The international seminar on ‘Harassment of women as registered in Tamil literature’ announced by the Tamil department of St.Joseph's college was set to be held on December 6th and 7th.

After H Raja opposes TN college event on sexism in Tamil Lit govt steps in to stop it
news Politics Sunday, November 25, 2018 - 20:05

On Saturday, Minister for Tamil culture, 'Ma Foi' K Pandiarajan, said that the government will not allow a 'derogatory and slanderous' conference organised by the St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchi to discuss violence of women as portrayed in Tamil literature, to be conducted. Though the government claims the move is to protect Tamil culture, many have questioned whether this was just another attempt to clamp down on the freedom of speech and expression of academia.

The international seminar on ‘Harassment of women as registered in Tamil literature’  announced by the Tamil department of the college was set to be held on December 6th and 7th. According to a brochure accessed by TNM, it sought to address the gender imbalance that prevails in society from Vedic times. In a column termed 'Objective', the organisers explained that they were accepting scholarly articles that revolve around the suffering of women, as depicted in Tamil literature. They argued that the best form to combat heinous acts of violence against women, was to narrate the experience of women through literature.

Minister Pandiarajan however made it clear that the ruling party was against this move and said, "TN government will intervene with the college concerned and ensure this derogatory and slanderous seminar does not happen. When there were numerous Tamil literary books that glorify women and Tamil culture, a poisonous idea that Tamil literature demeaned women should not be allowed to be sown."

And soon after this, when TNM contacted the college, authorities informed us that the conference was 'postponed' but maintained that it was because the institution was undertaking relief and rehabilitation work in the areas affected by Cyclone Gaja.

The Minister's abrupt announcement was made on Twitter after his attention was drawn to a tweet by BJP national secretary H Raja who claimed that this conference was planned by Christian missionaries and Urban naxals to incite communal unrest. He claimed that the event will bring disrepute to works of Tamil and Hindu Vedic literature. Raja called for the event to be banned and for the state government to take action against those behind its planning.

The conference was thrown open to M.Phil and Ph.D research scholars. Forty one topics were provided to participants and they included - Familial violence depicted in Sangam literature, Women depicted in Silappathigaram, Male chauvinistic thoughts seen in Kambaramayana, Violence against Surpanaka in Kambaramayana, Patriarchal oppression faced by Panchali in Villibharatham, Oppression of women in folk songs, How Vairamuthu portrays unmarried older women in songs and Discrimination within women depicted in Kuravanji literature.

Activists, writers furious

This move by the Minister, following H Raja's tweets has made writers and activists in the state question the 'arbitary order' which infringes upon the right to freedom and expression.

"Do we have no freedom of expression in this state?" asks advocate Sudha Ramalingam. "Everything seems to be happening as per the whims and fancies of the ruling government. We are living in an intolerant state. History and literature cannot be changed and people in power should not stifle alternate discourse," she adds.

Writer and VCK leader Ravikumar meanwhile points out that Tamil literature does not need this form of protection.

"Tamil culture and literature is very strong and powerful. By preventing discourses on it, they are only making it look weak," he points out. "Classic Tamil literature is unique because it reflects all aspects of society and people take pride in this. It is very dangerous to strangulate literary research. Censorship is bad for society," he adds.

Ravikumar states that discussing gender is crucial and that this is an attempt by the BJP's Raja to bring in a Hindutva agenda into Tamil Nadu.

"This entire episode humiliates Tamil culture and literature," he adds.

Documentary filmmaker Vaishnavi Sundar, who delves into the sexual harassment of women in her latest work, 'But what was she wearing', points out that discussion of literatureand mythology is crucial at a time when society is tackling the Me Too movement and questioning the entry of women into Sabarimala.

"Mythology becomes a basis for lifestyle and one always has to go back to history to understand roots. If we don't question or challenge what we learnt, what is the point of education?" she asks. "In most mythologies, women are always characters that exist to appease men and meet their desires or expectations. Can we deny that Panchali was shared by five men or pawned off by them? Can we not question why Sita was made to walk through fire to prove her chastity? Religions are fundamentally sexist systems that bind women. All religious texts - Hindu, Christian or Islamic, all display oppression of women. These are matters that we must discuss and politicians have no right interfering in such matters," she adds.

 

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