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Read Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul's epic defence of freedom of expression & author Perumal Murugan

The Tamil novel, "Madhorubagan", authored by Perumal Murugan, and translated into English as "One Part Woman" which received literary awards, was alleged to narrate non-existent conventions that sought to tarnish the image of populace of the area.

The novel relates the travails and tribulations of a childless couple and the barbs of society against it, while the couple seeks to battle it out against social and family pressures. Somewhere, the family pressures gain an upper hand and what transpires to assist procreation is the troubling domain of the story.

The protagonist (husband) in the novel is shown as being concerned that people were asking him to send his childless wife to another man, to become pregnant during a festival, with the identity of the third person being kept secret, even if the husband himself did not need a child.

In rejecting the challenge of the novel, Madras high court chief justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul held:

There is no doubt that the language used in the novel, especially the Tamil version, can be said to be rustic and a little crass. Is that by itself fatal? To our mind, the answer to this would be in the negative. There has to be something more to classify the novel as obscene per se or for requirement to delete certain parts of the novel.

Kaul also relied on the Bombay high court judgment in the recent Udta Punjab case to buttress his view. He held:

Although the above (the Bombay high court’s) observations relate to a cinematographic work, they apply on all fours to the present case, as all literary works, whether films, books, or paintings, most certainly fall within the realm of artistic creativity. The novel in question, "Madhorubagan" also attempts to depict the current mores and the stigmas attached to childlessness, with specific reference to the Indian context.

The focus of the novel, according to the judgment, can hardly be said to be existence of a practice of sexual intermingling on the 14th day of the temple car festival. It says:

The novel shakes you, but not in the manner its opponents seek to profess. It jolts you, because it succinctly sets forth the pain and sufferance depicted through the words of this childless couple. That is the take away from the novel."

It is not to be judged by the eyes of the insensitive which sees only obscenity in everything… No one reading the novel would be persuaded to draw a definite conclusion as sought to be canvassed by the opponents of the novel that the endeavour of the author was to portray all women coming to the car festival as prostitutes. This is a complete misreading of the novel and its theme.M

The high court has held that there was no binding force or obligation arising from the so-called settlement arrived at with the intervention of the state authorities on 12 January 2015, which sought to proscribe the circulation of the book unofficially.

The judgment exhorted the author, who declared himself as dead following the controversy, to write, and be resurrected.

In his lucid judgment, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul cites Salman Rushdie, to make the point that "it is very easy not to be offended by a book, you simply have to close it".

Read the Perumal Murugan judgment (PDF)

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