Gana Kurinji, President
R. Murali, General Secretary
PUCL TN & Puducherry
Note: On 8th January, 2018, noted Tamil poet and lyricist, Vairamuthu, gave a speech in a public platform chronicling great Tamil writers and poets from the ancient Sanga period to modern times. One amongst the prominent women writers he chose to talk about was Poet Andal, the only woman amongst the 12 Alvar saints of Srivaishnava faith, in South India. Said to have lived in the 7th Century, Andal is famous for 2 works, the Thiruppavai and Nachiar Tirumozhi,which are still recited to this day, especially during the winter month of mid-December to mid-January every year. While describing the literary quality of Andals writing, Vairamuthu quoting an academic research paper, refers to her probably being of Devadasi origin. The article was later on pubished in a Tamil paper. The reference to Andal of being from a Devadasi family kicked up a major furore with the BJP, RSS, Hindu Munnani, Hindu Makkal Katchi and a range of other Hindu-religious based organisations organising protests condemning Vairamuthu for defaming Andal and hurting the sentiments of Vaishnavites in particular and Hindu community in general. Vairamuthu expressed regret for making the statement; however the demand was for a public apology. Very orthodox, publicity shunning religious heads were mobilised to publicly protest against Vairamuthu. Open threats were given threatening personal violence against him by a number of Hindu majority groups. At the time of releasing the PUCL statement, the issue remains unresolved with many more groups getting involved in pro-and-anti campaigns. We are carrying the statement issued by PUCL – Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
After carefully studying the text of the speech delivered by Poet Vairamuthu at Rajapalayam, PUCL has felt that Poet Vairamuthu had portrayed Poet Andal with great veneration. In his deliberation, he had quoted a statement from another article to enhance his interpretation and unfortunately this reference has been used to create a conflict and commotion among a group of people.
The quote by him from a research article need not necessarily go with the faith of a group of people. It is quite natural. So there must be space for alternate views. Discourses in public sphere would always pave way for development of ideas and disclose the kernel truth at length. We are living in an age of criticism. Critical reflections on any faith should not be taken as an offence against a religion or religious faiths. Indian tradition is valid for its diverse views and it has always given enough space for critical interactions from time immemorial. If there is disagreement, scholars used to register their dissent through proper discussions and in their reasonable writings.
But the recent protests against Poet Vairamuthu for his depiction of Poet Andal had taken a vulgar turn in Tamil Nadu. By instigating innocent people in the name of religious faith, the fundamentalist political forces attempt to exploit this issue for political mileage.
It is a tragedy many of the people who are taken away by this misguided propaganda are not aware of the exact facts. Only a few have read the original article and many are blissfully ignorant. Poet Vairamuthu categorically stated that he had no intention to denigrate the faith of a particular community. Also he said that if his article had offended the feelings of some devotees, he had no hesitation to apologize. But even after his apology, some fanatic leaders took advantage of this situation and provoke the mass not only against the poet but also against the people whoever makes any criticism against their faith. This is a very dangerous trend which should be stopped forthwith by the State government.
Hence, PUCL strongly condemns the open life threat given by the BJP leaders of Tamil Nadu to Poet Vairamuthu. PUCL views that this kind of instigation is against the freedom of expression. It is quite unfortunate that the Government of Tamil Nadu keeps silence on this very sensitive issue and permits anti democratic forces to instigate communal violence in the state.
PUCL demands the TN government to immediately take firm action against the persons who indulge in instigating people to go for violence by wrong propagation. We are afraid that if these kinds of protests are permitted, then there would be no critical academic contributions from anyone. These kind of anti democratic protests are nothing but violent way of suppressing the alternative voices. The silence of the state government in this regard would no way help to safeguard the democracy.
Whenever genuine democratic voices from the common people rose for the rights in various other issues, they were all suppressed with iron hand by Tamil Nadu government. But on the contrary, the present State government is keeping cunning silence to take firm action against these divisive and fanatic forces. To safeguard the democracy and rule of law, PUCL demand the Tamil Nadu government to take stern action immediately against the divisive forces.