Writer Perumal Murugan’s rights to free speech have been upheld by the Madras High Court. This ends the year-long legal battle the author has faced since the protests over his novel Madhorubagan, which is about a childless couple forced by familial pressures to invoke an age old custom. This custom is a traditional method of countering infertility where on the night of the Arthanaareeshwara chariot festival, any man and woman unconnected by marriage, may copulate without moral qualms in order to beget children. The inclusion of such a scene in the novel had severely offended the residents of Tiruchengode, the town the book was set in. The RSS, along with two other Hindu groups burned copies of the books, following which a meeting was organised between the author and the protesting groups. Perumal Murugan agreed to issue an unconditional apology to the parties he had offended and to also delete all portions of the book that had incited the protests. The author, who was known for his sharp and intelligent writing on caste and social discourses, had no option but to agree to the terms.
Shortly after this, he wrote a post on Facebook that read “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher, will live.”
The Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association had filed a Public Interest Litigation, pleading the HC to quash the FIR against the writer. In their plea, it was alleged that Perumal Murugan’s unconditional apology and agreement to withdraw all books, were forced.
The Madras HC bench comprising Chief Justice SK Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana asked the State government to evolve a scheme within three months to give protection to writers in circumstances similar to Perumal Murugan and quoted Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it,” to make its point clear.
“Our largest concern is extra-judicial groups wielding the power to decide what is right and what is not right, and asking authors what to write and what not to write,” said Madras high court when a public interest litigation filed by progressive writers came up for hearing on July 5.
Quashing the FIR registered against the author, the bench concluded, “let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.”
Following the protests, almost all of Perumal Murugan’s literary work was quietly withdrawn from bookshops. Only One Part Woman, the English translation of Madhorubagan is currently available in stores. And despite enormous support from the literary world, Perumal Murugan has stuck to his vow. He has not written since the incident, and rarely graces public events.
Perumal Murugan is sadly not alone in his travails. Dalit writer Durai Guna and his activist friend were jailed on allegedly false charges last month.
Image Courtesy: Firstpost