‘One Part Woman’

‘‘Writer Perumal Murugan is dead... He will continue to live as a teacher’’. That was how Murugan reacted on facebook, after being threatened by the Tamil Nadu administration for his award-winning book ‘One Part Woman’. The tale told lyrically by Perumal Murugan in "One Part Woman", a story written in Tamil four years ago and published in English in 2013, refers to the practice of 'niyog' which, according to Indian tradition, Gods, commoners and saints have practised for centuries. Published in Tamil four years ago, it was widely acclaimed. Not surprisingly, it evoked no protest or criticism. Tamil Nadu has a long tradition of strident polemical and literary writing that criticises traditions, superstitions, strongly-held Hindu beliefs and the behaviour of Hindu gods themselves as depicted in various scriptures. The State has been ruled for decades now by Dravidian parties that are united in their admiration for EV Ramaswamy Naiker or "Periyar", the most trenchant critic of Hindu tradition.

And yet, in December 2014, members of the Sangh Parivar began their vociferous protests against Murugan. They burnt copies of the book publicly, demanded a ban on it, organised a 'hartal' in his home-town of Namakkal where both he and his wife live and work, and subjected him to the worst kind of abuse and invective, forcing him to leave his home.

On January 12, he was called by the District Magistrate for 'peace talks' which he attended with a lawyer. Many students wanted to accompany him, but were dissuaded from doing so. In the Collectorate, an administrative officer forced him to sign an abject letter of 'unconditional apology'. The administration also forced him to agree to make serious changes in his book. He broke down saying that he 'would write anything, do anything. I accept'. His lawyer says "The police did not support Perumal Murugan even a wee bit. The District Administration totally let him down. According to them, it was a pure law and order issue. Literary freedom and Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution were remote concerns... Perumal Murugan was simply thrown to the wolves."

The AIADMK (which is in power) and the DMK, both of whom owe their political successes to the legacy of Periyar, have maintained a shameless silence and have done nothing to punish the administration for its unconstitutional behaviour. Only Stalin of the DMK has at least criticised the pilloring of Murugan.

The CPI(M) and the CPI have not only condemned the State administration and the Sangh Parivar but have organised and been part of big mobilisations and protests along with writers, activists and journalists and their organisations. The Tamil Nadu High Court has also refused to 'ban' the book. Well, the left is protesting because they are not in power.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) trying to find a foothold in Tamil Nadu from outside the State has used this as an occasion to create ruckus in the name of Hindutva which is alien to Tamil Nadu. What is surprising is the help they received from the administration. The surmise is Jayalalitha being in Jail/bail needs help from the Centre and she might be helping them.

A childless couple using another man to get one is the theme of a great novel by novelist S L Bhyrappa of Kannada who is also a Hundutva ideologue. That was four decades back. It became a famous motion picture... "Vamsha Vrkasha"—it received literary acclaimg and National awards. Nothing happened those days. The present one indicates how intolerant fundamental society India growing into under the Modi dispensation at the Centre. In truth even the marxist left, CPM to be precise, behaves like diehard religious fundamentalists if the situation so demands to further their vested interests.

What happened to Taslima Nasrin who lived in the capital of a state ruled by a Marxist party over decades? Not only that, what happened to T J Joseph of Kerala in 2010 when Kerala was under the rule of Marxist led government? A college professor, T J Joseph, was persecuted for 'hurting' Islamic sentiments while setting a question paper for an internal examination. The Catholic Church mercilessly threw him out of his job; he was forced to go into hiding to save his life, then hunted down and arrested and his young son tortured. He was an active member of the CPM-led union of college teachers, yet the union did not lift a little finger in his support. The Marxist-led government went into an overdrive to prove its loyalty to the fundamentalist mob. Later, a group attacked him before the eyes of his mother and sister and chopped his right palm off. A few lackadaisical arrests were made and the case just vanished; the real culprits are said to be living happily and roaming. The professor's wife committed suicide last year, suffering from depression.

Thus the cause of the malice is not just the philosophy of Sangh parivar but the politics of votes and betrayal of ideology due to the cause of power hungry and greedy politicians of all hues and colours.

Vol. 47, No. 32, Feb 15 -21, 2015