Freedom of expression

Whatever happens, I will not give up writing: persecuted Tamil writer Puliyur Murugesan

Like Perumal Murugan before him, Murugesan is being persecuted and even physically attacked for ‘offending’ with his fiction.

Weeks after Perumal Murugan renounced his pen, yet another writer in Tamil Nadu has come under attack ­– literally so – for one of his short stories. Puliyur Murugesan’s latest short story collection Balachandran Endroru Peyar Enakkundu (I Have Another Name, Balachandran) would have gone unnoticed but for that one story which sparked a controversy.

Naan Yen Migai Alangaram Seithu Kolkiren? (Why Do I Overrreach Myself?) is a short story in the collection that deals with the travails of a transgender. Subramani, the protaganist of the story, is a transgender sexually abused by his father. Subramani is forcibly married off to a woman who has an illicit relationship with Subramani's father. The climax shows Subramani adorned like a fiery goddess with blood oozing from his mouth even as his father's penis lies severed, soaked in blood.

Intolerant response

Besides graphic descriptions of sexual abuse, the story also names the Goundar community, creating widespread furore among its members. It was the same community that went about threatening Perumal Murugan earlier, ultimately forcing him to relocate to Chennai.

Murugesan, who lives in Pasupathi Palayam in Karur district, says he was willing to talk it out to the community members. “Initially they had called up and said they wanted to hold talks with me," he said. "I was only too willing to do that. But some 25 people barged into my residence one morning and took me away to a forest area where I was beaten up for more than two hours. Earlier, copies of my story were distributed to over 1,000 people.”

The police, however, is yet to make an arrest after the attack last Wednesday. On the contrary, Murugesan – who is currently in a government hospital for treatment – has also had a case of obscenity slapped against him by the administration, for which he has been forced to apply for anticipatory bail. “Whatever happens, I will not give up writing,” he said, unlike Murugan. “Even this story was only about the plight of transgenders. I do not regret writing it.”

A history of violence

Neither Murugesan nor Murugan are isolated cases. In 2000, writer HG Rasool was forced to apologise for his poetry collection Mayilanji by a Jamaat. And K Senthil Mallar's book on rewriting the history of the Pandiyars was banned in 2013 by the Tamil Nadu government, with a case being filed against him on allegations of being anti-national.

About three years ago, writer Ma Mu Kannan's house was burnt and he was chased out of his village for a book he wrote that “hurt the sentiments” of a certain community. Author Durai Guna also faced a similar situation when he was asked to leave his village or “face dire consequences” for writing a book that contained “false information.”

The Tamil Nadu Progressive writers and artists association held a protest in support of Puliyur Murugesan in Chennai last week. Activists see the spurt in protests against writers in Tamil Nadu “as a strengthening of castiest forces” against the backdrop of a strong BJP government at the Centre.

“These incidents are worrying. There are going to be many more such incidents and writers will have to stand together to protest this,” says Su Venkatesan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers’ association.

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