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I wanted to post Visha’s tag today. Then, I am so angry that I thought I need to get this out of my system. More than being angry, I am ashamed to be a part of a world which believes that the sentiments of its God can be offended by a fictional book. Finally, it has come to this, isn’t it? Sigh.

For all those who do not know who/what I am talking about, I am talking about Perumal Murugan’s Tamil novel, Mathorubagan. Mathorubagan is the name for Shiva (Arthanaareeswarar, anyone?) which means One Part Woman. I haven’t read the book yet. In fact, I hadn’t even heard about the book until the controversy broke out. I am reproducing the summary of the book from Amazon –

Kali and Ponna’s efforts to conceive a child have been in vain. Hounded by the taunts and insinuations of others, all their hopes come to converge on the chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanareeswara, the half-female god. Everything hinges on the one night when rules are relaxed and consensual union between any man and woman is sanctioned. This night could end the couple s suffering and humiliation. But it will also put their marriage to the ultimate test.

Now, what’s the controversy, you ask. A few Hindu (including the Sangh) outfits are of the opinion that the concept of consensual sex outside the marital relationship in the vicinity of the temple is defaming the Hindu Culture. The author got threatening and abusive calls for it. Then, group protests were organised and his books were burnt in public. (Nazi regime, anyone?) Murugan was asked to move away from his hometown to help protect himself. He tendered an apology and told the protesters that he would remove the said ‘offensive’ portions from the next editions of his book. No.. The protesters would still not budge. They went on to close down shops in protest of the novel. Finally, the author thought enough was enough and… decided to pull out all the unsold copies and hold for it, not to write again in the future. This man, whose name was tipped for the Sahitya Academy award this year, decides to stop writing.. Wait, was forced to stop writing. And, wait for the final straw. This book, which these guys are protesting against now, was published FOUR years ago. FOUR, people. Four years ago. (Link to the news story from The Hindu)

What riles me up out of all this? Well.. Too many things. First, the reason for what they are protesting. That consensual sex outside the marriage for the purpose of having a child is against Hindu Culture. Man.. Haven’t those guys heard of a book called ‘Mahabharatha’? I am sure they haven’t! Pandu, Dridhurashtra and Vidura were fathered by Vyasa on his brothers’ wives because the brothers were dead and the clan had no heir. (The option of Bhishma marrying and having a son was still there-eh!) Also, we know who the real fathers of Kunti and Madri’s sons are but we’ll not talk about them because they are Gods.. created by human beings, of course. Now, should we ban the Bharatha too because it is offensive to the Hindu Culture? Such an absurd ‘righting a wrong with another wrong’ argument this. So, I will reverse the argument. If you are okay with Bharatha, you should be okay with Mathorubagan too. Works now?

The above argument is a very content specific one. Now, whatever the content of the book is, whether I like it or not, I cannot and should not make you pull it down. Worse than that is killing the people who make books/cartoons with content you disagree with. Case in point – Charlie Hebdo. ‘Yes, the shooting was wrong BUT the cartoons were in bad taste’ is the most absurd argument I’ve ever heard. And, to think that such arguments were made by people who you once assumed to be role models.. Sigh. Salman Rushdie calls them the ‘But brigade’ and he couldn’t have been more right. Yes, the cartoons could’ve been in bad taste. The simplest and the most easiest thing to do is to not see them. Like someone tweeted, heck, even our kids change the channel when they do not like a cartoon.

You think some cartoons are offensive; don’t subscribe to the newspapers. You don’t like a book; don’t read it. You think a movie will affect your sentiments; simply stay away from it.

So, you say just like how the author is entitled to an opinion, so are the criticizers? Yes, of course. We all base our judgement based on reviews. Good, bad, ugly – I am all for it. For one, I read a book and don’t like it, I write a bad review. I go about telling my friends not to read it. Heck, I will even try to dispose off the copy at home if I feel it might have an adverse effect on my kids’ reading. But.. Will I ask for the books to be banned? Will I send out threatening calls to the author? Will I ransack the author’s house? Will I burn his books in public? There, can you see the difference?

Also, can you reason why the four-year gestation period for the protests? Make the connection, folks. It simply has to be because of the people in power. See.. It’s a religion based protest. And, go back to see who are all part of the protest. (Yes.. The Hindu outfits apparently dissociated from the protest later but they were the trigger, nevertheless.) I rest my case, there. (No, I actually have some more to say on violence and religion. But, that we will be a separate post. It still needs some more articulation on my part!)

What kind of a signal are we sending by not acting against such protesters? Tomorrow, someone will take offense to a novel between inter-caste marriages. Someone else will take offense to a cartoon showing someone adopting a kid of a different religion. Heck.. someone can even take offense to a scene where a person is sitting in a temple (against standing) ‘cos what the heck, how can someone sit before God?!

Today, we have killed a potential Sahitya Academy winner. Who knows, tomorrow, we might be killing a Nobel laureate. But beyond all this, note that we are killing one fundamental right given in our constitution. Freedom of expression, my foot!

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