Ban on Book; S. Tamilselvan Vs. Government of Tamil Nadu [Madras High Court, 05-07-2016]

Constitution of India – Article 226 & Article 19 (1) (a) – Ban on Book – Novel “Madhorubagan” written by Perumal Murugan and its translated English version titled “One Part Woman” printed, published, circulated, offered for sale and sold in various formats, i.e. in print media and electronic media – 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. If the contents seek to challenge or go against the very Constitutional values, raise racial issues, denigrate castes, contain blasphemous dialogues, carry unacceptable sexual contents or start a war against the very existence of our country, the State would, no doubt, step in.


IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUDICATURE AT MADRAS

CORAM The Hon’ble Mr. SANJAY KISHAN KAUL, CHIEF JUSTICE and The Honourable Mrs. Justice PUSHPA SATHYANARAYANA

Delivered on : 05..07..2016

Writ Petition Nos.1215 and 20372 of 2015 and Criminal Original Petition Nos.7086 and 7153 of 2015 W.P. No.1215 of 2015

S. Tamilselvan Vs. Government of Tamil Nadu

For Petitioners : Mr. S. Senthilnathan, Mr. Sathish Parasaran, Mr. S.P. Chockalingam, Mr. G. Karthikeyan

For Respondents : Mr. P.H. Aravindh Pandian, Additional Advocate General Assisted by Mr. S.T.S. Murthi, Government Pleader Mr. V.R. Kamalanathan, Addl. Govt. Pleader & Mr. V. Shanmugasundar, Government Advocate, Mr. J. Madanagopal Rao, Central Govt. Standing Counsel, Mr. Satish Parasaran, Dr. V. Suresh, Mr. S.P. Chockalingam, Mr. G. Karthikeyan, Mr. C.D. Johnson, Mr. K. Gangadaran, Mr. S. Shanmugavelayutham, Public Prosecutor Assisted by Mr. M. Maharaja, Additional Public Prosecutor.

O R D E R

THE HON’BLE CHIEF JUSTICE

“I may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death, your right to say it”, said the author Voltaire (Attributed to Voltaire by S.G. Tallentyre in “The Friends of Voltaire”, 1907). Prelude India has the benefit of one of the most modern and liberal Constitutions. It is reflective of its rich and diverse heritage, yet enunciating the modern principles of democracy, as distinguished from a feudal society. One of the most cherished rights under our Constitution is to speak one’s mind and write what one thinks. No doubt, this is subject to reasonable restrictions, but then the ambit of what one can do is wide.

2. Whether the society is ready to read a particular book and absorb what it says without being offended, is a debate which has been raging for years together. Times have changed. What was not acceptable earlier became acceptable later. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is a classical example of it. 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. If the contents seek to challenge or go against the very Constitutional values, raise racial issues, denigrate castes, contain blasphemous dialogues, carry unacceptable sexual contents or start a war against the very existence of our country, the State would, no doubt, step in.

3. The ban on books has been a mixed bag. In a number of cases, it did not receive the nod from the Court – See

Ranjit D. Udeshi vs. State of Maharashtra, 1965 Cri L.J. 8

Samaresh Bose vs. Amal Mitra, 1986 Cri L.J. 24

State of Maharashtra vs. Sangharaj Damodar Rupawate, (2010) 7 SCC 398

and

Abdul Ali vs. State of Kerala, (2016) Crl. L.J. 433 (Ker).

4. In the case on hand, we are confronted with a strange situation where a Tamil novel, “Madhorubagan” authored by Prof. Perumal Murugan, translated into English as “One Part Woman”, has been a recipient of literary awards, yet is alleged to contain dangerous and damaging materials, evoking emotions of the residents of the location of its storyline. The novel is not really religious in content, but is alleged to be narrating non-existent conventions which seek to tarnish the image of the populace of the area.

5. In essence, the novel seeks to relate the travails and tribulations of a childless couple and the barbs of the society against it, while the couple seeks to battle it out against social and familial pressures. Somewhere, the family pressures gain an upper hand and what transpires to assist procreation is the troubling area of the story.

6. Is the novel based on history and if so, what is its effect? Despite certain locations being mentioned, the author has tried to build a case that it is not so, while the critics of the novel say this is a subsequent thought. Should there always be a recorded history to prove events or can even folklore carried from person to person form the basis of a book? And how do you obviate any offences caused to you? Would what Salman Rushdie said, be the cure, “It is very easy not to be offended by a book, you simply have to close it”?

