Academics, political activists, elements of the creative fraternity in India and representatives of the diaspora community came together over the weekend in solidarity with persecuted Tamil writer Perumal Murugan
In Sydney at the Town Hall in the city CBD, under the aegis of The South Asian Australian Writing Network, activists including Charmaine O’Brien of CQU, Sharon Rundle of UTS, Roanna Gonsalves of UNSW, Dr Ben Etherington of UWS and Dr Sukhmani Khorana of UoW, conducted a reading of his withdrawn book “in solidarity” and “in defence of free speech.
As they wrote to accompany this video, “In a noisy public space, a few words of a burned Indian book were brought to life and released into Australia.”
Members of the creative fraternity in India, including writers, film makers, musicians and activists,gathered under the auspices of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 umbrella to also express their solidarity with novelist Perumal Murugan after he announced his decision to give up writing, stating there will be continuing controversy over his novels and short stories fanned by various outfits and individuals.
In a posting on his Facebook page, Murugan said: “Writer Perumal Murugan is dead. He will continue to live as a teacher.”
Thanking those who stood in support of him in connection with the controversy surrounding his novel Madhorubhagan, he said the issue would not end as people would take up any of his books and create controversy.
Gathered at the Aspinwall Pavilion, those participants at the Kochi event lauded the biennale foundation for creating “a space for artists to voice protest”. They also took part in a mass reading from the novel’s English translation One Part Woman.
It comes down to a question of our survival, said writer N.S. Madhavan, who led the reading.
“There is too much of a silence against the issue by the two big political parties in Tamil Nadu. Creative people feel obliged to exile themselves and in situations such as this, we should stand together to prevent this,” he said.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader and writer Simon Britto agreed that the state government was bending to the pressure of the powerful Thevar community, who feel that a woman of the community was badly depicted.
“In today’s world, and in a sovereign, socialist, secular India, a writer has his neck on the line and his assassin is waiting at the tip of his pen,” said Britto, a former nominated legislator.
Other speakers, including filmmaker Kamal, award-winning music director Bijibal, scriptwriter Shibu Chakravarthy, activist T.N. Joy and radical movement artist K. Raghunathan also voiced their protest.
“Writer Madhavikutty felt stifled in spite of the presence of eminent creative people such as us. On the other hand, youngsters pick up the smallest issue on social media today and the authorities feel obliged to take it up in some way. This reading is a protest against ourselves and a tribute to Madhavikutty,” said composer-singer Shahabaz Aman.
Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 director of programmes Riyas Komu said that they take energy from the presence of political, social and creative voices and the engagement they bring to Kochi.
“We will always try to protect the autonomy of the artiste,” said Komu.
Earlier the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) called upon the Tamil Nadu government to protect Murugan’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression from extra-constitutional cultural censors.
“We call upon artists, writers, intellectuals, readers and the concerned public at large to rise to the defence of democracy imperiled by this unwarranted and vile abrogation of an author’s right to write,” it said, adding that it was a “shocking and serious blow to the freedom of expression”.
According to Delhi-based Sahmat, Murugan was 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”.
“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,” it said.
Perumal Murugan is recalling all his books, novels and articles and said none of his books will continue to be on sale.
He also requested the publishers not to sell his books and promised them to compensate the loss suffered owing to this.
Murugan said those who had bought his books can consign them to flames.
He also urged people not to invite him to any literacy functions.
Various organisations and caste outfits in his home town Thiruchengodu, 400km from Chennai, protested against his novel whose story revolves around the problems faced by a childless peasant couple and the woman’s attempt to get pregnant following a tradition of consensual sex with a stranger.
Madhorubagan was published in 2010 in Tamil and an English translation was published in 2013 under the title One Part Woman.