AN INDIAN novelist has gone into hiding and said he has quit writing after his latest book about a woman’s efforts to get pregnant with a stranger sparked virulent protests by right-wing Hindu and caste groups.
Perumal Murugan’s publisher was pulling all copies of his 2010 novel Madhorubagan – published in English in 2013 under the title One Part Woman – from the shelves yesterday after Hindu nationalists and caste groups organised weeks of protests in the southern state of Tamil Nadu demanding Mr Murugan delete portions of the Tamil-language book because they found them offensive.
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The author disappeared from public view earlier this week and announced he would no longer write books.
“Writer Perumal Murugan is dead. He will continue to live as a teacher,” he wrote in a Facebook post in which he also promised to compensate booksellers for any losses.
His publisher, Kannan Sundaram, said the author had been receiving threatening phone calls over the past month.
It is not the first time that Hindu conservatives have silenced an author or forced a book to be withdrawn. Last year, Penguin India decided to destroy all copies of historian Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism after an outcry by religious groups.
In 2011, the state of Gujarat banned Joseph Lelyveld’s biography on pacifist freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi, after reviews portrayed sections as suggesting Gandhi had a homosexual relationship.
Mr Murugan’s latest book, set about a century ago in the small town of Thiruchengode in Tamil Nadu, tells the story of a childless couple and the woman’s attempt to become pregnant through consensual sex with a stranger at a temple festival.
Mr Sundaram said protesters had demanded Mr Murugan delete references to Thiruchengode, where the author teaches at a college.
A group of Indian writers said the attacks against Mr Murugan’s work were a blow to freedom of expression.
Writer P Lalita Kumari said: “The kind of fundamentalism and street censorship that is growing in our country is definitely a cause of concern. Freedom of expression is a basic right and that is under threat because of incidents like this.”
Tamil is spoken by about 75 million people, mainly in southern India, and in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia.
India has a long history of banning books – usually for allegedly offending religious and community sentiments, misrepresenting the country or perceived obscenity – but such a dramatic reaction by a writer who has been clearly intimidated is unprecedented.
Things reportedly came to a head at a meeting on Monday between Mr Murugan and the groups opposed to him.
The author has not spoken about the meeting. The groups had demanded that he offer an unconditional apology, delete the controversial portions, take back unsold copies and stop writing on “controversial subjects that hurt the sentiments of the people”.
Last month,the right-wing Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh burnt copies of the book, prompting his publishers and writers to issue a statement saying that cultural vigilantes “have all too often bullied writers and publishers, attacking our fundamental rights and freedoms of speech and expression”.