December 21, 2007 / 12:44 AM / 11 years ago

Exiled Muslim writer hits "house arrest" in India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An exiled Bangladeshi Muslim woman writer whose presence in India sparked riots said on Thursday that New Delhi was forcing her to live under virtual house arrest, and appealed for more freedom.

Exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen reads a newspaper in a hotel in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta January 20, 2004. Nasreen said on Thursday that New Delhi was forcing her to live under virtual house arrest, and appealed for more freedom. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

Award-winning writer Taslima Nasreen, who criticizes the use of religion as an oppressive force, has lived in the east India city of Kolkata since 2003.

She was rushed from her home and moved from city to city last month when radical Islamist protests against her led to riots, and the army had to be called in.

Nasreen fled Bangladesh for the first time in 1994 when a court there said she had “deliberately and maliciously” hurt Muslims’ religious feelings with her Bengali-language novel “Lajja,” or “Shame,” about riots between Muslims and Hindus.

Several of her books have been banned in India and Bangladesh. The European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought in 1994.

Nasreen now lives in a secret security facility in New Delhi, which she has equated with “solitary confinement.”

Her fate has become a hot political issue for New Delhi as the Hindu nationalist opposition has accused the government of pandering to Muslim minorities by trying to get her out of the country.

“I don’t think that in the name of security I should be put in solitary confinement,” Nasreen told the New Delhi Television news channel. “I asked them how long I have to remain in house arrest, they said they don’t know.”

The government has refused to comment on Nasreen’s claims.

New Delhi has said it will continue to host and protect the writer, but indicated she would have to avoid political activities and actions that might hurt India’s relations with its friendly neighbors.

Some radical Muslims hate her for saying Islam and other religions oppress women, and Indian clerics issued a “death warrant” against her in August.

Nasreen said she wanted to return to a “normal life” in Kolkata, but the communist government there is seen as reluctant to anger militant Muslims.

“I haven’t done anything wrong. I wrote for human rights, women’s rights and secular humanism and I am not a criminal,” she said. “Why should I be punished in this way, why shouldn’t I be able to meet my friends and relatives?”

The author’s visa is due to expire in February and New Delhi will have to decide whether to extend it.

Reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee, editing by Tim Pearce

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