One aspect that has defined the social censoring of writer Perumal Murgan is the deathly silence maintained by the major Dravidian parties, who had always claimed to represent a progressive political discourse.
No reaction has come from them even after the writer put out an emotional statement on Tuesday renouncing his writing career, forcing observers to point to the caste angle as the cause for the indifference.
Leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) M. Karunanidhi, a literary figure himself who is known for his day-to-day commentary on important issues, has remained uncharacteristically quiet on a raging issue that has attracted wide media attention.
The same goes with the leadership of the ruling AIADMK, though it is a fact that its general secretary Jayalalithaa has hardly spoken out on any matter ever since her conviction in the disproportionate assets case.
However, the approach of the administration in Namakkal on the issue provided a glimpse into the attitude of the officials. After a four-hour “peace meeting” called by revenue officials on Monday, the writer had to tender an unconditional apology to representatives of caste and Hindutva outfits and withdraw unsold copies of his book.
Whether Mr. Murugan was offered the option of not apologising, and protection in case he decided not to, would be revealed only if the author of Madhorubhagan decides to speak out on the proceedings of the meeting. But going by his statement, it was clear that he was hurt by the developments.
General secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi D. Ravikumar says the silence of the Dravidian outfits was not something to be surprised about. “In Tamil Nadu, it has always been easier to raise your voice when only religion is involved. In the case of Mr. Murugan, there is a dangerous mixture of caste and religion and hence the reluctance of the parties,” he opines.
Apart from organisations owing allegiance to Hindutva, the main opposition to Mr. Murugan has come from outfits claiming to represent the Kongu Vellalar community, a powerful intermediate caste group which holds a decisive vote-bank in the Western region of the State.
Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS) C. Lakshmanan, who also hails from the Tiruchengode region, says there is more to the development surrounding Mr. Murugan than what meets the eye.
“Mr. Murugan has consistently written about the ills of the education system in the Namakkal area, an industry in which powerful caste leaders have high stakes. He has also been a critic of caste discrimination and dedicated one of his books to Ilavarasan of Dharmapuri. Silencing him helps maintain status quo,” he says.
Mr. Lakshmanan also accuses the Dravidian parties of depoliticizing the masses so much so that in a land known for its social reform movements, hardly any reaction has come against such a danger to freedom of speech. “This is now providing a fertile ground for communal forces to make inroads,” he says, adding that those who called for a bandh against the book and the writer should be penalised.
Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president E.V.K.S. Elangovan says the protests had betrayed a regressive thought process of communal forces backed by the RSS.
“You may not like what a person says. But you have no right to stop him from saying it. The Congress will stand by people’s freedom to express,” he says, adding that it was surprising that the Dravidian parties have not articulated their position on this issue.
CPI (M) State Secretary G. Ramakrishnan said the agreement reached at the peace meeting on Monday was a gross violation of fundamental rights. Rather than protecting Mr. Murugan against those threatening him, the district administration has facilitated an “illegal agreement.” This had to be immediately withdrawn as it was clear that the writer had signed the agreement under duress.