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Dear Taslima,

This afternoon, I was perturbed by two of your tweets.

You tweeted:

Hindu women’s widowhood is regarded as a punishment for some horrible crimes committed by them in their previous birth.#widow#womensrights

Soon after widowhood hindu women are excluded from caste rituals & ceremonies.They are subjected to total segregation. #widow#womensrights

I felt this was a sweeping generalization. There is absolutely no denial that a large section of Hindu widows face a terrible fate, cast out of their homes and left to lead lives of indignity and deprivation. Even larger numbers face tacit discriminations which have become embedded in social customs which a 21st century society could do without. But it is also a fact that an equally large number of widows DO NOT face such discriminations as social practices within such a numerically large community is immensely diverse.

Naturally, I tweeted back to you:

All Hindu widows?

Isn’t that as good as saying all Muslims are terrorists? Or do you just love to provoke? tsk tsk

You were not ‘thought provoking’ but ‘needlessly provoking’ !! Would it have hurt if your phrase was ‘many Hindu widows’ ?

In the heated exchange that followed, you called me a conservative close-minded person with intellectual pretense, and then repeatedly froggy to taunt and annoy me.

And I stooped to taunting you as homeless and a refugee.

I was wrong. I offer you my unqualified apology for saying hurtful words. No one, and that means absolutely no one, should be cursed or taunted of being homeless or a refugee.

There are several other things that I must explain and put on record.

First, I am fervently opposed to mindless generalization, particularly when it is in the context of a religious or an ethnic community or even a nation.

Hence I find sweeping generalizations such as “Arabs are terrorists” or “Muslims are bigots” as deeply offensive as “Hindu widows are mistreated” because such sweeping generalizations carry within them the seeds of prejudice that beget abhorrence, intolerance and hatred. You, of all people should be aware of that. And whenever I have noticed people do that, I had steadfastly objected, explaining why I found it offensive, as I did to you too.

Second, it is true that my family isn’t representative of the entire country, but the distinctly different legacies of gender equality or tolerance that we had inherited is by no means so unique or had emerged in isolation. Let me elaborate a little.

My eldest maternal uncle was a budding poet, playwright, actor who had already gained recognition at a very young age when he was murdered by Bengali extremists at Siliguri on July 8, 1960. The language disturbance had unleashed an orgy of violence between the Assamese and the Bengalis and many Assamese residing in Kolkata fled, most of who could afford, by air. My uncle chose to ignore any risk and decided to travel by train, more so because he was also the PRO for NF Railways at that time. His refrain to all who cautioned him was, “Poets can’t have any enemies”.

As the train arrived at Siliguri station, a waiting mob of extremists dragged him on to the platform and hacked him to death. His body lay unattended, mutilated and bloated beyond recognition by the summer heat, for hours in a curfew bound town before being cremated by the district administration without even a near one being present to bid his mortal remains good bye.

On the day of his death, he left behind a young wife who had been married for less than a year and an infant daughter who was not even a month old.

Some time later, my grandfather, a freedom fighter himself and a person of immense compassion and liberal outlook asked not only his widowed daughter-in-law to get married, but when she actually did, naturally allowed his infant granddaughter to be adopted by her step father and grow up in his household. There was never any rupture in our relations because of that or even awkwardness. And that was more than 50 years ago. I would like to point out that the liberal attitude of my family was rooted in the consciousness of a certain society which was largely HINDU but also different from many others of the same time.

My uncle is still revered as a national martyr. Inspite of his traumatic death we never believed “Bengalis murdered him” but “Bengali extremists” who were as worse as their Assamese counterparts and hence, we have consistently refused any Assamese chauvinist to appropriate his memory for any narrow ends.

Third, my steadfast critique of all forms of prejudice and intolerance in not confined to twitter. And we have as a family, paid a heavy price for it. How many people could you have found in Assam during 1979-1985 to question the virulence of the anti-Bangladeshi Assam Movement, far less to question it publicly? My father was one of those few people who had the courage to condemn in the strongest of terms the Nellie massacre of Bengali Muslim immigrants of East Bengal origin on February 18, 1983 or the folly of the agitation and the orgy of violence. We were hounded and persecuted for years, but we never bowed. Are these my anti-migrant credentials then which you chose to ridicule with alacrity?

When my anger dissipated, I was horrified that I would stoop to choose words such as “homeless” or “refugee” to taunt some one. I have never faced the misfortune of exile to truly be able to feel the angst and wretchedness that has befallen many from Palestine to Kashmir. It disturbs me that I should be harboring such insensitivity and prejudice to feel even an iota of glee at someone’s misfortune.

I had to write to you to say I was wrong. No matter how angry I was, it didn’t give me any right to say hurtful words and particularly ones which would be hurtful to so many others. Even though it is a struggle sometimes, I wouldn’t allow my ego to come in the way of admitting when I am wrong and apologizing.

This evening you tweeted again:

When I say women get raped or widows lead miserable lives–ppl don’t say against #rape or widowhood,they shout ‘NOT ALL WOMEN.’ #VAW #funny

Even you know our war of words wasn’t about rapes of women or widows leading miserable lives. Try putting the word HINDU or even MUSLIM before where you use women, and see how that becomes different.

And, yes, I don’t know whom you meant when you tweeted again:

Shame on those who don’t speak up against f.foeticide,rape,DV,sexual slavery,dowry death bcoz these things don’t happen to ALL women. #VAW

I would only like to say in all sincerity that not only do I speak up, I act too. And not only for women, but for anyone whom I feel had been meted out any injustice. Even for ones as prejudiced and egocentric as you are.

With Warmest Regards,

Your Froggy (also known as Nilim Dutta)

Screenshots of the exchange (not all)

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