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Updated: February 24, 2014 03:15 IST

Pudumaipithan’s 2 short stories removed from Madras University curriculum

B. Kolappan
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Pudumaipithan
The Hindu Pudumaipithan

The University of Madras has removed from its curriculum two short stories written by Pudumaipithan, considered as the father of the modern Tamil short story. Thunbakkeni, prescribed for undergraduate courses, had been removed two months ago, and on Saturday, the Academic Council approved the removal of another story, Ponnagaram.

Thunbakkeni was removed on the ground that it depicted Dalits in a bad taste. It narrates the tale of Maruthi, a woman who ekes out a living as a plantation worker in Sri Lanka after leaving her native town Tirunelveli. In the story, the character is a victim of sexual exploitation.

Ponnagaram is the story of a poverty-stricken woman, who spends a night with another man to raise money for feeding her ailing husband. The story has been replaced by Oru Naal Kazhinthatthu, another Pudumaipithan story. Vice-Chancellor of the university R. Thandavan said that in the current context, the reading of the text would cause embarrassment to Dalit students and hence, the university had to take the decision. Both stories were first published in the mid-1930s in Manikkodi, a trendsetting magazine in modern Tamil literature.

“There is no justification to remove the stories from the syllabus. We should see it as literature and it is the duty of the teachers to interpret the text, taking into consideration the period in which it is set. Casteism has become all-pervasive and the vicious atmosphere existing outside has entered the university campus,” observed writer and former MLA of Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi Ravikumar. He agreed that the story would cause some embarrassment when a majority of the students studying Tamil in Tamil Nadu colleges and universities are Dalits. Mr. Ravikumar said that since Dalit students were unable to get admission in mathematics and science groups in higher secondary, they were left with little option but to join Tamil literature courses in colleges. It was wrong, he said, to see Pudumaipithan as anti-Dalit, as he had powerfully portrayed the exploitation of Dalit women.

The head of the University’s Tamil department, Prof. V. Arasu, said, “The historical context is important while reading literature; if we start removing literary works citing one reason or the other, we will ultimately deny future generations an understanding of our social history.” A.R. Venkatachalapathy, editor of the collected works Pudumaipithan, said a literary work should be seen in its totality. “Thunbakkeni is a story which fully empathises and advocates the position of a Dalit worker. It will be tragic, if it is read as an anti-Dalit work,” he added.

Removal of Pudumaipithan's stories from Madras Univ Curriculum
Are we denying future generations an understanding of our social history?
Yes
No
Can't say

The most telling matter in this story is that it was not any specific outcry from the Dalit community that called for the removal of these stories, but rather it was effected by the non-Dalit university administration. They are trying to whitewash the historical and pervasive exploitation of Dalits, to make caste Indians look benevolent and to remove historical caste issues from public memory. History and literature remind us of who we are by telling us what has happened to us and what we've perpetrated--otherwise we are doomed to repeat these atrocities. This is part of the slippery slope toward un-freedom.

from:  Steven Vose
Posted on: Feb 24, 2014 at 18:54 IST

Very strange for a University to strike off fictional literature off its curriculum in order to avoid offense to a community? Where are the thoughts of these decision makers when they take these decisions that sanitise education and art in order to keep a sane outward appearance? Will, by removing this text, bring much joy to the community ?

from:  Pradeesh
Posted on: Feb 24, 2014 at 11:28 IST

What a education system we have that doesn't let people know what was the
reality. It has to been seen how they were exploited in those days.

from:  Rajesh
Posted on: Feb 24, 2014 at 11:06 IST

What a retrograde step! Both Professors Arasu and ARV are 100% right.
Students are the victims of politicalized education apparatus.
Tamil Literature is being murdered.

from:  innamburan
Posted on: Feb 24, 2014 at 05:53 IST
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