THE Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, who declared that the writer in him was dead and chose to maintain a silence after his novel Madhorubagan triggered a controversy over the way in which women had been portrayed in it, finally broke his silence on February 24. On that day, he impleaded himself in a case on the issue in the Madras High Court as instructed by the court. In a detailed affidavit that he filed through the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the writer made himself the second petitioner with the State of Tamil Nadu as the respondent. In the affidavit, he narrated the trauma he had gone through since the row erupted three months back. Recently he was transferred to Presidency College, Chennai, from the Government Arignar Anna Arts College, Namakkal, in Namakkal district, his native place.
His statement that “the writer Perumal Murugan is dead” caused an uprising of sorts among thinkers and intellectuals against a few caste-based outfits that came together and, along with Hindutva elements, targeted Perumal Murugan and his right to freedom of expression (“The rest is silence”, Frontline, February 20).
His 10-page affidavit describes how he was hounded by “nameless and faceless” forces that created an “atmosphere of venom and hatred”. Madhorubagan , he said, was written in 2010. Its English version won a literary prize in Canada. The novel is set in his native place, Tiruchengode. But in December 2014 some individuals and organisations based in Tiruchengode raised objections to the novel.
“They were under the impression that in my novel, I have defamed Tiruchengode town and the womenfolk and the community,” he said. “I began to receive obnoxious calls. It was never my intention to slander my own place,” he claimed. He pointed out that a police complaint was lodged against him on December 26. His photographs and books were burnt. A demand was made to dismiss him from service.
He said he thought that as a writer for 25 years and an Associate Professor for 18 years, he had “brought honour and laurels to Tiruchengode”. “I have earned the love and respect of my students. My family and I just could not digest the fact that my book could be burnt and slippered. I became afraid as to how, as an individual, I could face such developments.”
In a press statement, he said he never intended to insult his native place or its inhabitants or to show anyone in poor light or hurt anybody’s feelings. “Some pages of the novel were taken out of context, photocopied in thousands and distributed,” he said.
Perumal Murugan said in his affidavit that he even offered to delete the offending passages in the next edition and made it clear that he would not write anything in connection with Tiruchengode again. His requests and regrets were ignored.
A bandh was organised in Tiruchengode on January 8. On January 11, the District Revenue Officer (DRO) and other officials told him that peace talks had been arranged on January 12.
Since a group of more than 100 persons had gathered at the Collectorate at Namakkal, he and his lawyer were taken in through the back gate. He was seated in the office of the assistant of the DRO. “The DRO told me that the district administration has the duty to maintain law and order and that in taking a decision I should take into account that the opponent groups were in an agitated mood. I told the DRO I was ready to express my sincere regret,” he noted.
But the DRO, he said, told him that the group insisted on an unconditional apology, which his lawyer objected to. The DRO,” the writer said in the affidavit, “spoke in a raised and agitated voice.” The writer submitted a statement in English using the word “sincere regret”, but the DRO insisted on the words “unconditional apology”.
Perumal Murugan recorded that he was in a state of confusion and could see the aggression in the air. “My wife felt that if tendering an unconditional apology alone would help defuse the situation, I could take the decision. I thereafter decided to apologise,” he said. “I told the DRO to write whatever she wanted. My mind was totally blank,” he added.
The function of a writer, he clarified, was to question the social values and subject them to critical examination. “The society, which frames the rules, also provides exceptions. When the society insists on the rules, the writer will highlight the exceptions. That’s how one can perceive things from the side of the victim. Otherwise, the voice of the victim and the marginalised go unheard. Only with this understanding I have been engaging myself as a writer all these years. I do not know if I can continue to write with the same understanding,” he explained.
He claimed that at the end of such introspection “I concluded that I should cease to write”. “I published my own obituary as a writer. Whether others believe in the death of Perumal Murugan as a writer or not, I believe in it. A writer cannot function under threat and fear,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, assaults on writers continued in Tamil Nadu. The latest victim was Murugesan, from Puliyur near Karur. He was manhandled by a group of people who accused him of depicting the members of the Kongu Vellalar caste in a derogatory manner in his recent novel “Balachandren Enra Perum Enakkundu” [I Am Also Known as Balachandren].