The Madras HC that came out in support of Madhorubhagan author Perumal Murugan and held that Murugan should not be under fear and be able to advance his writings, delivered a judgment that upheld freedom of expression. It also directed the state to form an expert body to deal with such matters of conflicts of views.
A bench comprising of Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Pushpa Sathyanaraya made the observations in its detailed judgement on a batch of petitions for and against Perumal Murugan, who faced protests from Hindutva and caste outfits over the novel.
The bench's now legendary statement that is making the rounds on social media and news sites alike, has acknowledged an important aspect of art — that it isn't for everyone. "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."
Sanjay Kishan Kaul also referred to the Bombay High Court judgment of Udta Punjab to reinforce this verdict, even though the former related to a "cinematographic work". He added that "all literary works, whether films, books, or paintings" fell within the realm of "artistic creativity", and that Madhorubhagan attempted to depict the current customs and norms (attached to childlessness) in relation to the Indian context.
Interestingly enough, Kaul also looked to Salman Rushdie for support — thereby connecting another author who was sent into exile for his writing — and quoted him in the judgment, saying "it is very easy not to be offended by a book, you simply have to close it".
Madhorubhagan, translated and published in English as One Part Woman by Penguin India, silenced the Tiruchengode-based author Murugan, who was compelled to announce his "death" in a post on his Facebook page.
Murugan said: "Writer Perumal Murugan is dead. He will continue to live as a teacher." The author then recalled all his books, novels and articles and announced that none of his books will be on sale.
The story of Madhorubhagan traces a couple's (Kali and Ponna’s) efforts to conceive a child, all of which have been in vain. They see an answer to their problem in the chariot festival of the temple dedicated to half-female god Ardhanareeswara, where on one particular night consensual sex between any man and woman is allowed. Murugan explores how the pressures of caste and social convention cast a shadow on the couple's relationship.
Sanjay Kishan Kaul is no stranger to such judgments.
In 2008, Kaul quashed the obscenity case against late MF Husain and backed the painter, who was forced to go into exile after his painting of Mother India as a naked woman was accused of hurting religious sentiments. The Delhi High Court found nothing wrong in MF Husain’s work and recalled that ancient and modern art had always used nudity. Kaul was quoted as saying that ancient art was never "devoid of eroticism where sex worship and representation of the union between man and woman" was a recurring feature.
Curiously, this statement can be applied to both the works — that of Perumal Murugan's and MF Husain's.
In his landmark 2008 judgment, Kaul had noted that fundamentalism was the greatest problem the country was facing (at that time). In the Madhorubagan case, the bench (containing Kaul) noted that even as an evolving society, our tolerance levels seemed to be on the decline, and that India is "not endangered by someone writing about social practices, real or unreal, more so a childless couple, as is the case here."
Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul graduated in Economics (Hons) from St Stephens College, Delhi University in 1979 and later obtained LLB from Campus Law Centre, Delhi University in 1982. He was appointed as the Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court in June 2013 before being sworn-in as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court in 2014.
With inputs from PTI