TAMILNADU: Writers Condemn Burning of Tamil Novel by Hindutva Outfits

S P Rajendran

THE Tamilnadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association (TPWAA) has vehemently condemned RSS and its Hindutva outfits for burning the copies of Madhorubagan, a Tamil Novel by Prof Perumal Murugan.

Alleging that Perumal Murugan’s novel, Madhorubagan, has portrayed the Kailasanathar temple in Tiruchengode and women devotees in bad light, the BJP, RSS and other Hindu outfits have demanded its ban and the arrest of the author. They burnt copies of the book on December 26 at Tiruchengode in Namakkal district.

Perumal Murugan is a Tamil Professor at the Government Arts College in Namakkal. His novel Madhorubagan, which was published in 2010, has had four runs in Tamil and two in English after Penguin India translated it as One Part Woman. Despite being around for this long, the first inkling the author had of the trouble was only around 20 days ago when the men of RSS and BJP outfits began calling and pestering him over the phone.

Their protests seem to be about the sexual permissiveness described in the book, which is set around 100 years ago at the time of an annual festival in Tiruchengode, now an important town in Namakkal district in Western Tamilnadu. Murugan had heard through oral traditions of a now-dead custom where women could choose to sleep with any man they wanted on the night of the festival. Any child born from that night was regarded as a gift of god.

At the center of Madhorubagan is a childless couple. The wife wants to take part in this ritual, while the husband does not. The book has an open ending. The title of the book derives from the Tamil name for Ardhanareeshwara, the dual male-female incarnation of Shiva, who is worshipped prominently in the festival.

In the novel, Ardhanareeswara, the presiding deity of Tiruchengodu temple, revolves around 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.

Kannan, publisher of Kalachuvadu, a Tamil literary Quarterly, which had published the novel in 2010, said though many communities were embarrassed by certain aspects of their history and culture that could not fit in with their present day middle class values, no creative writer could obey the dictum of ‘fascist forces.’ “People are getting disturbed by any hint of non-middle class values,” he said. “But this is also in the context of who is in power in the centre. Had it been the Congress, it would have been a caste-based protest. Since it is the BJP, the protest is about Hindu religion.”

S Tamil Selvan, president of Tamilnadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association and familiar novelist SU Venkatesan, general secretary of the organisation and a Sakhitya Academy Awardee, in a statement said, “cultural vigilantes, claiming the right to be offended – a right that does not exist in the constitution – have all too often bullied writers and publishers, attacking our fundamental rights and freedoms of speech and expression.” “They do not have the right to prevent others from reading the book and making up their own mind about its value or otherwise”, the statement said. The novel Madhorubagan is a creative work with a deep and extensive research of the past cultural life of the society in and around the town, done by the writer Perumal Murugan, they added.

The TPWAA also held a protest against the burning of the novel by Hindutva outfits on the next day, December 27 in Chennai. It now plans to conduct similar protests in all districts across the state over the coming weeks.

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