The animosity and bloodletting between Muslim and Hindu extremists on the Indian subcontinent are centuries old. But when the 450-year-old Babri mosque in Ayodhya (southeast of Delhi) was destroyed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992, it let loose a worldwide wave of Muslim reprisals against all Hindus - a reign of terror that extended even to Bangladesh's small Hindu community.
These incidents form the background to Taslima Nasrin's explosive and courageous novel, Shame (Lajja in Bengali), describing the nightmarish fate of one family. Not since Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses has a book provoked such mob violence, public outcries, and calls for the author's death. Following the initial appearance of Shame in Bangladesh, Dr. Nasrin was physically attacked and made the object of hate campaigns. Her book so angered Muslim leaders that they placed her under a fatwa, or holy judgment, offering thousands of dollars to anyone who would kill her. Dr. Nasrin went into hiding until, with the aid of American and European Union authorities, she was offered asylum in Sweden, where she currently lives. The fatwa, however, remains in effect.
The novel's title, Lajja, bespeaks the author's shame at human degradation, her shame both for a government which could not protect the Hindu minority, and for her fellow citizens. It is the indictment of a nation - indeed, an entire religion. Dr. Nasrin calls Shame the "testament" of a writer determined, despite the danger she faces, to speak out in favor of Islamic reform, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression, and against Muslim extremism and other forms of fanaticism.