A living embodiment of Bengali secular culture is the Bangladeshi poet, writer and journalist Taslima Nasreen. She was awarded the 2004 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-violence by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura, on behalf of an international jury presided over by Andrés Pastrana Arango, former President of Colombia. Her acceptance speech received a long and standing ovation at a well attended event in Paris on 16th November 2004.
The Prize was attributed on the recommendation of an international jury, presided by Andrés Pastrana Arango, former President of Colombia, and endorsed by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
In her acceptance speech at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, Taslima Nasrin "believes that the diversity of our world's many religions, languages cultures and ethnicities is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure that enriches us all."
A qualified physician, Ms Nasrin began receiving public recognition in the late 1980s because of her writings against the oppression of women in some Asian countries. Facing death threats from Muslim fundamentalists, she continues fighting for a new civil code, based on gender equality, and for secular education. Ms Nasrin has published more than 20 books in Bengali, some of which have been translated into more than 20 languages. She has won several distinctions, including the Indian literary award Ananda Puroshkar, the European Parliaments’ Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the Kurt Tucholsky Award from Swedish PEN.
The $100,000 UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize was created in 1995 thanks to the generosity of the Indian writer and diplomat Madanjeet Singh, who is also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Dedicated to advancing the spirit of tolerance in the arts, education, culture, science and communication, the Prize is awarded every two years to an individual or an institution for exceptional contributions in the field of tolerance promotion.
Previous laureates are: Rwanda’s Pro-femmes Twese Hamwe association of 32 women’s groups (1996), Joint Action Committee for Peoples’ Rights (Pakistan) and the Indian anti-nuclear campaigner Narayan Desai (1998), Egyptian Pope Chenouda III, head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church (2000), and to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (2002).