The protesters who sought a ban on Perumal Murugan’s novel, Mathorubagan, have succeeded not only in getting the author to withdraw the book but also to quit writing. Murugan, who has been the target of sustained protests in his home town, Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, for more than a month, issued a statement on Monday announcing the death of his authorial self and asked caste and religious groups to call off their protest. His note articulates protest and disdain for the failure of the state to protect his constitutionally guaranteed right to expression. It accuses the state and the administration of complicity in the “murder” of a writer.
If the state government preferred to be a mute spectator to the muzzling of a much-admired writer, the local administration stands guilty of facilitating the gag. A public statement issued by a lawyer, who was present with Murugan at a meeting convened by district officials to negotiate a settlement to the issue, has accused administrators and police of forcing the writer to accede to the demands of the protestors. Murugan, according to the lawyer, was given a clear indication that the administration would not protect him. If it had spelt out, in clear terms, that it would not tolerate the hate campaign brewing against the author since December, the protestors might not have forced the issue. Now, the message is that the state is more likely to stand by the mob than to protect the rights of the individual.
Another guilty party in this “murder” is the state’s political class, which has been conspicuous by its silence. Barring the communist parties and the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi, no party in Tamil Nadu has supported Murugan. Does it not worry a political patriarch like M. Karunanidhi that a Tamil author, respected for his sensitive work, has been silenced by groups who see nothing but damage to caste pride in an evocative fictional portrait of life and relationships set in times long past? Civil society is outraged, but the state government must stand by the writer and the political class must engage with the protestors.