According to those familiar with the reason for the ban, it was allegedly a complaint given by another Tamil author which led the Malaysian government to review the book and ban it.
“She is not Pechi but Peichi. She will be both a Pei (ghost) and a thaai (mother).” These are the words of author Ma Navin to explain the title of his book Peichi that revolves around the lives of Tamil people living in the villages of Malaysia. The book, released in 2019, was widely talked about in Tamil Nadu and Malaysia since it throws light on the lives of Tamil people living in the Southeast Asian country, their culture and the work atmosphere in palm tree estates which were created in place of the rubber estates in Malaysia.
The book, with a female lead, deals with events that took place in the years 1981, 1991 and 2019. The book also talks about life around liquor distillation hubs in the late 1980s and 1990s in the then developing country.
However, the Malaysian government recently banned Peichi along with Gay is OK! A Christian Perspective by Ngeo Boon Lin.
The Malaysian Home Ministry, while banning the novel, claimed that Peichi contains “pornographic” and “immoral” content which is against the traditional values and cultural norms of Malaysian society. The Home Ministry also said that people publishing, printing, importing, selling, possessing and circulating the book will face a jail term of not more than three years or a fine of up to RM 20,000 or both.
But, according to Tamil writers familiar with the reason for the ban, it was allegedly a complaint given by another Tamil author which led the Malaysian government to review the book and ban it. They believe that this is a targeted attack against Vallinam (the Malaysian publisher of the book) and the author.
Tamil literary circle extends solidarity
Soon after the ban, Tamil writers and readers extended their solidarity to Ma Navin from across the world. The book was jointly published by Vallinam (Malaysia) and Yaavarum (Tamil Nadu) publications.
Jeeva Karikalan of Yaavarum Publications said, “Malaysia is a democratic land and I feel that ‘fake’ Tamil activists in Malaysian circles create a picture that this is a penetration of the government into literary freedom. However, this is not true because the Malaysian government has been spending money for the development of Tamil language and literature. So, this is a targeted attack against new age writer Navin due to the grudge held by a group of literary activists.”
The writers’ association from Tamil Nadu has also expressed solidarity with Navin. The Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, Aadhavan Dheetchanya, said, “Someone from Malaysia said that they gave a complaint against the book. However, can a democratic government ban a book? We need to discuss this. All countries have access to pornographic video content that can be fed into people’s minds but a book will not affect them unless they read it. So, I think the ban will only increase the readership of the novel.”
Writer and Yuva Puraskar awardee Lakshmi Saravanakumar, extending support for the author, said, “Writing a novel comes under freedom of expression and it is the right of everyone to write a book or a novel. Anyone can criticise or review it but banning a book seems like a restriction. Hence I express my solidarity to writer Ma Navin.”
The writers and Tamil activists from Malaysia also expressed their support to writer Ma Navin. In a Facebook post, writer Taya G Vellairoja said, “We can express true gratitude to a literary work by debating or reviewing it. Only by doing this, we will know if the work will stay strong or will be forgotten.”
He added, “Is it right to ban a book or criticise an author? We should ask this question to ourselves. What will we do if tomorrow someone or a group pitches to ban the Kamathupal [pleasures of the body] chapter of the Thirukkural?”
“Cannot accept reason for ban”
The Tamil writers and publishers also opined that the content of the book does not validate a ban. The members of the Tamil literary circle said that the author has used sexual content to facilitate the flow of the novel.
The publisher of Peichi, Jeeva Karikalan, said that the cuss words and sexual content were present to make the narrative richer. He pointed out that the works of several great Tamil writers have such aspects, and asked why the government was banning Peichi on this basis.
“Literature is all about registering everything around them and it’s a philosophical way of approaching an event. So, the instances mentioned in the book cannot be called as sexually explicit,” he said.
The Tamil writers also said that the ban appears like a warning to other Malaysian writers, and that it may make them self-censor.
Writer Aadhavan said, “The Malaysian government did not object to or deny the content mentioned in the book. Vallinam continuously keeps reviewing the literary works of writers which may hurt the sentiments of Tamil groups. The ban is based on mere allegations and not facts.”