A single-judge Bench of the Kerala High Court comprising of Justice Sophy Thomas upheld the locus standi of the State Secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to maintain a complaint filed against a defamatory article published by Petitioner No. 1 publication.

The Court observed that the RSS was an identifiable and definite body and hence, any individual member had the locus standi to maintain a complaint against a defamatory article against the organization.

In the present case, Respondent No. 1 had filed a complaint alleging that the article published contained imputations, which were defamatory and misleading, lowering the reputation of RSS in the public. Additionally, it was alleged that the article was capable of promoting enmity between different groups on the grounds of religion and was prejudicial to communal harmony.

The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Economic Offences) Court, Ernakulam conducted an enquiry and took cognizance of the offences punishable under Sections 500 and 501 against Respondents No. 2 to Respondents No. 9. Since the Petitioner No 1 i.e. the Mathrubhoomi Illustrated Weekly was not a legal entity, it was not arrayed as an accused no summons was issued aginst it. This was challenged before the Kerala High Court.

Advocate C.P. Udayabhanu appeared for the Petitioners while Public Prosecutor M.C. Ashi appeared for the state of Kerala before the High Court.

The primary issue in this case was –

  • Whether the Respondent No.1 had the locus standi to maintain a complaint about defamation against an article defaming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?

It was contended by the Petitioners that Respondent No. 1 i.e. the State Secretary of RSS had no locus standi to represent the organisation. It was claimed that RSS was not a definite and determinable body. It was additionally argued that the article published was originally based on a research study based on facts, findings and materials collected by the celebrated author, academician and political evaluator Badri Raina and was merely translated and published by the Petitioners. It was further submitted that it was the role and duty of the media to inform the readers about the state of affairs in and around the country. Hence. the article published did not contain any defamatory materials to cause damage to the organisation, RSS. Moreover, it was contended that the essential ingredients of Section 499 of IPC were absent in the compliant and that there was nothing to show that the publication of imputation was made with the intention, knowledge or belief, that it will harm the reputation of the person concerned.

The Court noted that Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, laid down an exception to the general rule that a complaint can be filed by anybody whether he is an aggrieved person or not, and modified that rule by permitting only an aggrieved person to move a Magistrate in case of defamation. It was further observed that Section 199 was mandatory so that, if a Magistrate were to take cognizance of the offence of defamation on a complaint filed by one, who was not an aggrieved person, the trial and conviction of an accused in such a case by the Magistrate would be void and illegal.

In this backdrop, the Court opined 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. 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. If the collection of persons is an indeterminate and indefinite collection of body, it could not be said that each and every member of that body could maintain an action under Section 500, unless the complainant was referred to as a person who had been defamed under the imputation. When there is uncertainty as to whether the imputation would reflect either this man or that man, it could not be said that one particular man was meant in the imputation alleged."

The Court held that if a person complained that he had been defamed as a member of a class, he must satisfy the court that the imputation was against him personally, and that he was the person aimed at before he maintained a prosecution for defamation. According to the Court, it was a well-known principle that when an indefinite and indeterminate body of men were defamed, it would not be safe to single out one person to say that he was the person defamed.

The Court referred to the case of G.Narasimhan, G Kasturi and K. Gopalan v. T.V. Chokkappa wherein the Apex Court had held that in a case where Explanation 2 of Section 499 was resorted to, the identity of the company or the association or the collection of persons must be established so as to be relatable to the defamatory words or imputations. It was further held that If a well-defined class was defamed, every particular of that class could file a complaint even if the defamatory imputation in question did not mention him by name. Furthermore, the Court referred to the decision of the Allahabad High Court in Tek Chand Gupta v. R.K. Karanjia where it was held that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was a definite and identifiable class or body.

Hence, when an article was published in a newspaper containing imputations meant to harm the reputation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a complaint by an individual member of RSS was maintainable under Explanation 2 to Section 499 of IPC. It was not necessary that the imputations in the article individually affected the reputation of the complainant. The Kerala High Court, thus, rejected the contention of the petitioners that Respondent No. 1 had no locus standi to maintain a complaint under Section 500 of IPC.

Thus, the Kerala High Court directed the Trial Court to expedite the trial and to dispose of the case, in accordance with law, without any further delay, at any cost, within a period of six months from the date of receipt of a copy of this order. The application was accordingly dismissed.

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