Even after a huge controversy, Malayalam writer S Hareesh’s debut novel Meesha has won the Kerala Sahithya Akademi award for best novel. The book, which was serialised in parts by the Mathrubhumi illustrated weekly, was cancelled after three parts following protests claiming that the novel portrays women who visit temples wrongly. Certain Hindu outfits even claimed that the novel insulted Hinduism.
According to reports, Vaisakhan — President of Kerala Sahithya Akademi Award — has responded to the controversy surrounding the selection of Hareesh’s novel by describing it as “the best novel”. Reportedly, Vaisakhan said that there wouldn’t be any reconsideration. He further added that the decision of the jury was final and some are targeting communal polarisation behind the current controversy. He claimed that we couldn’t dismiss the whole book for the conversation of two characters within the narrative, and that we must be able to see works of literature as literature. He said that attempts are being made for political gain. Vaisakhan stressed that the academy is an independent and secular institution and neither the government nor the Chief Minister has a role to play in deciding the award.
Meanwhile, ahead of the Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party has stepped in to rekindle controversies surrounding the novel. BJP state president K Surendran said that giving Kerala Sahithya Akademi Award for the novel is a challenge to the Hindu community and the Pinarayi Vijayan government’s hatred towards Hindus hasn’t yet receded. The BJP leader further highlighted that there is a communal reference in the novel and that it was withdrawn by the publishers themselves.
BJP leader Sobha Surendran wrote a Facebook post criticising the Kerala Sahithya Akademi’s decision, saying that the novel insulted women and Hindus and that the decision to award the book was a challenge to these groups.
S Hareesh has reportedly responded that the award is proof that the Malayalam community has not completely surrendered to Hindutva.
S Hareesh’s Meesha depicts the complexity of caste and gender that once existed. The novel tells the story of a Dalit man who had to face humiliation for growing his moustache from the upper caste people. The story develops in Kuttanad.
In a section of the novel, some character states that Hindu women bathe and wear pretty clothes before visiting the temple because they are interested in sex. These characters even suggest that the women do not go to the temple while menstruating since they can’t have sex. These sections were shared on social media created widespread criticism from Hindu organisations.
Earlier, a plea was filed at the Supreme Court to ban the book. However, the Court has refused to ban the novel and stated that banning a book impacts the free flow of ideas.