Artistic freedom of author Perumal Murugan upheld

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[S. Tamilselvan v. Government of Tamil Nadu 2016, decided on 5.7.2016]

The Madras High Court on Tuesday ruled in favour of Perumal Murugan, author of novel Madhorubhagan, granting him relief from all the controversies that shrouded the work of fiction that compelled him to announce that he would withdraw his entire body of work from publication and never write again. The award winning novel which revolves around the trials and tribulations of a childless couple, and other ancient social customs of the town of Tiruchengode (the author too belongs to Tiruchengode), came under fire from the public due to its alleged obscene contents offending the religious sentiments of the Tiruchengode townspeople. Certain factions raised their voice against the author, that he had defamed the womenfolk and the community of Tiruchengode. A batch of petitions were filed in the matter, where the ‘opponents’ demanded a ban of the novel on the grounds of obscenity, defamatory and hurtful to the religious sentiments of townspeople, and demanded that criminal proceedings be initiated against the author and publisher. While the ‘sympathizers’ pleaded to uphold the creative freedom of the writer. Concluding the year-long legal battle, the First Bench of Chief Justice S. K. Kaul and Justice Puspha Sathyanarayana held that the settlement arrived at the peace meet would not be binding on the author. The bench also held that the ‘community standard test’ should involve standard prudence and not sensitivity, and the freedom of speech of an artist must be protected. It also dismissed the plea moved by the residents, and consequently quashed an FIR filed against Mr. Murugan. The bench concluded the 160-paged judgment quoting that “Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.” 

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