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Harakh Chand Vs. Ganga Prasad and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCivil
CourtAllahabad
Decided On
Reported inAIR1925All371
AppellantHarakh Chand
RespondentGanga Prasad and ors.
Excerpt:
.....of, if addressed to him, on the road-side would be treated as insulting and scandalous, and if the person addressed heard them and kept quiet and did nothing to vindicate his character, be would be considered the meanest man and forfeit his regard. maqbul hasan, who was naib tahsildar & then tahsildar at azamgarh till november 1912, similarly deposes that he knew the i plaintiff personally and considered him to be a very good and respectable man, that he was treated with great respect by all the officials and that regard being had to his status and position, the use of the abusive and indecent words of the kind mentioned in the plaint on a public road with reference to him would undoubtedly cause him disgrace and lower him in the public esteem, if he did nothing and remained silent...........of, if addressed to him, on the road-side would be treated as insulting and scandalous, and if the person addressed heard them and kept quiet and did nothing to vindicate his character, be would be considered the meanest man and forfeit his regard. mr. maqbul hasan, who was naib tahsildar & then tahsildar at azamgarh till november 1912, similarly deposes that he knew the i plaintiff personally and considered him to be a very good and respectable man, that he was treated with great respect by all the officials and that regard being had to his status and position, the use of the abusive and indecent words of the kind mentioned in the plaint on a public road with reference to him would undoubtedly cause him disgrace and lower him in the public esteem, if he did nothing and remained silent......
Judgment:

Kanhaiya Lal, J.

1. His Lordship stated facts and after discussing evidence and holding that the plaintiff's statement as to the use of the filthy language by the defendants with reference to him in public was amply proved continued:

The next question for consideration is how far the use of such language had lowered the plaintiff in the estimation of the people and caused him harm or damage and was defamatory. Mere verbal abuse, not tending to lower a man in the estimation of others or to bring him into obloquy, contempt or ridicule or to injure him in his profession or trade may not be actionable without special damage. An abuse may be uttered merely to cause an affront to the feelings of another or as an insult to his sense of dignity or self-respect without other persons knowing of it or without producing an impression in the minds of others hearing it prejudicial to his position or dignity. It may, however, be uttered in circumstances tending, if not vindicated, to lower the persons addressed in the estimation of the people present or to bring him into ridicule or contempt. The defendant Ganga Prasad Rai, states that words like those referred to in the plaint would, if addressed to him, disturb his feelings and cause mental pain, but they would not cause any damage to his reputation or lower him in the estimation of the persons present. But that is not the view which the plaintiff and several respectable witnesses produced on behalf of the plaintiff take. Kuawar Abdul Karim Khan, who was a Deputy Collector at Azamgarh from 1909-1914, says that he knew the plaintiff personally, that he was a highly respectable and distinguished rats and held in great esteem by the officers of the station and the other raises, and that having regard to the position and the respectability of the plaintiff, the use of words of the kind complained of, if addressed to him, on the road-side would be treated as insulting and scandalous, and if the person addressed heard them and kept quiet and did nothing to vindicate his character, be Would be considered the meanest man and forfeit his regard. Mr. Maqbul Hasan, who was Naib Tahsildar & then Tahsildar at Azamgarh till November 1912, similarly deposes that he knew the I plaintiff personally and considered him to be a very good and respectable man, that he was treated with great respect by all the officials and that regard being had to his status and position, the use of the abusive and indecent words of the kind mentioned in the plaint on a public road with reference to him would undoubtedly cause him disgrace and lower him in the public esteem, if he did nothing and remained silent. Mohammad Mustafa Ahmad, who was Tahsildar in the Azamgarh district from June 1900 to 1904, says that the plaintiff was the most distinguished rais at Azamgarh and was respected by all the officers of the district and that the use of the words like those referred to in the plaint in respect of a person of the position of the plaintiff on a thoroughfare or on any occasion would put him to much disgrace and lower the respect to which he would otherwise be entitled. M. Afzal Ullah, who was employed as a Sadar Kanungo at Azamgarh from March 1911 to 1917 and as an officiating Tahsildar at Muhammidabad from March 1918 to April 1919, states that the plaintiff was the biggest and the most distinguished rais of Azamgarh, that the officers and the public looked upon him with respect and that words of the kind referred to in the plaint used with regard to him in a thoroughfare would put him to disgrace. Mr. A.S. Kidvi states that he was Deputy Superintendent of Police at Azamgarh since November 1917, that the plaintiff was one of the premier of the raises of Azamgarh and had recently been made a special Magistrate of the second class, that he was respected by the officers of the district and that he would suffer damage by an abuse of the description mentioned, uttered openly and in broad daylight from a public road. He adds that the reputation of any self-respecting man in those circumstances would be injured. Harichand, a witness for the defendants, says that the plaintiff was a very respectable man in the town and that abuse of the nature mentioned in the plaint would bring him into disrepute among the people and more particularly among his connections and people of his caste.

