G.R. Swaminathan, the lawyer who accompanied writer Perumal Murugan to peace talks has on Thursday come out with a statement describing what happened during the talks.
Below is his statement reproduced in full:
“Some ten days back, Kalachuvadu Kannan called me and sought my intervention in favour of Perumal Murugan. His novel Madhorubagan had become the subject of controversy stirred by certain Hindu outfits. I planned to visit Namakkal and Thiruchengode and talk to the local leaders. The visit did not materialise. However, I met Perumal Murugan in person in Chennai. He struck me as too sensitive, soft and decent. I took him to a few well wishers. All of them expressed their support and solidarity. Perumal Murugan appeared cheered up.
I received another call last Sunday. Perumal Murugan had been called upon by the District Administration to attend the peace talks to be held on 12.01.2015. Perumal Murugan came to my house on 12th morning and we both travelled in my car to Namakkal. En route he was instructed by the local police not to come to the Collectorate straightaway. He was told to remain in his house and he would be taken under escort for peace talks. At my instance, Perumal Murugan insisted that he would come directly to the Collectorate accompanied by me alone. Earlier a group of students wanted to join him but Perumal Murugan felt that students should not be involved. He wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation between the protesters and the students.
When we reached the toll gate at around 5 p.m., we were accosted by a police officer. He instructed us to follow the escort vehicle. We were strictly told that we should enter the Collectorate only through a certain route. On reaching the Collectorate through the back entry, we were taken to the room of the Assistant to the District Revenue Officer, Namakkal. When we were so taken, Perumal Murugan was throughout surrounded by a group of police constables.
During the journey when I told Perumal Murugan that the police are frightening him, he confided that he was made to leave Namakkal only because the police suggested him to exile himself. In the Collectorate, we were kept confined. The DRO who presided over the peace talks did not arrange a face to face meeting with the protestors. She met the protestors separately. Since Perumal Murugan was anxious to close the issue and had already issued two statements, I summarized them in my own hand writing and asked Perumal Murugan to sign the same. I had used the expression “sincere regret”. But the DRO felt that this will not be acceptable to the other side and wanted me to change it as “unconditional apology”. I could not stomach it. I could see that Perumal Murugan was in real agony. I therefore told him to call up his wife and take a decision. His wife Ezhil finally said “alright, if that is what they want, put it in writing”. She anxiously enquired if it would not break his spirit.
We trooped back into DRO’s room. “Sincere regret” became “unconditional apology”. I thought with that everything would be over. Not yet. The DRO asked us to wait in the other chamber. Some fifteen minutes later we were once again summoned. She produced a copy of the statement earlier issued by Perumal Murugan offering to change the name of the place and delete the offending portions in the next edition and to take back the unsold copies. I pointed out that that was given under compulsion in the face of hartal threat earlier. Since the said statement had been ignored and a hartal was held, there was no point in relying on it. But the police and the District Administration insisted that we incorporate those portions also. I could see that Perumal Murugan was literally crumbling within. He literally was on the edge of frustration. He said “write anything, do anything, I accept”. I tried to pacify him but it was of no avail.
During the talks, I became a little emotional and requested the DRO to see from the point of writer’s freedom. She raised her voice and told me that I as an advocate could say anything and walk away. Perumal Murugan has to stay in Namakkal. When I told her not to raise her voice, she told me to leave the place if I wanted. The police did not support Perumal Murugan even a wee bit. The District Administration totally let him down. According to them it was a pure law and order issue. Literary freedom and Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution were remote concerns.
I dropped Perumal Murugan in his house and returned to Madurai. My heart was heavy. I could not come to terms with myself. Should I have walked out and taken Perumal Murugan along? Or should we not have attended the peace talks at all? Was it a tactical mistake to have gone there in the first instance? There are no easy answers. Perumal Murugan was clearly uncomfortable being away from his soil. The “exile” was actually draining his spirits. That the exile itself was engineered by the police makes things worse. The District Administration was not willing to stand up by him.
True there was a big support for Perumal Murugan in the media. But the field reality was different. The man and his wife are both employed in Namakkal. They have their roots in Thiruchengode. They just couldn’t stand the thought and reality that the entire town could go against them. The hartal was total and complete. In such circumstances, we had virtually no options. Perumal Murugan did not have the inner wherewithal to brave things out. M.F. Hussain can travel all over the world. But even he had to exile himself from the place of contention. But Perumal Murugan could not do so. He has to be in Namakkal unless he and his wife are favoured with an order of administrative transfer to Chennai.
I was told that the entire campaign against Perumal Murugan has been engineered by certain Hindu outfits. When I spoke to several responsible leaders, all of them told me that they have nothing to do with the agitation against Perumal Murugan. I could only conclude that elements similar to “non-state actors” are on the prowl. Quite a few loose cannons appear to have coalesced together. The persons who signed in the peace minutes had no organizational backing. Caste and religion make a deadly cocktail. Only a strong administration could have dealt with them. It did not. On the other hand, Perumal Murugan was simply thrown to the wolves. Casting pearls before the swine is a futile exercise. But to deadlier beasts, creative freedom is an easy meat.”