ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Literary Witch-Hunt

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 and vested religious elements led by the Hindutva Right, in collusion with the police and the state administration of Tamil Nadu. He has been reduced to helpless submission – so much so that he has, in pain and frustration, announced that he is giving up writing altogether. Murugan’s sensitive and distinctive novel Mathorupagan, was published in 2010 in Tamil and has run into many editions, since then. 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 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (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 sometime in the early part of the 20th 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 Murugan was summoned on 12 January. The proceedings of the meeting as reported by the lawyer friend who accompanied him resembled that of an arbitrary katta panchayat (khap panchayat), browbeating 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 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.

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