JUDGE SCARIA VERDICT ON SANATAN SANSTHA

Media should not be dragged into court; Sanatan books would create fear in the ordinary man

In a landmark judgment, the honourable Senior Civil Judge from Ponda, Anil Scaria, dismissed the Sanatan Sanstha’s defamation suit against the Goan Observer, pointing out that, ‘journalists are ordinary people and are expected to judge things though the eyes of an ordinary man. It is the duty of the journalist to bring facts to the notice of the public in public interest, and commenting as an ordinary man would is not defamation’; ‘the Sanatan Sanstha pictures that the Goan Observer brought to public notice, were the type that would cause apprehension in the minds of people and in bad taste’; in a democratic society, a party which is aggrieved by initiation of some debate in the media should respond in the media, instead of dragging it to court because ultimately it is the people who have to decide’

(Judgement of Senior Civit Judge, Ponda)
This is a suit for damages.
The case of the plaintiff is that it is a charitable trust. That it is giving training to people in spiritual development irrespective of caste, creed and religion. That it has thousands of followers. That it organizes thousands of Sat Satsangs in India and abroad. That it has a good reputation. That an article was published in a Weekly “Goan Observer’ for the week 28th June-4th July, 2008 under the title “Protecting Hinduism – Sanatan Style”. That it contained defamatory statements against the plaintiff. That the defamatory statements are marked in yellow colour ink in the article and the said weekly has been relied upon by the plaintiff. That Defendant no. 1 is the Editor, Defendant no. 2 is the owner, Defendant no. 3 is the Publisher and Defendant no. 4 is the printer of the weekly. That the defamatory article has been published all over Goa, including Ponda Taluka. That the article has created suspicion in the minds of the followers and has shaken the faith of the seekers. That it has insulted the work done by thousands of selfless seekers. Therefore it is prayed that the defendants no. 1 to 5 be jointly and severally directed to pay a sum of Rs. 1,00,00,000/- (Rupees One crore only) to the plaintiff together with interest @ 12% p.a from the date of filing of the suit till the date of Judgment and further interest on the decreetal sum @ 12% p.a till date of payment and for cost.
The defendants nos. 1 to 5 were duly served with summons. Defendants no. 1, 2, 3 and 5 filed their written statement (Exbt. 8/B) and defendant no. 4 has adopted the same.
The case of the defendants is that plaintiff had published a book called “Swarakshan Prashikshan”. That the said book had pictures of self defence training with the use of trisul and guns. That the article of the defendants is based on the book. It denied that the article has defamed the plaintiff. It is denied that the article has created suspicion in the minds of the followers and has shaken the faith of the seekers. It is denied that it has insulted the work done by thousands of selfless seekers. That the plaintiff is not entitled for any compensation. That there is no cause of action to file the present suit. Therefore it is prayed that the suit be dismissed.
The Ld. Advocate for plaintiff filed written arguments. Heard arguments of the Ld. Advocate for defendant.
The following issues were framed by this Court and my findings thereon are as follows:

