Don't hurt Indians sentiments: Govt to Taslima

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New Delhi, Nov 29: Defending its decision to provide shelter and protection to Taslima Nasreen in India, the government today cautioned the controversial Bangladeshi writer against indulging in any activity that hurt the sentiments of Indians or adversely affected New Delhi's friendly relations with other countries.

Making clarifications on a statement read out in the Rajya Sabha yesterday, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Upper House that Ms Nasreen's visa had been extended till February 2008, which was in tune with the country's civilisational heritage and national policy.

He, however, made it amply clear that Ms Nasreen, like all those who had been granted shelter in India, would ''eschew political activities...actions which may harm India's relations with friendly countries and refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people.'' Strongly condemning those making attempts to denigrate Islam, he said there were adequate provisions in the legal system to deal with the problem.

''If someone tries to disrespect islam, it will be rejected...Law is not helpless in this regard,'' he said.

Mr Mukherjee also pointed out that the right to expression is not an untrammelled proposition as it can be subjected to reasonable restrictions.

Yesterday, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma had read out the statement in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

Mr Mukherjee said in line with the civilisational heritage of India, which is ''now government policy'', India would provide shelter to Ms Nasreen.

Referring to the considerable public attention on the issue, he said the Bangladeshi writer had been in India for sometime.

''Throughout our history, India has never refused shelter to those who have come and sought our protection. This civilisational heritage, which is now government policy, will continue and India will provide shelter to Ms Nasreen.'' ''Those who have been granted shelter here have always undertaken to eshcew political activities in India or any actions which may harm India's relations with friendly countries. It is also expected that the guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people,'' the minister said.

''India believes in the tenets of Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam, which is the philosophy of universal brotherhood and humanism...Islam is also a religion that is based on compassion, brotherhood and unity of souls,'' Mr Mukherjee said. He said the visa of Ms Nasreen had been extended for six months till February 2008, and it was being extended at the interval of every six months.

In an apparent dig at the BJP and the Sangh Parivar, Mr Mukherjee said the problem had arisen because ''we are becoming somewhat intolerant.'' Without mentioning the name of famous artist M F Hussain, he said cases were foisted against him.

''I would like the Rajya Sabha to discuss the issue of the internationally rated artist,'' he added.

Earlier, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said it was the prerogative of the Centre to grant visa to any foreign national and it was incumbent upon the governemnt of a state where that person stayed to provide security to that person as law and order is a State subject.

Mr Yechury said Ms Nasreen had been staying in Kolkata for the last three years and she had been travelling on her own. ''It will thus be wrong to state she was forced to leave Kolkata,'' he said, adding that it was not an issue of 'moral policing'.

He also ridiculed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's offer to provide sanctuary to the writer, saying the BJP would do well to have a look at its track record.

''M F Hussain is unable to return to the country; his paintings which sell at a phenomenal price have been vandalised. Cases have also been filed against him by the BJP supporters,'' he said.

''This smacks of political opportunism and diabolical agenda. The BJP is trying to befriend Ms Nasreen because she is anti-Muslim and it will help consolidate Hindu votes,'' he said, adding that it had to be viewed against the backdrop of larger communal polarisation.

Samajwadi Party leader Shahid Siddiqui said Ms Nasreen had hurt the sentiments of Muslims by her sacrilegous writings. ''The government has been extending her visa but the fact is that she has never expressed remorse or apologised for hurting the sentiments of crores of Indian people,'' he said.

He also criticised the government for adopting double standards with regard to Ms Nasreen and M F Hussain. ''Those who hounded M F Hussain out of the country and vandalised his paintings have been allowed to go scot-free,'' he said.

Mr Mahmood Madani (RLD) said he was opposed to moral policing but the right to expression did not give anyone unrestrained liberty to cast slurs on a religion.

''If this is not curbed, it will lead the country to a disaster,'' he argued.

Mr Madani also said the latest book of Ms Nasreen, prefaced by Salman Rushdie, was a conspiracy to divide Bangladesh.

UNI

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