2. The abuaos were obviously uttered with a view to degrade and humiliate the plaintiff and bring him into contempt in the eyes of the people. Apart from the context or the occasion on which such words may be used, such words need not always liberally imply that the person so des6ribed had committed incest, with his sister (bahinchod) or was a bastard (harami) or a person to whose sister the person addressing was married (sale). They are often used where two parties quarrel not to express what they would literally imply but to express anger or reproach. The plaintiff in fact admits that he did not take those words as charging him with any particular act but he took them as abuses uttered by the defendants to establish their prestige. They were uttered in public, and coupled with the insinuation that the plaintiff should not aspire to be a Chairman of the Municipal Board but was only fit to be a shop-keeper and to sell ata and dal to his customers, and a further threat that he would be beaten with shoes, if he did anything else, there can be little room for doubt that they were uttered to expose the plaintiff to ridicule, contempt; or obloquy and to dissuade those who were likely to support his candidature from giving their votes for him. It is not clear how many votes were ultimately secured by the plaintiff at the election but it is clear from the statement of Jamna Misir that no other person thereafter brought any other voters that day. Some of the witnesses produced by the defendants belong to the caste to which the plaintiff belongs; and it is urged that if the words ascribed to the defendants had actually been used, it was not likely that they would have supported the defendants. But the words used were intended to hurt the plaintiff in the eyes of the people and were not necessarily derogatory to the caste as a whole. The entire attack was directed against the personality of the plaintiff who had directed his servants to prevent the voters from being interfered with or taken away and the story told by the witnesses who are residents at the spot is, considering the great excitement which the election had caused, not at all improbable.

3. In Diwan Singh v. Matup Singh (1888) 10 All. 425 Mahmud, J. pointed out that the English law of slander as forming part of the law of defamation and as such drawing some distinction between the words actionable per se and words requiring proof of special or actual damage was not necessarily applicable to this country. In Parvathi v. Manner (1884) Mad. 176 Sir Charles Turner, C.J., similarly observed that the rule of English law which prohibited, except in certain cases, an action for damages for oral defamation unless special damage was alleged, should not be adopted by Courts in British India; and that if defamatory expressions were used under such circumstances as to cause the plaintiff to have a reasonable apprehension that his reputation had been injured and to inflict upon him pain in consequence of such belief, the plaintiff would be entitled to recover damages without actual proof of the loss sustained. The penal law of India recognizes no distinction between slander and libel and punishes the utterance of anything which is likely to lower a man in the eyes of the people or to cause an injury to the reputation of the person addressed. The Hindu Law (Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 7, page 27 and Vol. 33, page 207) also made the utterance of abusive and insulting language penal both as an offence against society in general and tending to provoke a breach of the public peace. But for the purpose of enforcing a civil liability, the use of abusive or vulgar language addressed merely to cause mental pain to the parson addressed may not afford any ground for such a claim unless its effect is to hurt his reputation or to expose him to hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy or to make him shunned or avoided by those who would otherwise have associated with him. In Girish Chandra Mitter v. Jatadhari (1899) 26 Cal. 48 the mere use of abusive and insulting language was held to be insufficient to justify a claim for damages. But as pointed out in that case the tendency and the probable effect of words must be determined in reference to the circumstances in which they are used; and words not per se actionable may become actionable under other circumstances. The finding in that case was that no one who heard the words thought the worse of the person to whom or in respect of whom they were addressed and that though the words were insulting, the reputation of the person addressed was in no way affected. That is not the case here. In Sukam Teli v. Bipal Teli (1906) 34 Cal. 48, a distinction was drawn between mere verbal abuse and words which were defamatory in themselves, and it was held that in the latter event an action would lie. In Sagar Ram v. Badu Ram (1904) 1 A.L.J. 102, language imputing moral misconduct was held to be actionable in this country, though no substantial loss proved to have resulted from its use.

