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Taslima Nasrin - Bangladeshi doctor, poet and refugee
Year of production - 2001
Duration - 3min 6sec
Tags - artists, Asia, Bangladesh, belonging, biography, censorship, civics and citizenship, conflict, creativity, culture, family life, Fearless - Stories from Asian Women, gender, identity, migrants, multiculturalism, poetry, refugees, Screen Asia, social justice, values, women, writers, see all tags
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Taslima Nasrin reflects that she has come to the view that women are oppressed everywhere, to a greater or lesser degree. She reminisces that she had previously neglected to see her mother’s qualities and problems. Taslima explains that she must continue to write: “It’s a good feeling to write” and to dream of Utopia.
This digital resource is from the project Screen Asia, a joint production of the Asia Education Foundation, Australian Children’s Television Foundation and Screen Australia Digital Learning. Click here for more digital resources for Asia.
Taslima Nasrin – Bangladeshi doctor, poet and refugee is an excerpt from the documentary The Price of Freedom an episode of the four part series entitled Fearless – Stories from Asian Women, produced in 2001. Fearless – Stories from Asian Women is a Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Mask Productions. Produced and developed with the assistance of ScreenWest and the Lotteries Commission of Western Australia. Produced in association with SBS Independent.
In the middle years of schooling, students can synthesise, analyse, reflect on and apply their learning to personal experiences of Asia in an increasingly independent way. They engage in cultural exchange, reflecting their enhanced understanding of their own culture, and their richer and broader framework of knowledge and understanding of Asian cultures. The aim is that students will increasingly empathise with people from different cultural backgrounds, and develop intercultural values and skills to participate in, learn from, contribute to and engage confidently in diverse cultural environments at home and abroad.
All state and territory syllabuses for English, SOSE and Arts
This clip is from episode 2, The Price of Freedom, a 2003 documentary series titled Fearless – Stories from Asian Women, directed by Mathew Kelley and Peter Du Cane.
Fearless – Stories from Asian Women examines the experiences of four women fighting for justice. Each is from a different culture and has her own fascinating story. All are united by their refusal to remain silent and accepting. These courageous and committed women are prepared to risk everything in pursuit of human rights. This compelling series examines the issues that incite them to action, their personal motivations and their hopes for the future.
The Price of Freedom portrays the poet Taslima Nasrin and her struggle against women’s oppression and forces of fundamentalism. In 1994, she plunged Bangladesh into a wave of general strikes and mass protest. Her crime: to write her thoughts about how religious fundamentalism has consigned women to a secondary role in modern society. For her outspokenness, the nation’s leaders issued a fatwa against her, and the court decided she must leave Bangladesh. This clip is from the story of Taslima Nasrin, now living in exile in Sweden. It shows how she continues to resist the forces of oppression despite attempts to silence her, and her dreams for the future of global society.
Teachers should note that the video clip ‘may offend religious sensibilities’. However, it will assist students to understand Asia, to develop informed attitudes and values, to know about contemporary and traditional Asia, and to connect Australia and Bangladesh (National Statement for Engaging Students with the Studies of Asia).
For further background preparation, ask students to create a ‘Fact File’ rubric of three columns. (You will find a model on page 50 in In our Own Backyard: Connecting to Global Issues in Our Region, edited by Bronwyn Collie, published by Curriculum Corporation, 2006.) Label your three columns ‘Feature of Comparison’, ‘Bangladesh’ and ‘Australia’. To complete the rubric, research information for the following ‘features of comparison’ for both countries: Geographic area, Population, Government, Capital population, Dominant language, Other main languages, Main ethnic groups, Religions, Average income per day/year, Average life expectancy, National literacy rate, Major exports including any to Bangladesh/Australia, Major imports including any from Bangladesh/Australia, Cultural exchanges with Bangladesh/Australia.
Also, the class should be shown a map of the distribution of Islam in the Asia—Australia region. If students are not familiar with Islam, or other world religions, some of the activities and further references are designed for the teacher to address this, so that students develop intercultural skills and understandings. The teacher should establish student prior knowledge, and decide whether to work through these first. The teacher should also familiarise themselves with ‘folk Islam’. This is discussed in the full film version of The Price of Freedom.
