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'Meesha' row: Supreme Court decries practice of banning books

The New Indian Express logo The New Indian Express 03-08-2018
The plea filed by Delhi resident N Radhakrishnan had sought to omit excerpts from the Malayalam novel, 'Meesha' written by S Hareesh. (Photo | BJP) © Provided by The New Indian Express The plea filed by Delhi resident N Radhakrishnan had sought to omit excerpts from the Malayalam novel, 'Meesha' written by S Hareesh. (Photo | BJP)

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved the judgement over a plea seeking a ban on the publication of Malayalam novel "Meesha" (moustache) on the grounds that it allegedly depicts temple-going Hindu women in derogatory light.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that the culture of banning books impacts the free flow of ideas and should not be taken recourse to unless they are hit by Section 292 of the IPC that prohibits obscenity.

"You are giving undue importance to this kind of stuff. In the age of the internet, you are making this an issue. It is best forgotten," the bench said.

ALSO READ | Samakalika Malayalam ready to publish Hareesh's 'Meesha' after writer withdraws novel citing right wing threats

Section 292 of the IPC deals with banning sale of "obscene books, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object" as they "tend to deprave and corrupt person, who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it".

The order came on the plea filed by Delhi resident N Radhakrishnan, who sought a direction to delete certain portions from a novel by S Hareesh as it allegedly defamed temple going Hindu women.

The novel was being published in a serialised form in the Malayalam periodical, Mathrubhumi.

The publication of subsequent parts of the novel in the periodical was discontinued after the controversy.

Malayalam's leading publisher DC books decided to publish the full version of S Hareesh's Meesha. The book was released on August 1.

The petitioner, N Radhakrishnan, has also alleged that certain comments in the book about Brahmins, who perform 'puja' in the temples, amounted to " castiest slur".

Trivandrum: Hindu Aikya Vedi members protest in front of DC books after the publishing house yesterday released the book 'Meesha', a Malayalam novel whose author S Hareesh had to withdraw it from a weekly owing to allegations of hurting religious statements in the book.

— ANI (@ANI) August 2, 2018

"The publication caused public outburst and protests across the nation, especially in the state of Kerala as the matter was published in Malayalam language.

Post the publication of the incriminating article, Hindu women visiting temple were subjected to ridicule and embarrassment through various social media platforms," the plea has alleged.

"Trolls, which appeared and were circulated on social media, have caused deep pain and anguish to the temple going Hindu believers," it claimed.

The petition claimed that if the government fails to take appropriate action, it would indirectly invite the public to react and it would not be far before there is "a 'Charlie Hebdo' kind of backlash in India".

Centre and the Kerala government also opposed the petition saying free speech should not be curtailed. The petitioner has objected to a dialogue between two characters in the novel, which allegedly insults Hindu women.

The novel " Meesha" that insulted and demeaned the Hindu community and the womanhood at large was burned in front of the DC Books outlet immediately after the publisher released the Book.

— Adv S SureshBJP (@advssuresh) August 1, 2018

Advocate counsel Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the petitioner cited the examples of books like Polyester Prince and Satanic Verses and said they still remain banned.

“We cannot make a virtue of banning those to ban this. Literary work is amenable to criticism. The culture of banning books directly impacts flow of ideas unless it hits Section 292 of Indian Penal Code,” CJI observed while asking the regional newspaper to reply within five days the English translation giving the theme of the book and the three chapters of the book carried by it.

“Unfortunately, the elected Government of State of Kerala, which is duty bound to protect the interest of everyone, did not take necessary steps to stop publication, online sale and dissemination of the novel,” the petition stated while seeking a ban.

He later sought the liberty to withdraw the plea which was denied by the bench.

(with PTI inputs)

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