Kerala. The Kerala High Court has recently ruled that a complaint filed by the State Secretary of the RSS against a defamatory article published in a newspaper about the RSS is maintainable under Section 499 of the IPC.
Justice Sophy Thomas noted that since the RSS is a definite and identifiable body, any individual member of RSS has the locus standi to maintain a complaint against an article defaming the organisation –
“…when an article is published in a newspaper containing imputations meant to harm the reputation of RSS, complaint by individual member of RSS is maintainable under Explanation 2 to Section 499 of IPC. It is not necessary that the imputations in the article individually affected the reputation of the complainant.”
The direction came in a petition filed by a Malayalam daily to quash the proceedings before Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Economic Offences) based on a private complaint filed by the RSS State Secretary.
The complaint alleged that the article published by Mathrubhoomi contained defamatory and misleading imputations, lowering the reputation of RSS in the public. Moreover, it was contended that the article was capable of promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion, prejudicial to communal harmony.
Advocate C.P. Udayabhanu appearing for the petitioners argued that the State Secretary had no locus standi to represent the organisation since RSS is not a definite and determinable body. He added that only if there is a definite association or collection of persons capable of being identified could it be said that the defamatory matter applies to all the members of that organisation. There was nothing to show in the complaint that the publication of imputation has been made with the intention, knowledge or belief, that it will harm the reputation of the person concerned.
They highlighted that no socio-political organisation including RSS is beyond public scrutiny. On these grounds, they argued that the article did not contain any defamatory materials to cause damage to the organisation, RSS.
The Court noted that Section 199 of CrPC contains a ban that no court shall take cognizance of the offence of defamation except upon a complaint made by “some persons aggrieved by the offence”.
It was found that a class of persons as such cannot be defamed as a class, nor could an individual be defamed by a general reference to a class to which he belongs.
In fact, going by explanation 2 to Section 499 of IPC, if a well-defined class is defamed, each and every member of that class can file a complaint.
“Where the words reflect on each and every member of a certain number or class, each and all can sue. But, this principle depends upon the determination of the number of persons of the class,” the order reads.
The Judge also observed that in Tek Chand Gupta vs. R.K. Karanjia & Ors [1967 SCC Online All 282], the Allahabad High Court has held that RSS is a definite and identifiable class or body.
So, when an article is published in a newspaper containing imputations meant to harm the reputation of RSS, a complaint by an individual member of RSS is maintainable under Explanation 2 to Section 499 of IPC, the Court held.
“Since Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is a definite and identifiable body as held by the High Court of Allahabad and asserted by the Apex Court vide decisions cited supra, the contention of the petitioners that the 1st respondent (State Secretary) has no locus standi to maintain a complaint under Section 500 of IPC is not tenable.”
Accordingly, the plea was dismissed.
The trial court was also directed to expedite the trial and to dispose of the case, in accordance with law within a period of six months.