Confronting Liminal Spaces: Iconography, Gender, Justice, and the Case of Perumal Murugan’s “One Part Woman”


In this paper, I examine the thematics of justice in the controversy surrounding Tamil writer Perumal Murugan's novel One Part Woman. The work was attacked by right-wing organizations, for its portrayal of an obsolete ritual associated with the Tiruchengode Kailasanathar temple, which supposedly cast women worshipers in bad light. Subsequently, Murugan was forced into self-exile from his home town, and declared his 'death' as a writer. The essay approaches justice through an examination of the iconography of the deity whose name gives the novel its title, and its idiosyncratic transformation of the sense of reality through symbolic practices and ideas. In tracking the changing historical and political inflections of justice, from rights conferred on women in the event of peculiar socio-cultural crises to one which impinges on that freedom through calls for bans and censorship, what becomes apparent is the silencing of alternative traditions of reasoning by an essentialist interpretive scheme. Going beyond Foucault, I argue that justice is a site of liminality, marking politico-cultural borderlands where ways of being and identities are disrupted, undefined, and hence open to engineering, renewal and dismantling. In this ideologically infused space, non-juristic categories and objects, charged by sentiments, assume extra-judicial authority, and not only challenge state and civil laws but at times mimic them or even ride their underbelly thereby rendering them ineffective. In this reading, the contestations over justice take place on the gendered body of the woman; between freedom of speech and censorship, and between creative expression and politicization of history.

Author Information
Ashley Susan Philip, Mar Thoma College, India

Paper Information
Conference: IICAHDubai2016
Stream: Humanities - Literature/Literary Studies*

This paper is part of the IICAHDubai2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon