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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ban intolerance

The rise of a new clamour, targeting a new book, is a warning that must be heeded.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: December 30, 2014 12:00:30 am

On Friday last, Sangh Parivar activists in Tamil Nadu burnt copies of a Tamil novel, Mathorubagan, alleging that it hurts Hindu sentiments, and demanded that the book be banned. A sensitive meditation on faith, and the trials and tribulations of rural folk, this work of Perumal Murugan, a well-known writer in Tamil, was published in 2010; an English translation, One Part Woman, came out last year. What has apparently provoked the ire — belatedly — is the novel’s discussion of a ritual that sanctions consensual sex outside marriage for childless couples during a temple festival in Tiruchengode in western Tamil Nadu. The agitators claim Murugan has insulted women devotees and even the deity of the temple. Amid the clamour, irony abounds, unnoticed — Tiruchengode is situated close to the home town of Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, the main ideologue of the Dravidian movement, who wrote radical critiques of Hindu texts and epics and campaigned against religious beliefs.

Devotees have the right to follow their beliefs and rationalists the choice to critique what they deem to be irrational. And a novelist must have the freedom and the right to explore and reimagine the world, including matters of faith. The religions that the self-proclaimed champions of faith, like the agitators in Tamil Nadu, seek to defend against real and imaginary criticism have survived centuries of questioning by responding creatively to critiques and challenges.

In the past few months, there have been intimations that the industry of hurt Hindu sentiments has received a new boost. In February, Penguin India withdrew US-based Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, from India as part of an out-of-court settlement with a Delhi-based outfit that accused the author of “distortion” aimed at “denigrating Hindu traditions”. A few months later, the same outfit got Orient Blackswan to withhold the sale of two of its books. In this context, it is heartening that Murugan’s publisher has refused to withdraw the novel. It is now on the state and civil society to help guard the space for the assertion of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

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