The Madras High Court Tuesday quashed a criminal case against Tamil writer Perumal Murugan for allegedly offending religious sentiments through his novel Madhorubhagan and his writings on caste.
“Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write,” said the court.
In the wake of protests against his book and threats to his life, Murugan had, in January 2015, announced his decision to give up writing and had posted on Facebook: “Author Perumal Murugan is dead. He is no God. Hence, he will not resurrect. Hereafter, only P Murugan, a teacher, will live.”
He had also migrated from Namakkal to Chennai after asking the state government for a transfer to a college there.
On Tuesday, the court dismissed a plea moved by residents of his native town, Tiruchengode, to initiate criminal proceedings against him. The court also dismissed a petition which sought to forfeit all copies of the novel in Tamil and its translated English version, One Part Woman.
The bench of Chief Justice S K Kaul and Justice Puspha Sathyanarayana further held that the author is not bound by a “settlement”, which was reached at a peace meeting last year. The peace meeting, organised by the Namakkal district administration on January 12, 2015, had concluded that Murugan would issue an unconditional apology, delete “controversial” sections from his book and withdraw unsold copies from the market.
The court directed the state government to issue guidelines and form an expert committee to deal with such issues. The court was hearing a petition filed by the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association president S Tamilselvan, who had challenged the peace committee’s decision.
In the Facebook note titled “By P Murugan on behalf of Perumal Murugan”, the author had announced his decision to withdraw all his novels, short stories and poems. He asked publishers not to sell his books and promised to compensate them for their losses. Readers were asked to burn their copies. He also made an appeal to protesting groups to end their agitation and leave him alone.
Addressing his concerns, the court order said, “The author Prof. Perumal Murugan should not be under fear. He should be able to write and advance the canvas of his writings. His writings would be a literary contribution, even if there were others who may differ with the material and style of his expression. The answer cannot be that it was his own decision to call himself dead as a writer. It was not a free decision, but a result of a situation which was created.”
“Time is a great healer and we are sure…Perumal Murugan as well as his opponents…would have learnt to get along with their lives…and bury this issue…as citizens of an advancing and vibrant democracy. We hope our judgment gives a quietus to the issue with introspection on all sides. Time also teaches us to forget and forgive and see beyond the damage. If we give time its space to work itself out, it would take us to beautiful avenues,” said the order.
The court order also said that “all writings, unpalatable for one section of the society, cannot be labelled as obscene, vulgar, depraving, prurient and immoral”.
Murugan, who currently teaches at Chennai’s Presidency College, was at home when the order was announced. While most of his students are unaware of the controversy surrounding him, a few colleagues got in touch to congratulate him.