It is a bad time to be a writer in Tamil Nadu. Protests from right-wing groups, rampant casteism, ego clashes and personal animosity have taken a heavy toll on authors who write in the regional language, many of whom are fearful of exercising their creativity.
Well known-Dalit writer Durai Gunai is the latest victim of this rising intolerance.
He chronicled the crushing oppression meted out by caste Hindus in his village in south Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district through his acclaimed novel ‘Oorar Varaintha Oviyam’ last year, when he talked about the torture and untouchability faced by Dalit people, who are barred from entering the local temple.
Within months, hostile Kallars – the dominant community – banished the 35-year-old from the village with his family. When he approached the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, the judges directed the Karambakudi police to take action in four weeks.
But nothing has happened until now and Durai Gunai continues to spend his days in fear and dread.
“My family and I have been ostracised from the village for more than a year now. The police or officials, no one does anything,” he has been reported as saying.
The writer and his father allege they have been attacked twice by caste Hindus who’re angry about the book ruining their public image.
Dying a slow death
Durai’s predicament is only the tip of the iceberg.
The award-winning Namakkal-based author, Perumal Murugan, gave up writing earlier this year after violent protests by upper caste groups calling for a ban on his 2010 Tamil novel ‘Mathorubhagan’.
“Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher, will live,” he wrote on his Facebook wall, and thanked everyone who supported the author and upheld freedom of expression.
He also announced the withdrawal of all his novels, short stories and poems and advised readers to burn their copies of his books. The note ended with an appeal to caste, religious, political and other groups to end their protests and leave the writer alone since he withdrew all his books.
But the matter didn’t end there -- some people allegedly tried to prevent him from receiving the ‘ILF Samanvay Bhasha Samman’, an annual award instituted by the Delhi-based India Habitat Centre to recognise contribution to Indian literature.
It is learnt that Perumal Murugan has since moved out of Namakkal and settled in Chennai to pursue his profession as a teacher.
But caste discrimination is not the only barrier that Tamil writers face.
Writer Ma Mu Kannan’s studio at Kothamangalam in Pudukottai district was damaged by protestors, who took offence to the contents of a novel – Kaana-inaavin Kanini. He was ostracised by people of his own community and disappointed that his collection of books was burnt by some elements who went on a rampage some years ago. Forced to flee his home, Kannan longs to return but faces opposition from the villagers.
Such vicious attacks on freedom of expression has pained many writers with R Narasimhan, who has published a few books of his own, saying if such protests continued, authors may “be scared to even come up with creative works”.
“Someone is bound to be offended by each and every creative work (book, novel, etc) but by raising an objection to every other book or work could put creative thought in jeopardy,” he said.
The Chennai-based writer said the situation could come to a pass that creative minds may be engulfed in a fear psychosis and may even stop writing. He referred to Perumal Murugan, who chose to end his writing career following a series of protests.
A few other writers and readers say the protests and opposition could be due to various reasons. It could be a case of a religious or caste-linked issue or personal animosity but unanimously agree that opposition could be expressed in democratic forms and violence and protests eschewed.
The issues facing these writers are rather pertinent as a raging debate over growing intolerance in India has gripped the country since the killing of Kannada writer M M Kalburgi as well as activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare this year. The lynching of a man in Dadri for allegedly eating beef in September made matters worse. By November, scores of regional writers in Karnataka returned awards given to them by the state while plenty others from across the country returned their national awards like the Sahitya Akademi. Filmmakers and artists added to the list while Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan’s statements on the matter saw the two big Bollywood stars face major backlash. The issue also fuelled disruptions in the Parliament at the start of the winter session.