Category Archives: Disgrace

Who Killed Perumal Murugan?

there is peace in Namakkal, but no justice.”

Tamil writer Perumal Murugan’s book Madhorubagan (translated into English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan as One Part Woman) has recently come under fire by casteist groups, who claim that the book is indecent and should be banned. Copies of his books were burned, and his family received threats of violence, because of which his students voluntarily provided them with security.

Madhorubagan is the story of a couple, very much in love with each other, but unable to conceive a child. They participate in a ritual of fertility in the temple of the half-female god Ardhanareeswara. The ritual permits consensual intercourse between men and women participating: this could address their infertility, but yet test their marriage. Penguin, the publishers of the English translation, say, “Acutely observed, One Part Woman lays bare with unsparing clarity a relationship caught between the dictates of social convention and the tug of personal anxieties, vividly conjuring an intimate and unsettling portrait of marriage, love and sex.” Scroll.in published an excerpt, here.

The protests from casteist groups come because of the depiction of relations between men and women of different castes, in the book. After the book burning, when protests escalated to demands of arrest, Perumal Murugan posted on Facebook, saying Author Perumal Murugan has died. He is no god, so he is not going to resurrect himself. Nor does he believe in reincarnation. From now on, Perumal Murugan will survive merely as a teacher he has been” He asked his publishers to withdraw the book, and indeed, all his writing. He says he will not write again.

This is the story of how aggressive caste politics, supported by the Hindu right, silenced the voice of an author. You can support him by buying the book and signing this petition on Change.org. You could also write to Penguin and ask them not to bow to pressure from political groups (like they did with Wendy Doniger’s book last year) and stand by the author they choose to publish.

  • Buy the book in English translation here or here (ebook) or here (ebook) or here.
  • Read a statement of support from his translator, Aniruddha Vasudevan and his publisher.
  • Read translator and writer N Kalyan Raman on why Murugan’s book is significant to the debate on freedom of expression in India.

#NaanPerumalMurugan (I am Perumal Murugan)

Disgraceful: how the Sahitya Akademi allowed a Dalit poet to be silenced

I was appalled at the treatment meted out by India’s National Academy of Letters (the Sahitya Akademi)  to the Dalit poet, ND Rajkumar, at an event this week. Mr Rajkumar himself describes the incident here, on the website of Navayana (an independent press and publisher based in India).*

Mr Rajkumar says he was invited  to speak on the topic, ‘My Poetry and I’ by the Sahitya Akademi on November 16th. He was introduced as part of a tradition of Tamil writers. In his speech, Mr Rajkumar took exception to being part of that tradition, and clarified that he did not believe himself to be part of it. He said,

I began by saying: “The respected Isaac Samuel Nayagam introduced me as being of the same tradition as KannadasanMu. Mehta and Vairamuthu [all respected Tamil poets, past and present]. I would like to humbly suggest that I do not place myself in the same literary tradition. I function in a radically different literary field. I have no opinion on their literary work. Fine.

This is what happened next:

Immediately, five members from the audience stood up and shouted deeply hurtful imprecations at me, humiliating and silencing me. One of the five, the advocate Radhakrishnan, president of a charitable organization named after the late chief minister Kamarajar, as well as an outfit called Sivaji Charitable Organization, stood up and made a fist at me. Pointing his finger at me in a threatening fashion, he asked whether I would be able to leave the hall safely after having ‘insulted’ Kannadasan. The others with Radhakrishnan also stood up and shouted threats, not allowing me to continue with my speech.

I did not criticize Kannadasan or even speak about him. I merely pointed out that I did not belong to his tradition. I requested in a calm, soft voice that I be allowed to speak on the topic given to me. Yet, they kept shouting threats at me, creating such a racket that I could not speak. I turned to the organizers and asked them to provide me with the appropriate environment so I could speak. But they, ignoring the rioters, came up on the stage, grabbed me and forced me to sit down

How long will Dalit voices be silenced?

Add your name to Navayana’s protest here

Read S Anand’s (of Navayana) post, about the incident, here

*corrected. I originally called it a Dalit press, but that’s not accurate.