Why we must support Perumal Murugan

Perumal Murugan, 49, is a well-known contemporary writer in India, who writes in Tamil language. He is the author of six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry, and six non-fiction books mostly on language and literature. He has also edited fiction and non-fiction anthologies. His Tamil novelsKoola Maathaari and Nizhal Mutram have been translated into English as Seasons of the Palm and Current Show, and they have received wide acclaim. He has received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books. Seasons of the Palm was shortlisted for the Kiriyama Award in 2005.

Perumal Murugan

What is there in Madhorubagan?

Perumal Murugan’s novel, Madhorubagan was published in Tamil by Kalachuvadu Pathippagam in 2010. It was published in English translation (trans by Aniruddhan Vasudevan) with the title ‘One Part Woman‘ by Penguin Books India in early 2014. The novel, set in the town, Tiruchencode, located in the Kongu Nadu region of Tamil Nadu, is a poignant tale of a couple caught between social conventions and their personal anxieties. The novel Madhorubagan (a word which is the Tamil equivalent of Ardhanareeswarar, the presiding deity of Tiruchencode temple), revolves around a childless couple: Kali and his wife, Ponna. Their predicament is discussed in the backdrop of the “traditional free, consensual sex rituals” held once in a year during the car festival of the temple in the past. Kali resists attempts to make his wife to participate in the ritual, but in the end he is shattered when he finds her missing from home.

Madhorubagan captures the community/caste traditions of the specific castes that inhabit the Kongu Nadu region, of which the author has an intimate knowledge. Perumal Murugan hails from Thiruchencode. In his statement, issued following the recent controversy, the famed author says: “Tiruchengode is my hometown. I was born and raised there. I have a great fondness and respect for my hometown. I believe that using my town’s name in my fiction adds to its fame. I have written my works in such a way that they bring out the distinctiveness and the sincere labor of its people. It is in that tone and intention that I wrote ‘Madhorubagan’ in 2010. The novel time is set a hundred years ago, and it poignantly speaks of the travails of a childless couple.”

The Issue

In late December 2014, a group of Hindutva outfits began to demand a banon Madhorubagan, and they sought the arrest of Perumal Murugan. Alleging that the novel had portrayed the Kailasanathar temple in Tiruchencode and its women devotees “in bad light”, the outfits burnt copies of the book at Tiruchencode.

Over the last many months, ever since the new, right-wing government has taken charge at the Centre in India, the demands for banning of books that don’t fit the narratives favourable to some emboldened groups, are only increasing. The sustained campaign against American scholar Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History (Penguin Books) was a precursor to a surge in demand for book-bans that followed the case.

Now, the situation in Tiruchencode remains tense with calls for a Bandh, black flags being waved, inflammatory flyers being distributed at the temple everyday, meetings of caste organisations being held — all of it to pressurise the authorities to arrest the author and ban the book. Perumal Murugan has been receiving abusive calls and has been made to feel very insecure living in nearby Nammakal town.

While the state- level leaders of the RSS/ BJP have disavowed the cause, the RSS cadre remain active on this issue at the district level. The slogan is that the book is an ‘insult to Hinduism’. But the real bone of contention is likely to be the mating ceremony described in the novel, which is trans-caste, and which therefore indicates an impure caste lineage.

To intimidate them, the author and publisher have been threatened with court cases across different courts, which would no doubt keep them busy visiting various courts in Kongu Nadu — a typical, time-tested harassment tactic.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS, AS ON 13 JANUARY 2015

Perumal Murugan issued a clarificatory statement on 7 January 2015, in a desperate bid to avert the Bandh which had been called by the protesters. (The calls had been issued in the name of non-existent outfits but it is clear that the local Hindutva outfits are involved). A meeting was supposed to have been held at the office of the Superintendent of Police between the groups and the author. But no one from among them turned up.

Perumal Murugan was advised to leave town late in the night, and it was hinted that an FIR might be filed. Perumal Murugan left Namakkal (close to Tiruchencode, where he has family) with his wife, late night on 8th January.

The Namakkal district administration convened talks on 12 January 2015, “to amicably settle the controversy over the book Madhorubhagan authored by Perumal Murugan.”

After a four-hour long meeting at the Namakkal Collectorate on the evening of 12 January 2015, Perumal Murugan said he would withdraw copies of the book. He later announced that all his books and writings would be withdrawn and that he would stop writing henceforth.

On his Facebook page, he said:

“Perumal Murugan, the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself. He also has no faith in rebirth. An ordinary teacher, he will live as P. Murugan. Leave him alone.”

SUPPORTING PERUMAL MURUGAN…

This is an extremely distressing time for Perumal Murugan and his family; the author should receive support from every quarter. Several groups have issued statementsin his support and have condemned the harassment that he has been subjected to.

Writers’ groups, publishers, civil rights’ groups, artists’ collectives, scholars and all citizens must come forward and lend their voice to condemning the intimidation of writers, distortion of truth, and the violation of freedom of expression. Not only because Perumal Murugan is among the finest thinkers and contemporary writers in India today, whose humane works have been lauded by readers and critics, but our support must insist that no writer be subjected to such harassment in future.

It is proposed that support in any other ways should also be considered. Ideas and initiatives are welcome.

More details here: http://supportperumalmurugan.wordpress.com/