-month resident permit expires.
"I hope that the Indian government will allow me to stay so that I can live there peacefully," said the soft-spoken 45-year-old, who radical Muslim leaders have vowed never to let return.
"Whether I would be allowed to live a normal life or whether I would be forced to live under house arrest I don't know. So I have to go there and see."
Nasreen was first forced to flee Bangladesh in 1994 after radical Muslims accused her of blasphemy over her novel "Lajja" -- or "Shame" -- which depicts the life of a Hindu family persecuted by Muslims in the country.
After years in exile in Europe and the United States, the doctor-turned-author had made the West Bengal state capital of Kolkata -- a region culturally close to her native Bangladesh -- her new home.
She had been seeking permanent residence in India but New Delhi stalled the request, fearful of a backlash from the country's 140-million-plus Muslims, granting her only temporary visas.
Then in November she was forced to leave Kolkata after receiving death threats from radical Indian Muslims, and hounded into hiding in New Delhi where she says the government repeatedly urged her to leave the country.
Nasreen said she was "devastated" to have been forced into a second exile, and lashed out at Indian politicians for failing to stand up for her in the face of extremist death threats.
"I'm very, very shocked. Still I am in shock. It's like a nightmare what happened there.
"If it happened in Pakistan, in any Muslim country, I could have said OK, it can happen. But I couldn't expect it from the Indian government where the majority are the Hindus."
She accused India's secular politicians of "appeasing" fundamentalists in order to win votes in India's growing Muslim community, while invoking the principle of respect for religious minorities.
"When the so-called secular people, only because of votes, bow their head in front of fundamentalists and appease them, then they destroy the country. That is the most dangerous thing"
"By throwing me out, the government of Bangladesh gave victory to the fundamentalists. Now the same thing happened in India."
Nasreen insisted on the need to speak out against the oppression of women in Indian society, across religious boundaries.
"I was trying to give strength and courage to people, especially women, whatever their religion, whether they are atheist or non-atheist, Hindu or Christian or Muslim.
"It's not that I was vandalising Islam, I was writing about women's rights. I was criticising culture and traditions, even Hindu culture and traditions, that are very much mysogynist," she said.
"I told the truth. I cannot resist from telling the truth. Freedom of expression means the freedom to offend people. If you can't offend others, how can you change society?"
Nasreen, who holds Swedish citizenship from her first spell in exile in the 1990s, said she could not imagine her future in Europe.
"Maybe I would survive here. But if I am out of my language and culture and away from the people for whom I'm writing and trying to change things, it would not be the life that I want."
"I get solidarity, support, sympathy from the Western countries," said Nasreen, who is Wednesday to receive the Simone de Beauvoir prize for women's freedom from French Human Rights Minister Rama Yade.
"But I cannot imagine a future here. Otherwise maybe I would not be able to live as a writer."
Nasreen returns Thursday to Sweden, where she is living with a friend without police protection and where she spent the past two months aside from trips to southern France and the United States.
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