The Madras high court has dismissed a criminal case against prominent Tamil writer Perumal Murugan for allegedly offending religious sentiments in his book, Madhorubagan.
Residents of Tiruchengode and the Kongu Nadu belt - areas where Murugan lived and wrote about in his novels - claimed that the book offended their religious sentiments - only after it was translated into English in 2014. The Tamil version was published in 2011.
Madhorubagan is about a childless couple from rural Tamil Nadu that is forced by their families to participate in an ancient chariot festival in the temple of Ardhanarishvara - a composite androgynous form of the Shiva and Parvati.
According to the book, any man was permitted to sleep with any woman and vice-versa during the night of the festival.
The writer was hounded out of his village and eventually took to Facebook to symbolically declare that “Perumal Murugan the writer was dead” following the furore over his book after it was published in English as ‘One Part Woman’.
A group of writers challenged the decision of a peace committee at a meeting organised by the district administration in Namakkal after protests. After the meeting, Murugan agreed to issue an unconditional apology, delete the controversial portions from his book, and withdraw unsold copies from the market.
But the high court made it clear in its ruling that those terms are no longer binding.
“The choice to read is always with the reader. Literary tastes may vary - what is right and acceptable to one may not be so to others. Yet, the right to write is unhindered,” a bench comprised of Chief Justice SK Kaul and justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana said in its ruling on Tuesday.
The court also directed the state to circulate a series of guidelines framed by it to handle such situations among the state police and to form an expert committee to deal with similar cases in the future.
Murugan is a prolific writer, whose works, in the words of prominent historian AR Venkatachalapathy, “single-handedly put the Kongu region on the literary map of Tamil Nadu.”
But after the peace meet in 2014, his books are difficult to find, with most bookshops only carrying Madhorubagan and his latest, unfinished novel ‘Pookuzhi’ (Pyre).