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SC throws out plea to ban Malayalam novel Meesha

‘Creativity of an author cannot be held hostage to subjective perceptions’

The Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a petition seeking a ban on the Malayalam novel Meesha (Moustache), written by S. Hareesh, as it was perceived to be ‘derogatory’ to temple-going Hindu women.

The court, in a 30-page judgment, said the creativity and imagination of an author cannot be held hostage to the vagaries of subjective perceptions, whims or fancies of individuals.

The court assured that it would safeguard the free flow of ideas in a democracy by quoting Voltaire’s “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The court said the judiciary should remain committed to keeping the flag of democratic values and ideals of freedom and liberty flying high. “We live not in a totalitarian regime but in a democratic nation, which permits free exchange of ideas and liberty,” Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, who authored the judgment, observed.

The judgment said, “A writer should have free play with words, like a painter has it with colours. The passion of imagination cannot be directed.”

It is for the reader to read a creative work with a mature spirit, catholicity of approach, objective tolerance and a sense of acceptability founded on reality, it said.

‘Intellectual cowardice’

The Chief Justice, along with Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, wrote that creative voices cannot be allowed to slip into a mode of “intellectual cowardice.”

The petitioner, N. Radhakrishnan, calling himself a “proud Hindu”, alleged that the book contained “offending parts”, which insult Brahmin priests and amounts to a “casteist/racist slur.” The court held that the language used in the dialogue cannot remotely be thought of as obscene. The concept of defamation does not arise. Nurturing the idea that it is derogatory and hurtful to the temple-going is baseless.

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