1. This is a second appeal arising out of a suit for damages for slander instituted by the plaintiff-appellant against a number of defendants. It was said that they had accused the plaintiff of committing adultery with a woman of low caste. The trial Court found that the accusations had been made and that they were not proved to be true. For that reason it gave the plaintiff a decree. The learned Judge of the lower Appellate Court has decided that the allegation was not proved but that the defendants believed in good faith in the truth of it, that the allegations were made in the course of an investigation in accordance with the rules of the caste into the conduct of the plaintiff and that there was no proof of express malice. He held that any statements which were made were privileged and dismissed the plaintiff's suit. In appeal it is argued that the statements were made to a Padhan or malguzar, that is, a headman who was not the person within whose jurisdiction the matter came and that there was no privilege. In the second place it is argued that privilege was not specifically pleaded in the Courts below and that the learned Judge was wrong in making out a case for the defendants-respondents. After hearing learned Counsel for the appellants I am satisfied that there is no reason for thinking that the learned Judge of the Court below made any mistake of law. The relevant principles are set forth in Toogood v. Spyring (1834) 3 L.J. Ex. 347 in these terms:
In general, an action lies for malicious publication of statements which are false in fact and injurious to the character of another (within the well-known limits as to verbal slander) and the law considers such publication as malicious unless it is fairly made by a person in the discharge of some public or private duty whether legal or moral or in the conduct of his own affairs in matters where his interest is concerned. In such cases the occasion prevents the inference of malice which the law draws from unauthorized communications and affords a qualified defence depending upon the absence of actual malice. If fairly warranted by any reasonable occasion or exigency and honestly made, such communications are protected for the common convenience and welfare of society and the law has not restricted the right to make them within any narrow limits.
2. The question whether an occasion is privileged such as to give rise to the qualified defence which has been mentioned depends upon a variety of circumstances including the accepted standards of the society in which the parties live. It is well known that caste panchayats in this country regard themselves and are generally regarded as having some right to exercise a measure of control over the moral conduct of the members of the caste. The learned Judge has referred to the case in Gobind Das v. Bishambhar Das (1917) 4 A.I.R. P.C. 203. In that case their Lordships recognized the right of these panchayats to make an inquiry into the conduct of the members of the caste. The learned Judge has found in this case as a fact that the defendants-respondents, were not actuated by any actual malice. He has found that they have failed to prove that the plaintiff appellant committed adultery with the woman with whom he was alleged to have been on intimate terms, but on the other hand he has found that there were circumstances which reasonably led the defendants-respondents to believe in good faith that adultery had taken place. He found that a complaint had been made to a leading member of the caste and that as a result an inquiry was made in the course of which the defendants-respondents stated the facts which had come to their knowledge and their honest belief that the allegation which they made was a true one.
3. It seems to me that there can be no doubt that it is well recognized in the society in which the parties live that the members of the caste have a right to exercise control over the moral conduct of all who are in the caste. In order to exercise that right they are deemed to have the power to make inquiries and come to some conclusion which if adverse to the person concerned will lead to his being excluded from intercourse with the other members of the caste. That being so, it naturally becomes the moral duty of all members of the caste to assist in such inquiries and to give such information which they believe in good faith that they possess. It follows that the defendants-respondents, unless they were guilty of actual malice, were within their rights in making the statements which they made.
4. Upon the second question that the defence of privilege did not arise out of the pleadings I have only to say that what vagueness there may be is due to the nature of the complaint itself. The plaintiff appellant did not set forth any definite occasion upon which any of the defendants made a slanderous statement about him. He did not give any time or place nor mention any person to whom the slander was published. His plaint was of a general nature. It set forth that the defendants had held a panchayat and in that panchayat had outcasted him and that they were alleging that he had been guilty of adultery with this woman of a caste lower than his own. In reply to these general statements the defence could only be a general one. The learned Judge of the lower Appellate Court would perhaps have been justified if he had confined himself to the pleadings alone to dismiss the plaintiff's suit upon the ground that there was no definite allegation of slander at any particular time and place published to any particular person. He has preferred to examine the case upon its merits upon the evidence which was produced before him and in so doing he has come to the conclusions which I have described above. The facts which he has found legally justify his conclusion that the defendants were not guilty of any act which would render them liable to pay damages to the plaintiff. There is no force in this appeal and I dismiss it with costs. Leave to appeal is granted.