S Hareesh, a Sahitya Academy Award winner and one of the prominent new-generation writers has withdrawn his novel Meesha (Moustache) which was being serialised by Mathrubhumi Weekly, following violent and offensive cyber and street attacks kickstarted by Yogakshema Sabha and later taken over by the Hindu Aikya Vedi (Hindu Unity Forum).
The Weekly's assistant editor tweeted: it was the 'darkest day in Kerala's cultural history, lightless days to follow.' Majority of the writers and cultural activists in Kerala have extended their support to the writer standing firm against Hindutva fundamentalism. The reactions of the Hindutva outfits after the novel was withdrawn proves right the apprehensions of poet Sachidananthan that it would be celebrated as the victory of the right wing.
The reasons the writer raises for withdrawing his novel exactly lays bare the helplessness and internal conflicts stirred up in him due to the obscene and violent threats hurled against him and his family: 'The novel Meesha portrayed the caste life in Kerala half a century ago against the Dalit backdrop. The Weekly has stopped publishing the novel after three chapters because it triggered wrong controversies due to the fact that a snippet of conversation between two characters of the novel was against the devotees. When, there is a five-year long toil behind the novel, and when constant cases and threats are being raised against me and my family, life cannot be ruined by getting entangled in judicial processes. I am too weak to take on the people who rule the country. Therefore I have decided to withdraw the novel. I will continue writing. When I feel the society has become mature enough, the novel will be published.' This explanation indubitably proves that the innocuous notes about Kerala's cultural altitude and the pretensions that the state is a cradle of tolerance and coexistence are meaningless. Does the Keralite society have the nerve to take up with self criticism the writer's words that he could not embrace a life ruined by judicial proceedings after getting entwined in the mob violence backed by the government? These are the reasons why a question becomes relevant: how many cyber cases were registered in Kerala for subjecting a Kerala Sahitya Academy Award winner to character assassination for a week violating all the limits of decency? It is not the writer who should fear or who should be put to trial for withdrawing the novel, but the contemporary cultural routes of Kerala that meekly heard the threats to life and abuse which lasted for a week.
A writer and the publishers have the freedom to withdraw a literary work. In the present times, it is all fine for us to wish the writer and the publishers to fight for the right to difference of opinions. But there is way to demand that. It is one's right to determine on his own how to be chronicled in history. However, for a stable social life, it is essential to bolster the thoughts of how to stabilise a society rooted in freedom of expression and difference of opinion. If a writer has had to remain shocked and helpless before a tirade, that spells the death of social fearlessness that is capable of providing confidence to him. Therefore, Hareesh's novel urges us to subject to postmortem the present day cultural Kerala where it has become impossible to write and publish freely and with zeal. The heavy downpour of communalism that has gripped cultural Kerala cannot be cured by treating it with meaningless rhetoric. Therefore, when a literary work is withdrawn due to political reasons, the publishers will definitely have to be ready to face questions from the society.
Ours is a country in which until the 19th century, had a levy to be paid for grooming a moustache; that too with prior permission. But now cultural Kerala should be ashamed for having taken the author of the novel 'Moustache' to that milieu of the slave's life - in which his self-respect got hurt with shaven moustache and thus he had to stand in self-contempt. But thank God , those like Basheer, VKN , OV Vijayan and Ponkunnam Varkey died before this 'savarna' era. The publication of their masterpieces would have been destined, if they were done in current times, to be stopped half-way through publication.