Tide of illiberalism

Tamil Nadu government must not let vigilante groups decide what people can read, see or debate

By: Express News Service | Published: March 13, 2015 12:09 am

First, they went after the writers, and the Tamil Nadu government kept quiet. Now, it is the turn of a TV channel to face the ire of self-appointed custodians of culture. Early Thursday morning, crude bombs were hurled at the Chennai headquarters of Puthiya Thalaimurai, a Tamil news channel, by members of the Hindu Illaignar Sena (Hindu Youth Sena), a hitherto unknown outfit. The attack comes soon after the Hindu Munnani, a Hindutva outfit, protested against the proposed telecast of a debate on the mangalsutra, and unidentified men assaulted a cameraman of the channel. Though the screening of the programme has been cancelled, protestors, including senior BJP leaders, have accused the channel of promoting “anti-Hindu” values.

It has become routine in Tamil Nadu for communal and communitarian groups aggrieved by a film, book or TV programme, to take to the streets and muzzle their targets. If such incidents have become increasingly frequent, a major part of the blame lies with the state administration, which has been seen to bow to the diktat of vigilante groups. Remember, the administration sided with the contrived outrage of some caste-based outfits and forced Perumal Murugan, an acclaimed author, to apologise for his novel, Mathorubagan. A hurt Murugan withdrew all his works and announced that he will write no more. Last month, Puliyur Murugesan, another author from western Tamil Nadu, was assaulted by a similar bunch of caste outfits, for showing their community in “poor light”. A senior police officer nearly justified the attack, claiming that the controversial piece of writing was “vulgar”. In the past, Muslim outfits allowed the release of the Kamal Haasan film, Viswaroopam, only after the director agreed to several cuts. By all accounts, the intolerance cuts across political ideologies and faiths.

It is deeply disturbing that no government representative has deemed it important to speak up for the right to free speech. Political society in Tamil Nadu, which takes pride in its claim to be the inheritor of the iconoclastic legacy of the Dravidian movement, must resist the rising tide of illiberalism. It must work to isolate groups that refuse to respect the constitutionally mandated rights of citizens.

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