Category Archives: Sexism in Tamil Literature

Letter in reply to #BeepSong

Thanks to Kumudam Reporter



To read full version of the letter (Tamil):


Tamil writer Jeyamohan rubbishes women colleagues, reveals wider misogyny

The novelist said last week that many female writers got recognition not because they had talent but because they were women, eliciting cogent and concerted protest from his target.
Tamil writer B Jeyamohan’s disparaging remarks about his women colleagues, posted on his website earlier this month, exposes a strain of misogyny in the literary world of this ancient language, one that springs from a fear of strong female voices.Jeyamohan wrote on his popular website on June 9 that many female Tamil novelists and poets lacked literary merit but had gained prominence and won awards because “they had employed many publicity gimmicks and had attracted media attention and popularity”.

He was evidently reacting to a list of significant contemporary Tamil litterateurs, compiled by senior writer Naanjil Naadan and published in  the Tamil weekly magazine Ananda Vikatan , in which 11 of the 27 novelists and poets named were women.

“The male writer has to prove his literary merit to join such lists; the female writer gains prominence simply by being a woman,“ he wrote. “[In a growing] feminist culture many are afraid of speaking the truth that may be anti-women for fear of earning their ire.“

His comments did indeed evoke ire, but from women and men alike, with about a hundred writers and activists signing a statement published online on June 18, protesting against what they said was “blatant misogyny“. The protest was spearheaded by veteran Tamil writer Ambai, who founded the Mumbai-based organisation SPARROW (Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women), which documents the work of female writers and artistes.

Taken aback by the backlash, Jeyamohan issued an apparent apology on his website the following day. “If only they read my works they would understand my feminist principles,“ he wrote, initially sounding conciliatory, only to later describe the signatories as a “gaggle of foul-mouthed female protesters“.

These protestors include women from a range of communities – Dalit, Muslim and working-class – whose works have provided unique insights into Tamil society and alternative worldviews from the subaltern trenches of the 21st century.

Over the past decade powerful female voices have emerged in the Tamil literary world. Bama, the nom de plume of Faustina Mary Fatima Rani, whose maiden novel, Karukku (Palmyra Leaves), a Dalit feminist work, won her several awards in 2000, has a considerable following.

Another voice is Kutti Revathi, a poet and lyricist who has won several national awards. Her novel Muligal (Breasts) drew criticism from male Tamil writers, who said she had sexed up her writing. She said she was looking at the female anatomy as a living entity, not as a commodity.

Among poets, Salma’s name comes to mind. Her transformation from a housewife in rural Tamil Nadu living a closeted life to a daring poet in the public eye became the subject of a documentary that was applauded at the Sundance Film Festival, perhaps the world’s top forum for independent films, held every January in Utah in the US. She has become a celebrated author and an inspiration to many.

“Jeyamohan is not being merely patronising; he is obliterating their contribution,” said Pritham K Chakravarthy, a Chennai-based translator. “He called female writers sparrow-heads (meaning bird-brained). This is obnoxious.”

Said poet and novelist Meena Kandasamy, “It is rude and arrogant. I find it difficult to engage with the world of such Tamil male novelists.”

This is not the first time Jeyamohan has found his female colleagues wanting. In his popular and widely read website, he has time and again described late R Chudamani and Kamala Das “as lacking in literary merit”.

Stray voices, however, found merit in Jeyamohan’s criticism and supported his right to express his views. Among them was K Arivazhagan, who writes under the name Charu Nivedita and who, paradoxically, is himself known for transgressive novels that contain sexually explicit passages and dwell on subjects that were once taboo. Without a trace of irony he accused female Tamil poets of getting easy media coverage because they threw in a few lines describing “details of the body and genitalia”.

“If Jeyamohan is doing this as a publicity stunt, he should face the music,” he began by saying in his blog, only to add: ”Instead of rising to the challenge thrown by Jeyamohan to prove their literary prowess intellectually, they [the women writers] are resorting to protests and demanding apologies.”

Meena Kandaswamy reacted with disgust. “It shows their [male writers’] immaturity and discomfort to engage,” she said.

Jeyamohan’s comments are not, unfortunately, out of place in the world of modern Tamil literature. Although this world has remained vibrant from pre-Independence to today, breaking new ground and capturing emerging realities, it has been dominated by male voices and viewpoints.