7. This is a wider canvass, but in a multi-cultural, diverse society, where different religious beliefs are important to varied sections, there are atheists, who are expected to show a minimal element of responsibility in order that there are no unnecessary dissensions on religious and social lines by intrusions into the customs, beliefs and practices of different sections of society, so that such activities satisfy the touchstone of our Constitution. Religion is a major influence in our country, even though sometimes its credibility and relevance is questioned. However, all this is eternal and personal.

8. So much for the wider canvass, for the time being. We now turn to the facts of the case, which are in a narrow compass.

Facts

9. Professor Dr. Perumal Murugan is an Associate Professor hailing from Tiruchengode Town. The controversy about the novel is over the description of certain events more than eight years in period of time in Tiruchengode town, which is about 30 kms away from Namakkal. That is the Kurukshetra of this battle.

10. The novel in controversy “Madhorubagan” was written in the year 2010. It is the claim of the author that, this work of his received considerable attention and in the year 2013, M/s. Penguin Publishers came out with the English translation of the novel. The translation was done by Sri. Aniruddhan Vasudevan, who has incidentally been awarded a literary prize by a Canada based organization for true reflection of the story by way of translation.

11. The background of the novel is set against the author’s native place, Tiruchengode and it is claimed to have been read by readers, fellow writers and critics, encountering only literary criticism.

12. The original Tamil version of the novel was released in January, 2011 at the Chennai Book Fair, where the author claims it sold over 500 copies and more than 5000 copies have so far been sold through its four editions. The English translation of the novel was released in November, 2013 and it also evoked critical acclaim. The author claims that he attended a Writers’ Workshop at Bangalore to complete two sequels to the novel, viz. “Aalavandaan” and “Ardhanaari”.

13. The travails of Prof. Perumal Murugan began from December, 2014, when on his return to Namakkal, voices were raised against him that he had defamed Tiruchengode town and the womenfolk and the community. It is only when he received information that a police complaint was proposed to be lodged against him in respect of the novel on 26.12.2014 before the Town Police Station, Tiruchengode, he prepared a written complaint on 24.12.2014, which was submitted in person to the Superintendent of Police, Namakkal on 26.12.2014, while seeking police protection. The author came across photographs showing burning of the copies of the novel, beating and kicking his photographs with slippers and voices calling for censoring of all his works and also for his dismissal from Government Service. The series of incidents is stated to have caused quite a consternation and shock to the author, as his view was to the contrary; that he, as a writer, had brought and honour and laurels to Tiruchengode town, having earned accolades for his works and having participated in several intellectual literary discussions.

14. The author verily believes that all this was instigated not necessarily by local persons, but by outsiders. In support of this plea, he cites – (a) Booklets of select pages from the novel underlined, lithocopied and circulated all across Tiruchengode; (b) Pamphlets being circulated against the author without name or address, but containing mobile numbers; and (c) Whatsapp messages against him The endeavour, it is claimed, was to circulate these, especially to women and caste associations, in kalyana mandapams around Girivella and the path around Tiruchengode Hill Temple.

15. The author claims that all this caused him so much of stress, contrary to the love and respect of the students he had earned till then that he became apprehensive about his and his family’s security and was unable to face such developments. Therefore, he issued a Press Statement on 27.12.2014, making it clear that he never intended to insult his native place or its inhabitants, nor did he want to hurt anybody’s feelings. This was followed by the author deciding to change the reference to Tiruchengode in his sequel novels to ‘Karattur’, in order to obviate any further hostile reactions. Despite this, on his return from the Chennai Book Fair held on 3.1.2015, where the sequel novels were released, posters and pamphlets had been published calling for a one day bandh on 9.1.2015 in Tiruchengode town. The author became more apprehensive and on 7.1.2015, he issued a press statement, giving a detailed clarification to the effect that the novel was fictional in character and expressed regret for hurting people’s sentiments by the use of the name of Tiruchengode in the novel. In furtherance of such emotion, he proposed to remove the name of Tiruchengode in the future editions and requested people not to protest in a way as to disturb normal life. A note in the same terms was issued to the Tiruchengode Town Police Station adding that the fictional novel was set 100 years back and that the author had no intention to demean women/caste groups or devotees, and stated that he himself was from the same Kongu Gounder community.

16. The author claims that he wanted to take some conciliatory steps by entering into a dialogue with those opposing him, but the opposition was faceless, though the campaign continued with full vigour against him. It was on 8.1.2015 that the author received an intimation from the District Police Office that the Revenue Divisional Officer, Tiruchengode would engage the opponents of the novel in a dialogue, while requesting the author to avoid visiting the venue of the talks, but seeking his clarification in writing. The author claims to have reiterated what he had said earlier. On the morning of 8.1.2015, on being called to the office of the Superintendent of Police, Namakkal, the author gave two letters addressed to the R.D.O., Tiruchengode, in which he apologised and volunteered to withdraw all copies of the novel with the assurance that he would modify the portions which had allegedly hurt the people’s sentiments in future editions. He clearly stated that he no more had the intention to write about Tiruchengode.