Activity 1: Ask students to discuss and respond to the following questions:
- In the 1990s Taslima Nasrin had to leave her birth country, Bangladesh, because her poetry and speeches criticised religion’s oppression of women, including oppression by ‘folk’ Islam. She currently lives in exile in Sweden. Where in Asia is Bangladesh located? What climate would this country have compared to Sweden and/or Australia? How might this difference affect Taslima?
- How does Taslima describe her childhood compared to her brothers’ childhood? In your family, are the educational goals different according to the gender of the children? Explain with examples.
- Does Australia have a Bangladeshi migrant population? If so, what is their story?
- Which childhood talent shaped Taslima’s destiny? Was this talent recognised and valued by her family? Can you name some Australian writers who used a male pseudonym in order to get published in the early 1900s?
Activity 2: Individually, in pairs, or in a group, students are asked to present their responses to the following:
- Create a profile of Taslima – include her year and country of birth, childhood, qualifications, work experience, skills, court experiences, personality, beliefs and values. You might like to visit her website and read some of her poems to include in the profile. You may find the poems arguing for great cultural change. Think about whether Taslima’s words are literal or metaphorical in meaning.
- Whilst we learn that Taslima feels damaged by her country’s dominant religion and interpretation of gender roles, we can see that she values other aspects of Bangladeshi culture. What evidence can we see of this in her home in Sweden?
Activity 3: Individually or in a group, students are asked to research and write their responses to the following:
- Research Salman Rushdie. Who is he and what happened to him after he wrote a book called The Satanic Verses? Why is Taslima sometimes described as the female Salman Rushdie?
- What does the phrase ‘free speech’ mean? How free is speech in Australia? Has this always been so? Research current laws about defamation, slander and hate speech/vilification. Look at the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship website, Click on ‘Five Fundamental Freedoms’. Create an information poster/webpage.
- Investigate the case of Australian writer, Harry Nicolaides, who was sentenced to three years jail in Thailand in January, 2009, for offending the law of ‘lese majeste’ in his novel. (See The Age Editorial, 21 January 2009 Can Canberra catch the conscience of the king?). From which legal culture does the ‘lese majeste’ law originate and what is it?
- Investigate the fate of female Nepali journalist, Uma Singh, or Sri Lankan Editor, Lasantha Wickramatunga. (See The Age, The News can be all bad for journalists in South Asia, by Matt Wade, page 18, 17 January 2009)
- Investigate the brief history of the communist party in Australia. When was it illegal in Australia to be a member of this political party and to participate in its activities? Did this ban also include the writing of articles? Why did the government fear this group and its ideas at the time?
- Investigate the 2008 World Youth Congress with the Pope in Sydney, Australia, and the NSW government’s ban on protest groups. Why did the congress organisers fear criticism of the Catholic church?
- Currently, is there censorship of any particular views or beliefs in Australia? Look at the laws about terrorism and look at the controversy about advertisements run by the Atheist Foundation of Australia. What is your opinion about such censorship?
Fearless – Stories from Asian Women Study Guide, Film Australia and ATOM.
Fearless – Stories from Asian Women – The Price of Freedom, full film version, 2003, Film Australia.
Barnard and Cho, 2005, Islam, P16–19, in The Really Big Beliefs Project, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Barnard and Cho, 2005, Christianity, P8–11, in The Really Big Beliefs Project, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Deveny, C, Fear of God, or just fear of difference of opinion?, The Age, 18 February 2009.
Kabir, Mystic Song 1, in Literature, Voices and Visions from India for the Senior English Classroom CD rom, 2004, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Kwok, J and McKnight L, 2002, Film Asia, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Naheed, K, 1997, I am not that woman, in Dimensions by Bott, Grafton, Millard, Trevaskis, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.
Townsend & Otero, The Golden Rule, activity, P128–129 in Awareness and Appreciation of Cultures – The Global Classroom, Hawker Brownlow Education, 2000.