Beverley and Banerjee, JJ.
1. The question raised in this case is whether the conviction of the petitioner Basumati Adhikarini, under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, is legal.
2. The facts of the case are shortly these : The petitioner, who is the guru or spiritual guide of the caste to which the complainant Budram Kolita belongs, issued to the complainant's fellow-villagers a letter styled an ajna patra or order of the Balipur satra, or religious fraternity, to the effect that. whereas two persons named Jayram and Narayan of the village came and informed the petitioner that a woman named Kutihari of that village had been caught with a man of the Jugi caste, the letter of prohibition was issued that, until the decision of her case, no barber, Brahmin, relation or coreligionist should have social intercourse with her, and that if they had such intercourse they would be guilty of the five sins and of rebellion against their guru. Some time after the issue of this letter Budram, the husband of Kuti-bari, as one of the persons aggrieved, complained against the petitioner for having defamed his wife by publishing the letter of prohibition. The defence was that the statement contained in that letter was privileged, it being true and having been made in good faith for the public good, and that the case came under one of the exceptions to Section 499 of the Penal Code. The Court below has found the accused guilty of defamation, and the contention on her behalf is that the conviction is wrong.
3. The main ground upon which the correctness of the conviction is questioned before us is that the alleged defamatory statement is privileged, and that it comes within one or other of the last four exceptions to a. 499 of the Penal Code, and we think that ground is well sustained.
4. It is admitted by the complainant himself that the accused has no enmity towards him or his wife, and that it is the custom for the guru to settle matters like those that arose in connection with his wife. It is also proved by the evidence of Jayram and Narayan, who are referred to as informants in the letter of prohibition and who allege to be eye-witnesses to the improper conduct of the complainant's wife, that the accused issued the prohibition after making an enquiry as to the truth of the accusation; and the learned Assistant Commissioner in his explanation says: 'The nature of the enquiry had been already satisfactorily proved before that Court, and in making my judgment accepted the account of that enquiry given by the witnesses for the accused.' We are, therefore, fully satisfied that the statement contained in the letter issued by the accused was made in good faith for the protection of the social and spiritual interests of the community of which the accused was the guru; and so far as it implies a censure on the conduct of the complainant's wife it was justified by the authority which the accused is vested with as the spiritual head of the community. The case, therefore, in our opinion, comes within the ninth and also within the seventh exception to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. This view is fully in accordance with the decision of the Bombay High Court in the case of Beg. v. Kashinath Bachaji Bagul 8 Bom. H.C. Cr. 168, and also with the opinion of Torner, C.J., and Muttusami Ayyar, J., in The Queen v. Sankara I.L.R. 6 Mad. 381. In this latter case the learned Judges held that statements similar to those made in the case now before us were privileged, though they found the accused guilty of defamation by reason of the indiscriminate way in which the statement was published.
5. For the reasons given above we think the accused has been improperly convicted, and we, therefore, set aside the conviction and sentence and direct that the fine, if levied, be refunded to the accused.