January 25, 2015

In Support of Perumal Murugan

The following is the press statement issued by Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust on January 17, 2015.

IN another shocking and serious blow to the freedom of expression, Perumal Murugan, an influential Tamil writer at the peak of his creative powers, has been bullied, blackmailed and harassed by anonymous vested religious elements led by the Hindutva right, in collusion with the police and the state administration of Tamil Nadu, into helpless submission – so much so that he has, in pain and frustration, announced that he is giving up writing altogether. Perumal Murugan’s sensitive and distinctive novel, Madhorubagan, was published as far back as 2010 in Tamil and has run into many editions. An English translation of the book was published in 2013 under the title One Part Woman and also went into more than one edition. As if on cue to an orchestrated campaign initiated by the RSS and the BJP in the state, the work has, over the last few weeks, suddenly come under attack for allegedly being offensive to the local dominant caste of Tiruchengode (near Erode in Tamil Nadu), where the story is set some time in the early part of the twentieth century.

This motivated retrospective and retroactive literary witch hunt and inquisition of the novelist has been abetted by the police and the district administration in the form of a so-called ‘peace meeting’ to which Perumal Murugan was summoned on January 12. The proceedings of the meeting, as reported by the lawyer friend who accompanied him, resembled that of an arbitrary katta panchayat (khap panchayat), brow-beating the writer into a humiliating unconditional apology for what he had written, and into promising to retract whatever supposedly gave offence. All that the police could or would do to protect  Perumal Murugan was to advise him to stay away from Tiruchengode for his own safety. The author is now in effective exile from his home, where he and his wife lived and worked, and has been reduced to pleading with his publishers not to sell or reprint any of his books and promising to compensate the loss they incurred on account of this.

Can we allow a set of unidentified rabid and fascistic forces to kill the soul of a writer thus? We call upon the state government of Tamil Nadu to protect the writer, his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression and his creative integrity from such extra-constitutional cultural censors. We call upon artists, writers, intellectuals, readers and the concerned public at large to rise to the defence of democracy imperilled by this unwarranted and vile abrogation of an author’s right to write.