4. Having regard to the position of the plaintiff, his family status, and the public humiliation to which he was subjected in the presence of the persons who had come to vote for him, we consider that he should be awarded Rs. 2,000 damages. There is some evidence on the record to show that the plaintiff has not had a good moral character and that ho has been associating with prostitutes from time to time. But his private character has little to do with the humiliation and disgrace to which he was publicly subjected with a view to deprive him of any possible votes which he might otherwise receive in support of his candidature and thereby reduce his chance of election as Chairman of the Board in case he was successful.

Lindsay, J.

5. I agree with the conclusions both of fact and law at which my learned brother has arrived and desire only to add a few words for the purpose of explaining why I hold that the language imputed to the defendants and proved to have been used by them is actionable. I approve of the law as laid down in two of the cases above referred to viz., Parvathi v. Manner (1884) 8 Mad. 175 and Dewan Singh v. Matup Singh (1888) 10 All. 425. Defamatory language has been defined to be such language as injures or tends to injure man's reputation and to cause him to be regarded with feelings of hatred, contempt, ridicule, fear, dislike or disesteem, and the true test of the defamatory nature of any given language is its tendency to excite against the plaintiff any of the adverse opinions or feelings just enumerated. The typical form of defamation is, perhaps an attack upon the moral character of the plaintiff. But even if there be no suggestion of misconduct or of moral turpitude, the language will still be defamatory if it tends to bring the plaintiff into ridicule or contempt. Any language of this nature, however published, will, according to the authorities cited above, furnish a cause of action for a suit for defamation.

6. It has been argued before us that the language complained of in this case amounts to no more than vulgar abuse, and it has, no doubt, been laid down that language to which this description applies is not actionable. It is not, however, easy to arrive at any practical and precise definition of the expression 'Vulgar abuse'. It may, perhaps, be treated as an equivalent for 'insult' and as such connoting an attack upon dignity rather than upon reputation or, to put it in other words, an assault upon a man's self-esteem as opposed to the estimation in which be is held by others. But, in truth the expression is equivocal and language which is insulting in the above sense may be defamatory as well. We have, as laid down in the Madras case quoted above, to consider the time at, and the circumstances in which, the language was used, and to ascertain whether it was such as, in those circumstances, to induce in the person who says he has been defamed a reasonable apprehension that his reputation has been harmed and to inflict upon him the pain consequent on such a belief.

7. What then are the facts of this case? It is admitted on all hands that the plaintiff is a man of position in Azamgarh. He belongs to a well-known family of high social standing, possessed of great wealth and carrying on extensive and lucrative business. It is true that his morals are not, on his own showing, above reproach but there is plenty of evidence to show that notwithstanding this ho has displayed public spirit and has contributed generously to useful and charitable works. And it would be quite absurd to maintain that ho is a person who baa no reputation to lose. At the time when the language he complains of was uttered, ho was still the Chairman of the Municipal Board and was aspiring to re-election to that office. It is clear that his ambition in this direction was being thwarted by a party of which the defendants were the leading members and they have made no attempt to conceal the fact that they were outs by means of this election, to oust the plaintiff if they could. In these circumstances, what would be the tendency of the language they are found to have used? It is not fair to say that it would at least be calculated to expose the plaintiff to contempt or ridicule or both? Leaving out of consideration the foul epithets with which he was bespattered, it is plain that he was told that his chances of the Chairmanship were gone and that having fallen from his high estate he would be reduced to the position of a patty huckster weighing out ounces of ata and dal to the meanest customer. To any one accustomed to the conditions of life in India, it is at once apparent that a taunt of this description addressed to the plaintiff in the presence of a bazar crowd would inevitably expose him to ridicule if nothing worse. And if we are able, as we undoubtedly are, to roach this conclusion, we can have no difficulty in holding that the language complained of meets the test referred to above and was defamatory.

8. And, speaking for myself, I have no doubt that it was used deliberately and of set purpose in order to deter voters from giving their support at the poll to members of the plaintiff's party who were seeking election on that day to the Municipal Board. In a very recent case decided in England in which a lady who had been a candidate for Parlianent complained of being libelled, Lord Darling held that in the circumstances an action would lie. He said:

The intention was to make the electors dislike the candidate and abstain from voting for her. If that were so it was undoubtedly an actionable libel for which damages might be awarded.' Case of Terrington v. London Express Nevis-papers, Limited reported in the London 'Times' of the 12th November, 1924.

9. For those reasons I agree with the judgment of my learned brother and assent to the decree be proposes.

10. This appeal is, therefore, allowed and the claim of the plaintiff decreed for Rs. 2,000 damages with proportionate costs here and hitherto which shall include fees in the Court on the higher scale. The defendants shall bear their own costs throughout.


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