India: Author gives up writing after book burning protests

23 January 2015


Four years after its publication, Perumal Murugan’s novel ‘Madhorubhagan’ (‘One Part Woman’) has come under attack for blasphemy from religious and political groups.

In December 2014, the right-wing Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, “National Volunteers’ Organisation”) burnt copies of the book, demanding the arrest of both the author and the publisher, and that the book should be banned.

The controversial part of Perumal Murugan’s novel from 2010 is a description of a so-called “consensual sex ritual” that took place at the Arthanareeswarar temple festival in Tiruchengode in the past.

The protests prompted his publishers and The Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers Association to issue a strong statement that cultural vigilantes “have all too often bullied writers and publishers, attacking our fundamental rights and freedoms of speech and expression.”

However, Perumal Murugan agreed to delete the controversial portions in his book in its next edition, withdraw unsold copies from the market and not to write on subjects that could potentially hurt sentiments. A few days later, he went into hiding while announcing that he intends to give up writing and to leave social media.

Professor V. Arasu, former head of the Department of Tamil of the Madras Universtiy, described the protests as a “fascist attack” on the rights of a writer: “The author has only dealt with a century-old folk myth and it cannot be seen as a commentary on the present day society. Culling out a portion of a book and quoting it out of context to achieve political mileage cannot be accepted,” he told The Hindu.

“The kind of fundamentalism and street censorship that is growing in our country is definitely a cause of concern. Freedom of expression is a basic right and that itself is under threat because of incidents like this,” writer P. Lalita Kumari was quoted as saying.

BBC News called Murugan “one of the finest writers of his generation in the Tamil language,” a language spoken by around 75 million people.

The book has been translated and published in English as ‘One Part Woman’ by Penguin India.

In 2014, Penguin India decided to destroy all copies of historian Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism after an outcry by religious groups. In 2011, the state of Gujarat banned Joseph Lelyveld’s biography on pacifist freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi, after reviews suggested Gandhi had a homosexual relationship.

Read more

» The Independent – 16 January 2015:
Perumal Murugan: The author who’s begging fans to burn his books after sex censorship row

» BBC News – 15 January 2015:
Why Indian author Perumal Murugan quit writing

» The Hindu – 14 January 2015:
Will compensate publishers: Perumal Murugan

» The Hindu – 13 January 2015:
Perumal Murugan quits writing

» The Hindu – 10 January 2015:
Writers express solidarity with Perumal Murugan

» – 27 December 2014:
Writers condemn RSS burning of Tamil author Perumal Murugan’s book

» The Hindu – 27 December 2014:
BJP, RSS seek ban on Tamil novel, arrest of author

» Perumal Murugan’s profile in Wikipedia, the open encyclopedia:

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