Taslima Nasrin’s Lajja is a novel that spans within a period of thirteen days in the year 1992, when India saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Hindu fundamentalist and Bangladesh witnessed a massive massacre of her Hindu community by the Muslims. Unfortunately Lajja opens at this juncture when there was an immense amount of crisis in the lives of the Hindu families living in Bangladesh. During the Bangladeshi War of liberation, the people of Bangladesh, irrespective of the Hindus and the Muslims fought together against the oppressive rule of Pakistan. Independence was the fruit of their united efforts and the view of a new society was an egalitarian one, where narrow non-secular outlook would not be encouraged. However, things were different than initially conceived and the gap between two communities widened leagues apart ignited by the powerful spark of the Babri Masjid demolition.
The novel opens with a helpless Hindu family comprising of four members. The father is a doctor Sudhamoy Dutta, who has a patient and strong willed wife Kironmoyee, an educated but unemployed son Suranjan, a bright diligent girl Maya. The narrative is fast paced with numerous newspaper reports infiltrating into the story which involves the Dutta household. One of the main thematic orientation of the novel is around the concept of women – their position, their integrity, the moral responsibility of the society towards them, and their victimization at the hand of men who treat women similarly as they treat their lands, reducing them to mere objects and properties.
Nasrin takes the pain to keep a record of numerous newspaper articles, incorporate them within the narrative to show the shame, the “lajja” of humanity. It was not only a matter of communal violence that drove the Hindus out of their homes in Bangladesh; it was also a serious breach in the faith one person can have on the other. The shame lies not in raping women only, but taking women as the easiest target for crude physical satiation in the name of religion and ideologies. Lajja addresses the dark realities of the violence which is not an innocent spontaneous outburst against a community, but has along with it the ulterior motives of gratifying the greedy desires of property, money, and women. Nasrin talks about the essence of riots through the words of Sudhamoy where he says:
Riots are not like floods that you can simple be rescued and given some muri to survive on temporarily. Nor are they like fires that can be quenched to bring about relief. When a riot is in progress, human beings keep their humanity in check. The worst and the most poisonous aspect of man surfaces during a riot. Riots are not natural calamities, nor disasters, so to speak. They are simply a perversion of humanity… (165)
Lajja is heavily loaded with contemporary facts that sometimes also appear repetitive and tedious. Although the message that Nasrin wants to convey lies open as a gaping wound, it does not lead us to get a glimpse of a possible way out of the situations. Or, perhaps there is no way out possible as violence operates in a cyclic way, oppressing the other and then getting oppressed as a part of the process. Is submission to fate, to the will of the irrational fury and chaos, the only path left to tread when times like the year 1992 comes for people like Sudhamoy, Kironmoyee, Suranjan, and Maya? Are daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers to be raped, molested, abducted and treated as objects during these times? Nasrin seems to question the limits of liberty that come along in moments of crisis. Lajja stands out as a defiant soldier, who has seen the ugly face of mockery, but is resistant to accepting injustice and suppression silently.