JUDGE SCARIA VERDICT ON SANATAN SANSTHA
R E A S O N S
Issue no. 1 and 2
The plaintiff’s case is that defendants had published defamatory articles in the Goan Observer for the week from June 28th to July 4th 2008. The plaintiff’s case is that plaintiff is entitled to compensation of Rs.1,00,00,000/- (Rupees One Crore only) together with interest @ 12% p.a. from the date of institution of the suit till the day of decree and further interest on the decreetal amount from the date of decree to the date of payment @ 12 % p.a.
The plaintiff has examined its managing trustee (Virendra Marathe) as PW1. Defendant no. 1 has examined himself as DW1.
Virendra Marathe (PW1) deposes that the plaintiff is giving training to people in spiritual development irrespective of caste, creed and religion. PW1 deposes that the plaintiff has thousands of followers. PW1 deposes that the plaintiff organizes thousands of Sat Satsangs in India and abroad. PW1 deposes that the plaintiff has a good reputation. PW1 deposes that an article was published in a Weekly “Goan Observer’ for the week 28th June- 4th July, 2008 under the title “Protecting Hinduism– Sanatan Style”. PW1 deposes that it contained defamatory statements against the plaintiff. PW1 deposes that the defamatory statements are marked in yellow colour ink in the article and the said weekly has been relied upon by the plaintiff. PW1 deposes that defendant no. 1 is the Editor, Defendant no. 2 is the owner, Defendant no. 3 is the Publisher and Defendant no. 4 is the printer of the weekly. PW1 deposes that the defamatory article has been published all over Goa including Ponda Taluka. PW1 deposes that the article has created suspicion in the minds of the followers and has shaken the faith of the seekers. PW1 deposes that it has insulted the work done by thousands of selfless seekers. PW1 deposes that the plaintiff is entitled to compensation of Rs. 1,00,00,000/- (Rupees One Crore only).
(Defendant no. 1) DW1 deposes that that plaintiff had published a book called “Swarakshan Prashikshan”. DW1 deposes that the book had pictures of self defence training with the use of trisul and guns. DW1 deposes that the article of the defendant is based on the book.
In order to prove defamation it is necessary that the defamatory statement should be pleaded. The defamatory statements have not been reproduced in the plaint.
The weekly Goan Observer for the week starting from June 28th to July 4th 2008 is at exhibit 24-C. The relevant article shows training in self defence which include pictures showing Trisuls pointed at the neck and guns being loaded.
Virendra Marathe (PW1) has admitted that the pictures are from a book published by the plaintiff.
Journalists are ordinary people and they are expected to judge things through the eyes of an ordinary man. When an ordinary man sees pictures of this type he becomes apprehensive. It is the duty of the journalist to bring these facts to the notice of the public in public interest. Bringing these facts to the notice of the public and commenting thereon as an ordinary prudent man would, will not amount to defamation.
In our country people have a right to assemble peacefully and without arms. Bearing arms is an exception. A person can possess arm only under licence. Ordinarily such licences are given to individuals and not to groups.
Sovereignty is closely associated with military and police powers. It vests in the nation and its governments. Private armed regiments raise apprehension in the minds of citizens and it is a duty of a journalist to bring to public notice. Any comments made by the way would not give rise to damages.
For the reasons stated above, the plaintiff has failed to prove that defendants have defamed the plaintiffs. Consequently, the plaintiff is not entitled to any damages. Hence, I hold issues no. 1 and 2 in the negative.
Issue no. 4
The defendant’s case is that there is no cause of action to file the present case.
As seen above the defendants have published certain articles which would defame the plaintiff. Therefore, there is a cause of action to file the present suit. This suit is not failing because there is no cause of action. This suit fails because there is a credible defence against the cause of action i.e. bonafide publication in public interest.
Therefore, the defendants have failed to prove that there is no cause of action to file the present suit. Hence, I hold issue no. 4 in the negative.
The defendants have published certain articles bringing out the faults of the plaintiff. There was reasonable cause for doing so.
The plaintiff is charitable organization. There is no evidence to show that its followers have stopped going to the plaintiff. There is no evidence to show that there was any loss.

FELLOW ORGANISATIONS: Like the Sanatan Sanstha, the RSS openly promotes weapons training (Pic of RSS swayamsevaks celebrating Vijaya Dashami — a day the organisation comes out in force, with its volunteers across the country marching up and down armed with lathis, sharp swords and – shockingly – even revolvers)

In a democratic society, initiation of every debate through the public media should not be dragged to court. The aggrieved party should use the same media to present its point of view. Ultimately, it is the people who have to decide.
The tenor of the plaint makes it appear that the defendants have attacked the Hindu society. All the defendants are Hindus. There is no ground for such apprehension.
Before concluding it is necessary to mention that the publications of the plaintiff are of such nature that it creates apprehension in the minds of people. If such publications are avoided apprehension would not arise.
Some of the pictures in the magazine are in bad taste. If such pictures are avoided, litigation may not arise.
For these reasons parties are not entitled for any costs. They must bear their own costs.
Hence, I pass the following order:
O R D E R
The suit is dismissed.
Parties shall bear their own costs.
(We would like to express our deep gratitude to Adv Joseph Vaz who fought both the criminal and civil defamation cases filed by the Sanatan Sanstha in the Ponda courts for 10 years)

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