We have discussed this issue many times over. But, still, one aspect has not been analysed fully, and that is the role played by the district administration (Collector) in this case.
What did the district administration do in this? What was the right thing to do?
To start with, the Collector wears two hats; one is that of the collector, head of the state administration in the district, where he is under the superintendence and control of the State government. Second is that of the ‘District Magistrate’ (DM), under the CrPC (Code of the Criminal Procedure), where he is not answerable to anyone, except law. Nobody can give him instructions when he acts as a DM; not even His Excellency, The president of India, leave alone anybody else!
It is as a DM, that the collectors are seized of the issues regarding law and order, peace, public nuisance etc. The DM, in such cases, applies the law, acts as a court and pass orders. If his orders are perceived as bad by anyone, they can appeal before the District Judge or before the High court.
Now, let’s see what happened in the case of Perumal Murugan.
There were widespread protests against the book authored by Perumal. Certain people wanted police to book a case on the Author. There appeared to be a possible law & order situation.
In this situation, the district administration interfered and called both the sides; the agitating people on one side and Perumal on the other side. The meeting was called as ‘peace meeting’. The meeting ended with Perumal giving an unconditional apology letter, and the agitating side agreeing not to agitate further.
This may appear to be acceptable to many. That an issue has been handled in the best interest of peace. But, alas, what happened was neither legal nor in the interest of the society!
The Hon’ble High Court of Madras, very rightly pointed out in the PIL filed on this issue; that, the collector office has no business to call for such ‘peace meeting’. There is no legal provision to do such ‘panchayat’. There are other legal provisions to handle such situations.
First, if anybody is creating law and order problem, the DM can summon them to his court and ask them to behave themselves and give undertaking not to disturb the peace, and if they do, get them arrested. That’s created credible deterrence. Secondly, he could have allowed the FIR to be filed against the author, and thereby allowed the author to defend his book before the Court.
That would have led to both the parties taking the fight to the proper forum, the court. If the court has felt that the book is indeed offensive, it would have passed necessary orders banning the book. If the Court has found the book to be ok, it would have again ensured that Perumal is protected.
That would have prevented the death of the writer in Perumal.
The district administration, by mismanaging the issue, has send wrong signals as below:
1. If anybody is unhappy with something, the best option is to take law in their hands, and stone the bus or create law and order problem. That would ensure an invitation to the collector office, where compromise will be worked out! Why go to court or have detailed arguments on what is right and what is wrong, as per law? So, ‘might is right’! Hell with law and justice!
2. The freedom of expression, guaranteed by the Constitution of India, has been conveniently throttled by the very officers of the constitution, under the guise of law and order issue. Is not the same officers who take oath to work as per the constitution? What a let-down?!
I am glad that somebody filed PIL before the Hon’ble HC of Madras. I hope the Hon’ble HC of Madras comes up with such decisions that will act as guide to the collectors and other officers on this country, who are duty bound to protect the guarantees given by the constitution.
Else such misadventure and transgression will undermine the foundations of our country, and weaken them.
Indeed, in this age of information, ideas rule the world. Ideas flow freely only when there is freedom of expression.
Curtailment of the freedom of expression will be a costly mistake, and can be only at the peril of our future; the future shared by our children.
Let’s hope better sense prevails and there are no more deaths, like that of the writer in Perumal Murugan.