Surprisingly, however, many male writers have adopted women’s names as pseudonyms, often names of their mothers or wives. For example, Kalki Krishnamurthi adopted his wife’s name Kalyani; S Rangarajan wrote under the name Sujatha; Subha, the author of Tamil pulp fiction, is the pen name of the duo D Suresh and AN Balakrishnan; JR Sundaresan, a comic novelist, went by the name Bagyyam Ramaswamy; Sri Venugopalan wrote spiritual articles under his own name but his racy and raunchy stories under the name Pushpa Thangadurai; and Charu Nivedita is the nom de plume for K Arivazhagan, the writer who appeared to support Jeyamohan.

The list is long and the trend may call for analysis, but it does not, clearly, reflect a deeper change in the status quo.


Joint Statement against writer Jeyamohan’s sexist and women hatred post on his website


Writing, as an art, demands its own morality. Masters like Karl Marx changed the course of history and human thought through their writings. When writing becomes a mere weapon in the hands of reactionaries, the society is in danger of becoming morally corrupt. The irresponsible statements of some literary personalities have made the Tamil literary space vulnerable to such corruption.

The literary policing of Jeyamohan is almost unspeakable. Pro-establishment, pro-Hindutva, anti-minority, intolerance towards other religions, hatred towards left intellectuals, manipulation of history to suit  his political standings and male-chauvinist high-handedness are among his major traits, as can be gleaned from his writings. His vicious statements against women stem from a deeply rooted patriarchal mindset that

believes men are superior. We understand his psychological need to stay in the limelight forever – something that has been well-established when he has courted controversy through his statements on Tamil fonts etc. But we will be failing in our duty to society if we don’t protest his intellectual violence against women.

Jeyamohan claims to always look for for greater and greater women writers; In his obit to one of the most respected writer R Choodamani, he writes thus: “I think Choodamani’s short stories has very little literary value. She cannot be approached as a relevant literary personality today. She has no role in Tamil short story or novel.” And thus he rejects Choodamani’s contribution to Tamil literature. By calling her a “kalaimagal type writer’, he also seeks to limit her space. In doing so, Jeyamohan also tries to establish himself as self-appointed regulator of Tamil literary scene. We chose not to react, reposing our faith in the democratic spirit of criticism.

When writer Kamala Das passed away, Jeyamohan writes thus: “She became famous by her descriptions of the scent of a young friend’s semen”. He also says that Kamala das was overrated because  her son was the editor of Mathrubhumi. His compliments to Kamala Das are strikinglyleft-handed. He says: “Kamala’s problems have the same root. She was not good-looking. She was fat, dark and almost ugly. She had an insatiable thirst for publicity and kept promoting herself.” He says it is evident from her autobiography that because of her ugly looks and consequent inferiority complex, Kamala das became a nymphomaniac.  Obviously Jeyamohan seeks to establish that any activity by women including their writings is largely based on their looks and bodies.

Curiously Jeyamohan refrains from finding out what inspires male writers or what good looks (or absence of such) do to them. Such chauvinism and arrogance has to be denounced unequivocally.

His deep hatred for women writers is evident, despite the several masks he juggles with. His article titled women 1: Women’ love makes the following points. “Many of our young women readers develop distorted perspectives thanks to the screams of  stupid feminists and have never ventured into the literary world. They are unaware of true literary experiences.”

“I have been noticing women writers who claim to be feminists. They do not have the basic reading required for a writer. Why, they have not been able to do anything beyond creating a ripple. That’s also the reason why they have not been able to produce anything significant. The feminism they talk is a simple self-defence technique used to shield their shoddy works against the challenge posed by a discerning reader.”

“Ignoring these petty voices, Tamil is waiting for women writers who can boast of real creative talent and pride.”

What kind of hatred, vengeance and allergy would have gone into crafting such statements! It is shocking that Jeyamohan has such hatred for   women deep down. Jeyamohan, like many others, has misconstrued feminism as hatred for men. He consistently tries to make out arguments try to a case against women writers claiming they have not been writing anything meaningful, shear them of identity and therefore conclude that they cannot stake claim to Tamil literary space. Like Goebbels, he keeps claiming that women do not have deep reading. Looks like we have to get a certificate from Mr Jeyamohan on our own scholarship or otherwise, whether we qualify to be a writer at  all.

In his write up titled “Aishwarya Rai and Arundhathi Roy”, his misogyny finds expression in following statements.

“I have met Aishwarya Rai once. Had chatted with her for half hour. Beautiful woman. Unlike beautiful women in general, she was intelligent too.”

