New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) Breaking its silence over repeated threats to Malayalam novelist S. Hareesh, Sahitya Akademi President Chandrashekhar Kambar, speaking to IANS, condemned the threats that the novelist received from some right wing outfits, promising that as the President of Indias National Academy of Letters, he will write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and draw his attention to the “pressures and attacks” writers like Hareesh are facing.
“This is very very unfortunate. I want to send out one message very clearly that the Sahitya Akademi is an institution of the writers, by the writers and for the writers, and we condemn all attacks and pressures that writers face,” Kambar, a recipient of the Jnanpith Award, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Padma Shri told IANS over telephone from Bangalore.
The publisher, DC Books, was also firm that the controversial novel “Meesha” would be available at bookstores across Kerala.
Kambar said that freedom of speech was “pivotal to the functioning of any democracy” and the Akademi condemned any act of violence, intimidation or threats not only to writers in India but anywhere in the world.
“It is with great sadness that I received the news of the writer being targeted and threatened. I want to say clearly that the Sahitya Akademi strongly condemns this act,” he said.
The 81-year-old agreed that writers and artists were easy targets of fundamental outfits and that there was a rise in vitriol against them in recent times.
“I will be writing to the Prime Minister to draw his attention to the great sadness that writers are facing. I have to write,” he said.
The novel was being serialised by Mathrubhumi Weekly before being withdrawn by the author after threats.
Hareesh, a recipient of Kerala Sahitya Akademi award, had said that it all started after suspected right-wing activists posted on his Facebook page that the novel was an “insult” to Hinduism.
He also told a Malayalam TV channel that he was “too weak” to take on the people as threats had started to come against him and his family and he withdrew it from further serialisation.
Fearing more onslaughts, Hareesh has also closed down his Facebook account. The writer has been in a state of shock and is currently not commenting on the issue.
What appears to have attracted the ire of the right-wing outfits is a conversation between two characters in the novel, where they suggest that women who go to temples are subconsciously making a declaration that they are ready for a sexual relationship.
The character also says that women, when they fail to turn up in the temple for four or five days in a month, are not ready for it on those days.
Meanwhile, the novel has been published by DC Books and is currently available in bookstores across Kerala. The novel, the publisher confirmed, had retained the controversial part. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a plea on banning the controversial portions on Thursday.
Ravi Deecee, the CEO of DC Books told IANS that the publisher had received over 2,000 messages of threat, violence and intimidation in the past two days alone.
The threats, Deecee said, have been made by “the so-called elements who have gathered in organised groups” on the social media.
“It will be the end of freedom of speech, if cults and sects begin to dictate which novel to publish and which to not. If we do not publish this novel, we may not be able to publish another book ever again,” he asserted.
“We can’t yield to such intimidation. We have been publishing fiction for over four decades and one comes across several examples even in our religious texts. It is a conversation in a novel, it is a character talking. The obvious choice is to publish it,” he said.
Saying that they stand firm in their stance, Deecee said the Kerala government had promised to support the cause of free speech.
Notably, the murders of rational thinkers and writers M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar that had triggered massive protests by writers bringing the Akademi to a standstill in 2015, had also begun with similar intimidation and online threats.
The entire fiasco is also a deja vu of the episode surrounding Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, who was hounded by right wing fundamentalists for “One Part Woman” — for an almost similar sequence — and things returned to normal after Murugan “declared his death” as a writer.
Murugan later began writing again, only to become one of the most prominent voices from the hinterland in contemporary Indian literature.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])