A Dalit writer’s book about his caste group in Tamil Nadu evokes as much sharp criticism as the State government’s ban on it.
FOR the Dalit writer K. Senthil Mallar, bouquets and brickbats have come in equal measure with the publication of his book in Tamil, Meendezhum Pandiyar Varalaru(History of Pandiyar Resurgence). The book’s attempts to trace the roots of Pallars, the suppressed caste group he belongs to in Tamil Nadu, only ended up igniting a controversy that eventually resulted in the government banning the book and charging the writer with sedition. Academics and activists, while differing sharply over the “authenticity” of the contents of the book, have risen in one voice against the ban.
The Tamil Nadu government termed the book “teasingly provocative” and said it liberally employed expressions of slander against other communities and castes. These “demeaning expressions”, it claimed, would cause disharmony in society.
The so-called facts in the book, say historians, are not beyond dispute despite the author banking heavily on quotes from literary and historical sources. His primary objective, they say, seems to be to prove that Pallars were originally called Mallars, who once ruled the southern parts of present-day Tamil Nadu and were known as Pandiyars.
The claim that Pallars were once the rulers has not offended anyone. However, his use of extravagant invectives against other caste groups has come as a shock. The police denied permission for a formal function to launch the book at Sattur in Virudhunagar district on April 25, surprisingly a year after its publication and the sale of a few thousand copies.
A small group of caste Hindu leaders raised objections to the book, and the Tamil Nadu government apparently obliged them by banning it on the grounds that it contained “material of false, objectionable and distorted facts criticising all communities in mala fide remarks that would affect public peace and tranquillity and cause caste disharmony, hatred and ill-will among various castes”.
A motley group of academics and activists called the ban a “gross violation of fundamental rights” and opined that a bureaucratic transgression into the domain of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution should not be encouraged at any cost.
The State, however, justified the ban through a two-page Gazette Extraordinary (May 30, 2013). Referring specifically to nine paragraphs in the book, it stated that the content and language clearly revealed the writer’s “intention to spread hatred and disharmony among communities in the guise of research”.
The State contended that the matters and assertions contained in the book were certain to cause disharmony and a feeling of enmity among different castes and communities and promote communal tension.