Kerala’s famous book publishing house, DC Books, has published the controversial novel ‘Meesha’, which was being serialised in Mathrubhumi Weekly but withdrawn after its author S. Hareesh got threats from Hindutwa-right-wing elements for his anti-Hindu comments. While handful of people from some Hindu groups are protesting these against the book, the book is flying off the shelf, like hot cakes!
“We publish S. Hareesh's Meesha. The novelist himself has entrusted the publication of the novel with DC Books. We took it up as a mission. We have always stood along with writers and readers. If we did not publish Meesha, it would be impossible in Malayalam to publish another novel or story book in future. And we may have to take prior permission to publish the current work of Basheer, VKN, Changambuzha and VT etc. so we publish the novel 'Meesha',” said the publisher in a press release.
Earlier other publishers such as Malayalam Weekly, Deshabhimani, Green Books, Insight Publica and Srishti had expressed willingness to pubish the controersial book.. But finally DC published the novel which costs Rs.299 and can be bought as an e-book which costs Rs. 269 too:
But the publication of the novel as a book by DC Books came as a surprise . A week before the book's publication, the assistant editor of Mathrubhumi weekly, Kamalram Sajeev said: "Harish told me that he would publish the novel only when the reading public was tolerant enough to value my work on its literary merits." What forced the author to give permission to publish the novel to DC Books all of a sudden is still remain as a mystery.
The Kerala Sahithya Academy award winner, S. Hareesh decided to withdraw his novel after publishing just three chapters of the novel in the Malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi a controversy erupted over dialogues between two characters in the novel which were alleged to be anti-Hindu. “I have decided to withdraw my novel because of the threats and attacks against me and my family,” Hareesh told the Mathrubhumi News television channel, adding, “I am too weak to take on the people who rule the country. ”
Threat calls had started coming to the novelist for allegedly referring in derogatory manner to Hindu women who go to temples. The novelist also got threats and attacks on social media. Kamalram Sajeev wrote in a Twitter message: "S. Hareesh withdraws his novel 'Meesha', literature is being mob lynched, darkest day in Kerala's cultural history, lightless days to follow".
Right-wing activists have taken offence to a conversation between two characters in the novel, where they suggest that women dressing up to go to the temples are subconsciously making a declaration that they are ready for a sexual relationship. The character also says that when women don’t visit the temple for four or fives days in a month they make it clear that they are not ready for sex on those days.
In Kerala, Nair Service Society (NSS), an organisation that represents the prominent Nair community has come out heavily against the novelist and the Weekly which serialised the novel. NSS slammed the novelist for hurting the beliefs of Hinduism through the remarks of a character in his novel 'Meesha' said NSS general secretary G. Sukumaran Nair, in a press note. He also slammed the publishers for publishing this particular portion and said it brought disgrace to the culture of Kerala. He added that insulting a community in the name of freedom of expression was undesirable. One should not think that anything could be said against Hindu women just because they are part of a tolerant society. "What would have been the repercussion if women of some other religion were insulted like this?" he asked.
But there are rave reviews about the novel from many. Filmmaker Sanju Surendran, who had read the entire novel in manuscript, said the conversation formed part of a grand literary masterpiece and it wouldn't make sense reading it in isolation. "It (the novel) is a labyrinth leading/misleading the reader to so many places. One can get lost in the myth, fact, fiction, history and geography of Meesha.. It is a tragedy that the novel had to be withdrawn due to right-wing terror."
Kamalram Sajeev said that Meesha deals with lives of Dalits and the backward communities of Southern Kerala. It is an artistic expression of the oppression those communities faced half-a-century ago.
Thiruvananthapuram MP and writer Shashi Tharoor expressed his support to Hareesh. In a Twitter noting Tharoor said: "Those who do not believe my warnings about the emergence of a Hindutva Taliban might learn from what has just happened to Malayalam writer Hareesh (& even more chilling, the threat to chop off his hands, Taliban-style).”
In a plea filed by Delhi resident N Radhakrishnan in Supreme Court had demanded to omit excerpts from the novel. The petitioner has objected to a dialogue between two characters in the novel, which allegedly insults Hindu women. He has also alleged that comments of the author about Brahmins amounted to casteist or racial slur. Pointing out the examples of books like 'Polyester Prince" and "Satanic Verses" which continue to be banned, the petitioner in his prayer wanted to ban the novel 'Meesha". The Polyester Prince, which is about the birth and death of the Reliance Industries empire, written by Hamish McDonald was banned in 1998 based on the petition by Ambanis that the book is 'slanderous'. Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" was pulled off the shelves after the Muslim community claimed it had insulted Prophet Mohammad.
The Supreme Court asked the Weekly that carried the controversial passages to reply within five days, giving the theme of the book and the three chapters serialised by it. Meanwhile, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had made it clear that the government is with the novelist.
While Meesha, is his first novel, Hareesh was noticed for his short stories that came out in a collection titled Aadam. Following threats on social media, Hareesh has deactivated his Facebook account also.
A group of people, suspected to be Hindu Aikya Vedi, recently had disrupted a book exhibition of the Mathrubhumi group held at Thripunithura in Kochi as a mark of protest against the novel.Meanwhile, Kerala Police have registered a case against those who burnt the novel in front of DC Books office at Trivandrum.