“The choice to read is always with the reader. If you do not like a book, throw it away. There is no compulsion to read a book. Literary tastes may vary – what is right and acceptable to one may not be so to others. Yet, the right to write is unhindered”.
In a judgment that is a fine piece of writing in itself, the Madras High Court upheld freedom of expression, as it delivered a verdict that is bound to be cited often, refusing to >ban Madhorubhagan , a fictional work written by Perumal Murugan, who is an Associate Professor hailing from Tiruchengode.
The First Bench of the HC, comprising Chief Justice S.K. Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana, delivered the 134-page judgment on Tuesday, making a clear case in favour of the writer, and terming the State’s attempt to resolve the issue by gagging the author as “akin to katta panchayats” (kangaroo courts). The peace committee’s settlement will not be binding on the writer, the judges said.
The novel was dogged by controversy over the description of certain events in Tiruchengode which certain sections of the local community took objection to. After a series of protests by right wing organisations and associations claiming to be the representatives of the local residents of the town, the district administration intervened and organised a peace meeting under the Chairmanship of the District Revenue Officer on January 12, 2015. It was alleged that the author was forced to tender an unconditional apology. and withdraw his writing by the local authorities.
The issue gathered wide attention, after Mr. >Perumal Murugan published his own obituary on his Facebook account claiming that it was the death of Professor Perumal Murugan as an author, as he could not function as a writer when under threat or fear.
Expressing solidarity with the writer, the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association approached the High Court seeking to declare the settlement arrived in the peacekeeping meeting null and void.
Another plea was moved by R. Velliyangiri, who claimed to be representing the local residents of Tiruchengode town. He wanted the court to direct the authorities to forfeit all the copies of the book written in Tamil and its translated English version printed, published, circulated, offered for sale and sold in various formats, including in electronic media.
Two more criminal original petitions were also moved by the Namakkal District Senguntha Mahajana Sangam and the Kongu Vellalar Sangangal Kootamaippu seeking to register criminal cases against the author for allegedly hurting the sentiments of the Hindus and the local residents.
Pronouncing the common order on all the four pleas six months after concluding the final hearing, the Bench further decided to dismiss all other three pleas seeking to ban the book and to initiate criminal proceedings against Mr. Perumal Murugan.
Endorsing the need to follow certain guidelines by the authorities to prevent confusions in similar circumstances in future, the Bench suggested that the government direct its officials to follow some important aspects suggested by V. Suresh, council for the publisher of the book.
The suggestion includes constituting an expert body to deal with situations arising from such conflicts of views, such expert body would consist of qualified persons in the branch of creative literature and art so that an independent opinion is formed, keeping in mind the law evolved by the judiciary.
“Such an expert body or panel of experts would obviate the kind of situations we have seen in the present case. In such matters of art and culture, the issue cannot be left to the police authorities or the local administration alone, especially when there is a spurt in such conflicts,” the Bench added and directed the State government to constitute the expert committee within three months.
The judgement closed with as much flair and authority as it opened. The judges said: “Let the author be resurrected to do what he is best at. Write.”
- › BJP, RSS demand ban on 'Madhorubagan' and arrest of the author. Copies burnt at Tiruchengode. >Read more
- › The Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artistes Association express solidarity with Mr. Murugan >Read more
- › Hindutva ideologue and writer Aravindan Neelakantan reiterated that the RSS had never favoured the idea of banning books. >Read more
- › Peace restored in Tiruchengode after an agreement between Mr. Murugan and various members of Hindu outfits. >Read more