'A small spark can create a volcano. Authors should keep this in mind.' R Ramasubramanian reports on the Tamil Nadu government's ban on two books written by Dalit writers.
The Tamil Nadu government has banned two books written by authors from the Dalit community: Vendhar Kulathin Iruppidam Ethu? (What is the place of the Vendhar community?) by E Senthi Mallar and Madhurai Veeran Unmai Varalaru (The real history of Madurai Veeran) by Kuzhanthai Royappan.
The government order states the books contain false, objectionable and distorted facts and accuse the books of casteism.
The books have been banned, the order adds, as they are 'certain to cause disharmony and feelings of enmity between different castes and communities and promote communal tension affecting public peace and tranquility.'
Vendhar Kulathin Iruppidam Ethu?'s author E Senthi Mallar, an MPhil dropout, is the founder of a Dalit organisation, the Mallar Meetpu Kalam. His earlier book, Meendu Ezhum Pandiar Varalaru (The resurrection of the Pandiya community's history), was banned by the state government in 2013.
Sedition charges were filed against E Senthi Mallar at that time.
Royappan, the author of Madhurai Veeran Unmai Varalaru -- based on the life of a 17th-century personage in Tamil Nadu -- has no formal education and works as a cook in Murungapatti village in Tiruchi district, around 400 km from Chennai.
Both authors say they wrote their books only after proper historical research. "Historically, Dalits were portrayed in a bad light. The other communities were eulogised. We want to tell the truth and change the perception, and we have only done so after proper research," says Royappan.
"Even if there is inflammatory content in these books, this is not the way to deal with the issue," feels Kannan Sundaram, publisher, Kalachuvadu, a leading publishing house.
"In a democracy like India," Sundaram adds, "there are forums to address these issues."
"If anybody has any problem with the content, they must protest against it in the proper forum," Sundaram points out. "They can write a book to counter it or challenge the facts in a court of law."
"Madhurai Veeran was a Dalit who fought relentlessly against caste suppression," says Athiyaman, a Dalit activist and publisher of Royappan's book.
"These are historical truths and the dominant castes do not want these to be published," alleges Athiyaman.
"No one has a right to interfere between the reader and the written word," argues poetess-activist Salma. "Ultimately, the reader is the final judge."
"I am against a ban of any sort," says author and political activist A Marx. "However, the writers should take in to account the ground realities of our times."
"When the government banned Meendu Ezhum Pandiar Varalaru, I held a press conference at the Chennai Press Club and condemned the ban."
"I said it was the duty of the academic community to determine the veracity of the book's contents and the government had no role in this," Marx added. "Sadly, the book's contents glorifies one community and denigrates other communities."
"Whether we like it or not," he asserts, "we live in troubled times. Caste differences run high. A small spark can create a volcano. Authors should keep this in mind."
"As concerned citizens," Marx adds, "We should remember the government has a primary duty to maintain law and order and preserve the social fabric."