I stand by Perumal Murugam: Kannan Sundaram, publisher

February 13, 2016


ICF & Newsclick Joint Production,

“I have always stood with all my writers”, says Kannan Sundaram, publisher, Kalachuvadu. Kalachuvadu was first begun as a magazine by his father, the Tamil writer, Sundara Ramaswamy.

Kannan Sundaram was in Delhi to receive the Samanvay Bhasha Samman 2015 on behalf of Perumal Murugan when he spoke to Souradeep Roy. The controversy over Madhurobhagan (One Part Woman), Murugan's book, is not the first Kalachuvadu has faced. There was significant opposition to Kalachuvadu’s publishing Tamil feminist literature in the 1990s.

At a time when publishers are increasingly reluctant to stand by their own writers, Sundaram maintains that he supports complete freedom of expression for all his writers.

In this interview Sundaram also deals with aspects of the petition filed on behalf of Murugan, presently pending in the Madras High Court.

Perumal Murugan is a well-known contemporary Tamil writer and poet. He was written six novels, four collections of short stories and four anthologies of poetry. Two of his novels have been translated into English to wide acclaim. He has received awards from the Tamil Nadu government as well as from Katha Books. 

On January 15, 2015 he made this painfully drarmatic statement, "Perumal Murugan, the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself. He has no faith in rebirth. As an ordinary teacher, he will live as P Murugan. Leave him alone." With these words on his Facebook page, the well-known writer in the Tamil language announced his decision to give up writing forever. The provocation: wrathful protests against his novel Madhorubhagan by local Hindu and caste-based groups.

Madhorubhagan, first published in 2010, is set a century ago, It's a gripping fictional account of a poor, childless couple, and how the wife, who wants to conceive, takes part in an ancient Hindu chariot festival where, on one night, consensual sex between any man and woman is allowed. Murugan explores the tyranny of caste and pathologies of a community in tearing the couple apart and destroying their marriage. It has been translated into English by Penguin India.

In December 2014, the right-wing supremacist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is the ideological bedrock of the current regime in Delhi, burnt copies of the book, prompting his publishers and writers to issue a strong statement that cultural vigilantes "have all too often bullied writers and publishers, attacking our fundamental rights and freedoms of speech and expression".

India has had an uneasy relationship with the freedom of expression. A long and chequered history of banning books.  See Is the ban democratic India’s easy adjustment with intolerance?