17. On being called upon to attend the office of the Superintendent of Police by 5.00 p.m., when the protagonists of the bandh who were claimed also to have been invited to the talks, he complied. He, however, received information that till about 9.30 p.m., no one had turned up at the office of the R.D.O. for the talks. He thus left at that time, but he was cautioned that he and his family should leave Namakkal. A total bandh was thereafter held for a full day on 9.1.2015, when the author and his family went away to Chennai, where they stayed for three days.

18. On 11.1.2015, the District Revenue Officer and the Inspector of Police attached to the office of the Superintendent of Police spoke to him stating that peace talks had been arranged to be held on 12.1.2015, where he was asked to be present and the following ‘Summons’ was issued to the author as well as the publisher :- “ Summons Sub: Complaint – To conduct peace talk presided by District Revenue Officer in District Collector’s office related to the complaint given by Thiru. Pon. Govindarasu, representing Ardhaneeswarar Girivala Welfare Association, No.36, Anjaneyar Koil Street, Tiruchengode Taluk, Namakkal District, seeking a ban on Madhorubagan book, which is written against Indian and Tamil cultures and by denigrating Lord Ardhaneeswarar and women, and seeking to take action against its writer and publisher – reg. Ref : 1. Arulmighu Ardhaneeswarar Girivala Nala Sangam Petition dated 2.1.2015 of Thiru. Pon. Govindarasu 2. Thiru. Chinnasamy, Hindu Munnani petition dated 26.12.2014 on behalf of town public 3. Morur Kannakula Kongu Nattu Velalar Arakkattalai, Morur President Thiru. Kandasamy’s petition dt.26.12.2014 4. Namakkal District Sengunthar Magasana Sangam (Association) President Thiru. M. Mathesh’s petition dated 26.12.2014 5. Kongu Velalar Sangangal Koottamaippu (federation) Gen. Sec. Thiru. P.T. Rajamanickam’s petition dt.– 6. Tiruchengode Police Station CSR No.220/2014, 218/2014, 221/2014, 219/2014 dated 26.12.2014 It is proposed to hold a “Peace Talk” at 4.30 p.m. on 12.1.2015, Monday, at District Collector’s Office, to be president by District Revenue Officer, Namakkal regarding the complaints in References 1 to 5 above, which seek a ban on ‘Madhorubagan’ book for writing against Indian and Tamil cultures and mores and for denigrating Lord Ardhaneeswarar and women. The petitioners and respondents are asked to present themselves without absence, bringing with them the original documents they have. Signed (Name not clear) Revenue Divisional Officer, Tiruchengode.” At this stage, the author spoke to his friend one Mr. G.R.Swaminathan, an advocate practising at the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, who agreed to accompany him to the talks. However, on leaving for Namakkal in the afternoon, he received telephonic information from the police that a tense atmosphere was prevailing and that he should wait in his house. He was asked to come to the Collectorate under escort once he got the signal. However, his advocate/friend was of the view that they should go straight to the Collectorate, as if that was not safe, the position would be no different elsewhere. However, after passing information of his direct arrival at the Collectorate, a police party intervened at the toll plaza and asked the author and his advocate friend to follow them.

