He talks as if any civilization is great only when their women remain 'chaste'.

S Gurumurthy on Perumal Murugan RSSs crass vote-bank politics to breach Dravidian land
Voices Opinion Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - 14:02

It is not about freedom of expression, nor is it about jurisprudential value. It is not about community sensibilities either. It is crass vote-bank politics, and of course, the desperate attempts of Hindutva proponents to gain a toehold in the Dravidian land.

Initially, it was RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy who cried foul over Madras High Court’s judgement on Madhorubagan, Tamil writer Perumal Murugan's novel which has been at the eye of a manufactured controversy. Subsequently Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder Dr Ramadoss also entered the arena, deeply regretting the ruling. It is likely that now Gounder associations will take the cue and kick up a fresh round of agitations, effectively silencing Perumal Murugan yet again.

It is important to remember that no major political party in Tamil Nadu cared to commit itself strongly in favour of the writer last year. So it will be an encore now as well.

What is however interesting is the zeal with which Gurumurthy goes about batting for the ‘wounded’ sentiments of the Gounders, in his interview here to The Hindu.  He says, “Vellala Gounders and Dalits, including Arunthathiyars, agitated. Most of the newspapers have not reported on these facts and that it was a societal protest. What Perumal Murugan had basically written is that the so called vagabonds and untouchables indulge in sexual orgy. But the women of one community are hurt. Women are the pride of any community or family. We cannot deny this. We are not living in an Anglo­-Saxon world. Here we live in a community and it has a certain value even constitutionally, and women are part of the community. Liberalism won’t stand if it ignores sentiments of the people. We cannot have liberalism at the cost of the people’s sentiments.”

It should be remembered that it was the RSS that took the lead last year in the crusade against Perumal Murugan’s novel, apparently after some of their philistines got to know about it through the English translation that caught the eyes of some parivaar guy in the west.

Initially, the Sangh sought to distance itself from the protests.  But as the fire kept spreading, Aravindan Neelakandan, a well-known ideologue of the Hindu-right joined hands with the Gounder extremists and inveighed against the ‘ahistorical’ account.  And once Yuvaraj jumped in, there was no stopping the conflagration. While the government caved in most shamelessly, no one spoke up for Perumal Murugan, barring some sections of the media and the Left.

Why should Dalits agitate, the Arundthathiyars especially? They are easily the most supine among the Dalit sections, and there is no love lost between them and the Gounders. And why would the media try to black out protests if they had happened? This is the usual conspiracy theory bandied about by the parivaar and the likes of S Gurumurthy.

And how does Gurumurthy know that Gounder women were hurt? How many took part in the agitations or issued statements? How many of them would have even bothered to read up the novel in the first place, to get upset?

Each and every line of Madhorubagan throbs with the pain of the childless and the values of a time not too long ago, perhaps even now. Not a word in the novel makes fun of the community. There is no titillation while describing what Gurumurthy calls an ‘orgy’. It is Gurumurthy who used the word orgy, and it is appalling.

When you read the book you will realize how the hapless heroine is pushed into it. The book talks about how it is all done in the dark, how everybody is abashed, how the entire family is with her for different reasons and how they all want to be done with it quickly so that the ‘curse’ can be overcome.  That Ponna, the woman, does seem to enjoy the encounter with the stranger is perceived as an insult perhaps by the Gounder leaders. How could she, when the man could have been some untouchable, as Gurumurthy slyly suggests, right?

In the end, you see the hero wrench himself in despair because he was the one who had forced her to go the festival, and your heart goes out to him. Childlessness takes a terrible toll on many, such is the value system. Anyone with an iota of humanity in them, even barely familiar with literature, would grieve with every character and feel angry about the social values of the time.

One must also remember the truism that the oral tradition is oral merely because it is not recorded. No point in asking for ‘proof.’

Perumal Murugan, himself a Gounder, should be steeped in his own community’s folklore, certainly a lot more knowledgeable than the Gurumurthys, Aravindan Neelakandans and Ramadosses of the world. It takes a lot of gall for these guys to challenge him on that score.

Besides, as noted historian A R Venkatachalapathy points out, “Any anthropologist would attest to similar practices existing in many pre-modern societies with no access to assisted conceptions. Classical Hindu traditions refer to this practice as niyoga or niyoga dharma — an indication of its religious sanction.”

Hypothetically speaking, let us say the whole festival is born out of the author's fertile imagination, the book becomes that much more adorable, he coming up with such a device to highlight the miseries of the infertile.

In Sea of Poppies, we have Deeti who, wedded to an opium addict too enervated to consummate their marriage, is impregnated by his brother, with the mother-in-law herself plotting it all. No Bengali worked himself to a rage. It is fiction, wonderful and poignant, and they are proud of Amitav Ghosh.

Hillary Mantel went so far as to fantasize the assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Conservative mobs didn’t seek to burn down her house. There were few cries of ‘foul,’ they said it was in bad taste and left it at that.

Gurumurthy and Ramadoss talk sanctimoniously of the place of the women in our society, as if any civilization is great only when their women remain 'chaste'. 

The novel is set in a time over a century ago. But the mischievous Sangh parivaar is twisting the narrative, when S Gurumurthy asks, “The court should have said we want some women of that area who practise this ritual to come and say what their opinion is…” Where is even a whiff of such a suggestion?

Interestingly, Gurumurthy warns that we are not living in Anglo-Saxon world. Damn it, if we are not, we perhaps should be. That is progress, reaching higher civilizational values – precisely what these cave-marchers and their drum-beaters are scared of and are desperate to thwart.

Let me conclude with a longish quote from Les Miserables: “The past is very strong, it is true, at the present moment. It censures. This rejuvenation of a corpse is surprising. Behold, it is walking and advancing. It seems a victor; this dead body is a conqueror. He arrives with his legions, superstitions, with his sword, despotism, with his banner, ignorance; a while ago, he won ten battles. He advances, he threatens, he laughs, he is at our doors. Let us not despair, on our side. Let us sell the field on which Hannibal is the people, sketched out by the eighteenth century, will be finished by the nineteenth. He who doubts this is an idiot! Darkness enwraps condemned civilizations. They sprung a leak, then they sank. We have nothing more to say; and it is with a sort of terror that we look on, at the bottom of that sea which is called the past, behind those colossal waves, at the shipwreck of those immense vessels, Babylon, Nineveh, Tarsus, Thebes, Rome…. The thinker of to-day has a great duty— to auscultate civilization. We repeat, that this auscultation brings encouragement; it is by this persistence in encouragement that we wish to conclude these pages, an austere interlude in a mournful drama. Beneath the social mortality, we feel human imperishableness.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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