A Beautiful woman is an idiot is one of his many pre-conceived notions. It is shameful that Tamil literary space celebrates him as a father figure. In the same write up, he says Arundhathi Roy is not an activist, but a ‘mere media creation.’ He says Roy’s booker winning novel lacks depth and a disappointment to readers. That could be passed off as a critique. But his deep hatred for the woman called Arundhathi Roy reveals itself in the ugliest possible way in his write up My India (July 2, 2012).

And he says:  “It is very surprising that a bird-brained person like Arundhathi Roy who lacks the basic historical perspective and balance gets undue importance in the media today.” Some of us do accept that the western media make much of  Arundhathi Roy. But by the same token to call fellow human beings as lame, bird-brained and monster is  nauseating.  For an established writer to use such terms and for some people to still acknowledge him as a writer can only be seen as an act against one’s own conscience. There is not much difference between killing someone physically and mentally.

Jeyamohan’s misogyny extends beyond Tamilnadu. On writer Nanjil Naadan’s recent list of promising young writers, Jeyamohan has this to say:

“All the male writers in the list are extraordinary writers. I expect more from them. But the women have not written anything significant and have used various tactics to become media images. It beats me why Nanjil calls many of them as writers or poets.”

“This is very important. Today, men have to write to establish themselves. But women merely have to present themselves as women to get the necessary space. And If they are feminists, many of them will back off.” (June 9, 2014)

It is impossible to denigrate women writers more. Misogyny is in full flow in such comments. This is a slap on women’s independence; an insult that cannot be tolerated. While questions like whether Jeyamohan has read all that has been written by women naturally arise, what is important is his insinuation that they have used their physique to their advantage. An outrageously sexist remark – something for which he can be sued in fact.

Jeyamohan, who willingly courts controversies, perhaps coveting notoriety goes on to say in his next post (Women writings, June 11, 2014)

“Aren’t the male writers important? Not even a single one? Has anyone been mentioned in any magazine? This is the first time they have appeared even as stamp size photograph.” One wonders if Jeyamohan reads all the magazines that he buys or whether he uses them as a pillow to rest his head on and sleep.

“They create their own news” he says. What witches and publicity maniacs these women are! The women writers are probably much more villainous than those that appear in the mega serials! “They cannot write a few pages without making mistakes. They don’t have the patience to write ten pages together” says the writer who made mistakes in the very post where he denigrates women writers. Is it not an irony that he is trying to teach us grammar? Only time should teach him that quality of literature is not measured by pages but by its depth and aestheticism.

It is better to write one immortal poem and stay in history than write thousand pages of trash and pose threat to rainfall. In another self explanatory note, Jeyamohan heaps on more insults:

“If the stupidly feminist works of these women have to be approved because they are feminists, we need to approve all campaign trash written in the name of Marxism and environmentalism.”

Jeyamohan’s anger can only be construed as pain and disappointment over women writers who are determined to stop men from writing their histories. He poses a challenge: “Let them – those who want to engage in a dialogue over this – ponder over the work that gave them a complete reading experience after Krithika. Let them figure out which work written by a woman has become a talking point in the last thirty years.”

Thus he makes a very stupid argument that the last thirty years of Tamil literature has been filled only by men. Writers like Ambai, Bama, Sivagami who encouraged feminist thought through her writings and other women have no place in Tamil literary history, it looks like. or is it that male chauvinism simply seeks to erase their names from history?

Who else but Jayamohan can wield the male chauvinist whip sitting atop a blind horse riding on the road to Tamil literary history?

Jeyamohan cannot be in isolation though. He is the focus of this joint statement only because we want to make an example of him and warn other similarly mean-minded that we are not going to keep quiet when derided.

By raising questions of the character of women who differ from their views, by spreading rumors about the women, by using vulgar terms, these writers seek to restrain women from participating in social/literary space.

We have been a witness to the fact that some publishers and literary personalities have been indulging in individual assaults and character assassinations. Some of them gang up to periodically malign women writers from some platform or other. For want of space we refrain from naming them all.

We have decided to hold regular  dialogues in future on the stands taken by such personalities.

To use a term discovered by Jeyamohan, social media has become an expanded space for abuse. It would not suffice to make words dance, Jeyamohan should understand that primary human values is to respect a fellow human being.

Everyone knows how difficult it is for a woman to write given the pressures from a male chauvinist society and heavily lopsided institution called family. Yet the women do not demand any concessions, favours. They do not seek any allowance in criticisms. We only demand that we should not be demeaned simply because of our gender.   We have been dragging ourselves forward, hurting and bruising ourselves even as the chains of female slavery pull us back.