19. The author claims that the District Revenue Officer was engaged in talks with the opposite group and told him that the District Administration was under a duty to maintain the law and order situation. In addition to the D.R.O., the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Tiruchengode, the Inspector of Police and the local Tahsildar were also present in the room. The author was asked to make a decision after taking into account the charged conditions. He then informed the D.R.O. that he was ready to express his sincere regret. The D.R.O. is stated to have told him that the opponent groups were insisting on an unconditional apology and that he should make the same openly in their presence. If this was given in writing, the D.R.O. claimed, she would be able to persuade the opponent group. Mr. Swaminathan, the advocate accompanying the author, told the D.R.O. that she should not view the issue from a law and order angle alone, but perceive it from the prism of freedom of speech and expression, to which the D.R.O. is reported to have retorted, “Today you will speak and go, Perumal Murugan and his family will have to survive in Namakkal”. The D.R.O. is then alleged to have raised her voice in an agitated manner. This led to some exchange of words between Mr. Swaminathan and the D.R.O. is stated to have asked Mr. Swaminathan to leave the room. The author claims in his affidavit that they felt very pained at this and came out of the room stating that they would write a statement and submit it. A statement was then prepared by Mr. Swaminathan in English, where he used the expression “sincere regret”. On the D.R.O. having perused the same, she is stated to have asked the author to change the expression “sincere regret” to “unconditional apology”. She is stated to have said that it is only then that she would be able to convince the opposing group. The author claims that he did not have the heart to apologize and came out stating that he will think about the same. The author claims that he was in a state of terrible mental confusion. He could see a large gathering at a distance in the verandah and could sense the aggression in the area, while the police party stood surrounding him and the Press went about clicking photographs. Mr. Swaminathan is stated to have assured the author of supporting him whatever be his decision, and suggested that the author could consult his wife and take a decision thereafter. The author claims to have called his wife at that point, and the conversation was held under unbearable mental strain. This state of anguish was one that they had been facing in the preceding weeks. The author’s family had been living in virtual exile and even his wife was of the opinion that by tendering the unconditional apology alone, would the situation considerably defuse. She also asked the author not to suffer an inner breakdown. It was then that the author claims to have decided to apologize and in view of the same, on re-entering the room of the D.R.O., Mr. Swaminathan struck off the words “sincere regret” and instead, wrote “unconditional apology”. At that stage, the D.R.O. informed him that she may add a few more demands of the agitators. Mr. Swaminathan is stated to have told the D.R.O. that the author had agreed to comply with a few more demands, but that was to avoid the bandh. Since the bandh was successfully enforced, there was no going back from the undertaking, but the D.R.O. was insistent. Since the author had already apologized, he felt that there was no point in resisting any further and told the D.R.O. to write whatever she wanted and that he would affix his signature. After waiting for some time in another room, he was asked to come and sign the prepared minutes, but still the D.R.O. told him to wait in the room for 30 more minutes so that the agitators would disperse in the meanwhile. The author claims that he was totally frustrated by then and at that point, Mr.Swaminathan consoled him, dropped him at his house and left for Madurai. The police party is stated to have escorted the author from the Collectorate to his house. The author avers in his affidavit that his students and friends were waiting for him at his house and he felt ashamed to even face them. He justified to himself that whoever may have been behind the scene, he had apologized only to his own town-folk, but kept wondering about his literary future, which began to haunt him.

20. The author has set out what he perceives to be the function of a writer in paragraph 16 of his affidavit as under :-

“The function of a writer is to question the social values and subject them to critical examination. He must not mechanically accept anything. The society which frames the rules also provides for exceptions. It is natural for a writer to focus his writing on the exceptions. When the society insists on the rules, the writer will highlight the exceptions. That is how it is possible to perceive things from the side of the victim. Otherwise, the voice of the victim and marginalised will go unheard.”

As per the author’s understanding, he had been engaging himself as a writer all these years in terms of the aforesaid thought process and felt that he may not be able to write with the same understanding in the future. In fact, he did not even know who the persons who opposed him were, they still remained nameless and faceless. On introspection, he decided that whatever he wrote should not remain in print and that is why he published his own Obituary as a writer on his Facebook account. Whether others believed in it or not, the author claims that it was the death of Prof. Perumal Murugan as an author, as he could not function as a writer when under threat or fear.

21. In order to appreciate what the author perceives his feelings to be, we may turn to the Facebook post page of the author, announcing his death as a writer in Tamil with its English translation as under :-

“ ‘Author Perumal Murugan has died’ Friends, the following note will stay on Facebook for the next two days. After that, Perumal Murugan will withdraw himself from all social networking activities. He thanks all those who supported him on social media. On behalf of Perumal Murugan, a note from Pe. Murugan : Author Perumal Murugan has died. He is no god, so he is not going to resurrect himself. Nor does he believe in reincarnation. From now on, Pe. Murugan will survive merely as a teacher, as he has been. He thanks all magazines, media, readers, friends, writers, organisations, political parties, leaders, students and anyone else who supported Perumal Murugan and upheld the freedom of expression. The issue is not going to end with Madhorubagan. Different groups and individuals might pick up any of his books and make it a problem. Therefore, these are the final decisions that Perumal Murugan has taken :

1. Other than those books that Perumal Murugan has compiled and published on his own, he withdraws all the novels, short stories, essays and poetry he has written so far. He says with certainty that none of these books will be on sale again.

2. He requests his publishers – Kalachuvadu, Natrinai, Adaiyalam, Malaigal and Kayalkavin not to sell hos books. He will compensate them for their loss.

3. All those who have bought his books so far are free to burn them. If anyone feels they have incurred a waste or loss in buying his books, he will offer them a compensation.

4. He requests that he be not invited to any events from now on.

5. Since he is withdrawing all his books, he requests caste, religious, political and other groups not to engage in protests or create problems. Please leave him alone. Thanks to everyone. Pe. Murugan For Perumal Murugan (Translated into English by Aniruddhan Vasudevan). ”

The author and his wife subsequently applied for transfer.