Goa Poet First Awarded, Then Hounded by Police for Questioning Brahmins

The Goa police will approach experts and the office of the directorate of official language to probe the etymology of the “abuses and explicit language” used in the poems.

New Delhi: Writer, poet and former BJP MLA Vishnu Surya Wagh’s anthology of poems in colloquial Konkani, Sudirsukt – Hymns of a Shudra, has recently run into controversy in Goa.

Released four years earlier, the book was selected as the winner of the Goa Konkani Academy (GKA) Award in the poetry category on August 15. However, a social media campaign soon lifted its verses and shared them “out of context”, stirring the volatile caste divide between the state’s dominant Gaud Saraswat Brahmins and the majority Bahujan Goans.

According to a report in the Indian Express, earlier this week, the Manohar Parrikar-led state government cancelled all the 32 undeclared literature and culture awards, including the one for Wagh.

The report says that on Tuesday, the Goa police filed an FIR against Wagh and the publishing house, Apurbai Prakashan Publications, under Sections 293, 292 of the IPC and Section 4 of The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986.

“We have read the poems that were brought to us and we think they are not in good taste. The complaint was only registered after we were convinced it did, and can, offend someone”, the senior police inspector Sudesh R. Naik of Ponda police station, under whose jurisdiction the the address of the publishing house falls, told the Indian Express.

The Goa police will now approach “several experts” and the office of the directorate of official language to “probe” the etymology of the “abuses and explicit language” used in the poems, senior police officials told the Indian Express.

Vishnu Wagh
Sudirsukt – Hymns of a Shudra

After the book was selected, Sanjiv Verenkar, the lone jury member at the GKA, told the Indian Express that his poems were “full of filthy words, abuses, vulgarity” which he hadn’t “read in any form of literature in (his) 58 years”.

He also went on to say that Wagh’s entire work was against the Brahmins, questioning his reasons for writing against the community.

While charges against him continue to be levelled, Wagh, 52, immobile after a stroke, cannot defend himself.

Publisher of the book, Hema Naik, told the Indian Express, “In that case, it’s just me who has to defend his work. For now, I am attending phone enquiries on the book. Till now, honestly there were no additional enquiries and the book was fully sold out when we first published 500 copies.”

“You can charge it with sections. But then, did you read all the 61 poems or just the ones that were pasted on social media and circulated out of context. A poet is a total of all the influences around him, and to bring life to his creativity, he is bound to borrow and express in the language he associates the subject. In this case, slapping charges of indecency to women is restricting the debate. The poems are much more in context, and speak of a caste divide. But then they are his expression and he should be allowed,” she added.

In 2014, Perumal Murugan, author of the book Mathorubhagan (translated into English as One Part Woman) received criticism from Tamil Nadu-based caste groups who alleged the book hurt their sentiments, defamed women and outraged religious feelings. Murugan had to sign an unconditional apology and later posted his literary obituary on Facebook.

Also read: The Resurrection of a Writer, the Staying of a Mob

Earlier in August this year, the Jharkhand government decided to ban author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s book The Adivasi Will Not Dance for its ‘poor’ portrayal of Santhal Adivasi women, particularly in a story November is the Month of Migrations. 

Two months later on October 12, the Hyderabad police registered a case against Dalit author Kancha Ilaiah for allegedly hurting religious sentiments in Samajika Smugglurlu Komatollu. Ilaiah  claimed the Arya-Vysya community used to eat meat and were agriculturalists. The World Arya-Vyasa Mahasabha subsequently demanded a police case against him. However, the Supreme Court refused to ban the book, upholding the author’s fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.

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