Your literary masks poorly cover up your male chauvinistic vitriol. We can return the compliment, but don’t out of reasons of decency. We believe that like women, fellow male writers too have the responsibility of questioning the dangers that stem from Jeyamohans’s chauvinist,elite mindset. But many remain mute . Or they probably rejoice in private over such statements of Jeyamohan. This is perhaps the time for every writer to question their own conscience. A real human being is someone who responds to the question posed by their conscience, rising above such considerations as friendship or public persona, influences that can fetch awards.

More and more  Jeyamohan sounds like an insecure dictator, looking for enemies in every corner and fighting them. We place on record our strongest condemnations against Jeyamohan’s vitriolic, chavunistic  statements against women  who have defied many odds to arrive.
Attested by:

Ambai, Kutti Revathi, Sukirtharani, Dhamayanthi, Kavitha Muralidharan, Se. Brindha, A. Vennila, Salma, Perundevi, Thamizhaci Thangapandiyan, Monika, Jeevasundari Balan, Uma Sakthi, Tharmini, Kavitha Sornavalli, Vinothini Sachidanandam, Kavin Malar, Mayoo Mano, Sakthi Jothi, Tamilnathy, Living Smile Vidhya, Swathi Sa. Muhil, Aarthi Vendhan, Narumugai Devi, Mubeen Sadhika, Bharathi Selva, Rama Inba Subramaniam, Shaheeda, Kotravai, Parameswari, Sabitha Ibrahim, Sa. Vijayalakshmi, Uma Mohan, Hemavathy, Prashanthi Sekaram, Nachimagal Suganthi, Jeevasundari Balan, Padmaja Narayanan, Geetha Ilangovan, Bala Bharathi, C. Pushparani, Banubharathi, Bhavani Dharma, Ilamathi, Kirthika Dharan, Nilavumozhi Senthamarai, Su. Thamizh Selvi, Nandhamizh Mangai, Kalpana Karunakaran, C. Meena, Jenny Dolly, Priyamvadha, Indhiragandhi Alangaram, Thamizhpen Vilasini, Ku. Umadevi, Thenammai Lakshmanan, Abdul Haq. Lareena, Geetha Narayanan, Fayisa Ali, Penniyam Website team (Thillai, Keshayini, Suganthi, Veronika, Saravanan), Latha Saravanan, Jeevalakshmi, Shilpa Charles, Akalya Francis, Rag Suga, Sasikala Babu, Subhashini Thirumalai, Nivedha Udhayan, Kothai, Shanthi, Prema, Nila loganathan, Parimala Panju, Thamizharasi, Sakthi Selvi, Maesa Kadhambari,  Chandra Raveendran, Girija Raghavan, Shuba Desikan, Reva, Sujatha Selvaraj, Hansa, Sujatha Selvaraj, Amutha Thamizh, Pudhiya Madhavi

Bvn Deepa Nagarani, Mohana Somasundram, Saroja Saroja, Nagai kavin, Sundara Valli,

Olga Aaron, Priyababu, Sheethal Chennai, Kani Mozhi G, Catherine Theresa, Thara, Nakshatra, Vasantha Kumari, Vasuki

Male Writers, Poets and Activists:

Keezh. Ka. Anbuchelvan, Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai, Ilavenil, K. Natrajan, Vasumithra, Ra.the. Muthu, Boutha Ayyanar, Nizhali, Yo. Thiruvalluvar, Aazhi. Senthilnathan, R. Vijayashankar, Annamalai Sundaramurthi,Suresh Kathan,  Shajahan, Nandhan Sridharan, Vasu Murugavel, Su. Agaramudhalvan, Vijay. K. Chakravarthi, Devendira Boopathy, Aiyappan, Jeeva Karikalan, Putiya Parithi, Micheal Amalraj, Jose Anroin, Manonmani Pudhu Ezhuththu, Periyasami Natarajan, Mgptcaa Jaani, Aganazhigai pon. Vasudevan, Rathan Raghu, Thamizh Studio Arun, Raja Sundararajan, Yamuna Rajendiran

R.R. Srinivasan, Rudhran, Rathan Chandrasekar, Lakshmanan Cbe, Viswanathan Ganesan, Saravana Kumar Salem, ADV Dhanabal, Umanath, Kiruba Munusamy

Sa. Thamizh Selvan, President, Tha.Mu.A.Ka.Sa