When Mob Politics Throttles Freedom of Art


In the last few weeks, every literary circle that I have stood on the fringes of has been abuzz with one name that has taken precedence over Dhoni and Sunanda Pushkar. (Perish the thought all ye non-literati that the literati is above gossip. We are just as bad as a bunch of men outside a teashop.) Many of these readers and writers hadn’t known his name until a town decided to crucify him for writing what he did and Perumal Murugan wrote his own obituary as a writer.

It is unfortunate when a writer is intimidated and devastating when the intimidation leads to the death knell of his art. It isn’t just freedom of expression that is at stake but also the loss of a man’s being. For what and who is a writer if he cannot write?

My introduction to contemporary Tamil writing was through cinema. This was in the early 80s and I found the themes bold and challenging, subversive even. Most significant were Avan Aval Adu based on the story Oru Singam Muyalaagirathu written by Sivasankari, and Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal based on a novel by Jayakanthan. Both dealt with sexuality and the hypocrisy surrounding it, especially in middle class Tamil society.

In recent times, Salma and Bama’s writings have caused a lot of furrowed brows and viciousness for they have dared to go beyond traditional themes. In fact, Bama was not allowed to enter her village for seven months after her novel Karukku was published. And yet what was it about Maadhorubaagan (One Part Woman) by Perumal Murugan that made a town retaliate by calling a total hartal, slandering him and burning copies of the book?

Somewhere religion seems to be the real issue. If Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus were banned/pulped because of this fear of hurting religious sentiments, Perumal Murugan is being tarred and feathered for setting his novel in the temple town of Thiruchengode and drawing upon the annual chariot festival—what was once a practice in the time before IVFs and fertility clinics. On that one day a ‘divine’ social sanction allowed childless women to climb the hill to the temple and mate with men, not their husbands.

However, what puzzles me is why is it that a novel first published in 2010 is being suddenly seen as a work of subversive intent and slander at this point? Does it take the Hindu groups four years to read a novel? Or is it that only now they see in Maadhorubaagan an opportunity to foster their own interests?

Fundamentalists everywhere, be they Hindu or Muslim, have one thing in common: an inability to read between the lines and think for themselves. They react to perceived threats to their religion. They take umbrage for words taken out of context. They flare up not really understanding why they are flaring up. The mob instinct rules rather than individual wisdom. And that is the tragedy of religion. For god will not make a deus ex machina appearance to resolve issues. Instead deacons of faith with vested interests will decide what we must read, and who we must read….

Shame on us for allowing them to prevail.


- The Literary Citizen The New Indian Express January 2015








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