On a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) Lok Sabha poll campaign at Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, the BJP’s key ally, the ruling AIADMK in the state, denied permission for a book release event at the World Tamil Sangam in Madurai. While the organisers of the book release event had been earlier granted permission, the U-turn came at the eleventh hour.
The refusal to grant permission by the sangam, a government centre for Tamil research came two days before the launch and the reasons appear to be the title of the book - ‘Is Nadars’ history black or saffron?’, authored by renowned human rights lawyer T Lajapathi Roy, and the participation of prominent chief guests who are vocal critics of right-wing politics.
In a letter addressed to Vaigai Law Firm run by Lajapathi Roy, the World Tamil Sangam Director Dr P Chandra said, “With reference to Roy’s communication on February 18, 2019, permission was sought only for a function regarding the release of a book on Nadars’ history. But based on the subsequent letter dated March 6, 2019, we hereby inform that permission for the event is denied as those who hold contrary views on the government are participating as chief guests and also because it appears to be a caste and religious-oriented function.”
Scheduled for Friday, the book was to be released by former DMK minister Poongothai Aladi Aruna and the first copy was to be received by Sampath Srinivasan, who has penned a book on Nadars’ struggle for equality. The other noted chief guests included anti-nuclear activist SP Udhayakumar, film directors Ameer and Karu Palaniappan, writer and activist A Marx and High Court advocate Prabhu Rajadurai.
“It is not an obscene book. It is a Tamil book that traces the social history of a particular community. How can it be branded as something that whips up caste and religious feelings? These are merely lame excuses given by the administrators,” says lawyer Roy who has written books on various other communities of Tamil Nadu such as Dalits, Tribes and Jains.
Denial of the venue is a gross violation of Article 19 of the Constitution (which provides for right to freedom of speech and expression and right to assemble peaceably and without arms among others), he says. Roy points out that he paid Rs 40,000 in cheque last month to use the venue for the function and the staff, as per the procedure, had made the booking by making an entry in the register. Now, he is likely to file a writ petition challenging the order in the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court on Thursday.
Recalling the Nadar women’s struggle to cover their breasts in 1812 and the subsequent temple entry authorisation law passed by the Travancore king, the community people’s failed legal struggle to rightfully enter into Kamuthi Meenakshi Temple in 1897, Sivakasi riots in 19th century when some of them were killed for their demand to enter into Viswanathar Temple, the book, according to Roy, points to the dangers of Hindu right wing politics and calls Nadars to abstain from it.
Nadars constitute a significant vote bank in the southern districts and are a powerful business community. The BJP, whose Tamil Nadu leaders Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan and Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan hail from the community, is looking to tap the Nadar votes by fielding them as candidates in Thoothukudi and Kanyakumari constituencies.
“It (the disapproval to hold the event in World Tamil Sangam) is an outcome of (government) fear,” quipped advocate Prabhu Rajadurai, highlighting the order in his Facebook post.
The World Tamil Sangam in Madurai was declared open by former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa through video-conferencing in March 2016, almost 35 years after its announcement by AIADMK party founder and late Chief Minister MG Ramachandran during the fifth World Tamil Conference here in 1981. Though recognised by the Tamil University, Thanjavur, as a centre for research, the venue, of late, is also used for activities remotely connected to Tamil language and history.
AR Meyyammai is a journalist with two decades of experience, has worked for The Hindu, The New Indian Express and Deccan Chronicle.