Le­gal Savvy

Be­ware! The Bom­bay High Court says it may amount to defama­tion, says ad­vo­cate Van­dana Shah.

Savvy - - Contents -

Be­ware about call­ing your hus­band im­po­tent

Di­vorce cases

are usu­ally ex­tremely liti­gious and that’s why at times I com­pare them to a nu­clear war. The ac­cu­sa­tions hurled by spouses at each other range from the ab­surd - ‘my wife is a bad cook and her food is ined­i­ble’ to the ab­so­lutely hu­mil­i­at­ing – ‘my hus­band is not good in bed’. Whilst these may be merely hurt­ful words ex­changed be­tween a hus­band and wife when they are fight­ing out­side court, they ac­quire a dif­fer­ent mean­ing when viewed in a le­gal con­text.

A re­cent judge­ment by the Bom­bay High Court has held that call­ing a hus­band im­po­tent in le­gal plead­ings can amount to defama­tion. The facts of the case are ex­tremely in­ter­est­ing. Su­man Ran­ganathan was mar­ried to Mo­han and af­ter a dis­pute with her hus­band, she left the mat­ri­mo­nial home i.e. the hus­band’s home. She went to stay with her par­ents at Ra­jah­mundry, Andhra Pradesh and also took their daugh­ter Ram­nika with her. Al­though Mo­han tried to per­suade Su­man to re­turn to the mat­ri­mo­nial home along with Ram­nika, Su­man re­fused and filed for di­vorce. So it seemed clear that Su­man was not in­ter­ested in rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. When she filed for di­vorce, she also al­leged in the pe­ti­tion that her hus­band was ‘im­po­tent’. This an­gered the hus­band and he filed for defama­tion be­fore the ap­pro­pri­ate courts.

1860 THE IN­DIAN PE­NAL CODE DE­FINES 499. DEFAMA­TION AS UN­DER SEC­TION DEFAMA­TION

Who­ever, by words ei­ther spo­ken or in­tended to be read, or by signs or by vis­i­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tions, makes or pub­lishes any im­pu­ta­tion con­cern­ing any per­son in­tend­ing to harm, or know­ing or hav­ing rea­son to be­lieve that such im­pu­ta­tion will harm the rep­u­ta­tion of such per­son, is said, ex­cept in the cases here­inafter ex­pected, to de­fame that per­son.

Ex­pla­na­tion 1 - It may amount to defama­tion to im­pute any­thing to a de­ceased per­son, if the im­pu­ta­tion would harm the rep­u­ta­tion of that

The ac­cu­sa­tions hurled by spouses at each other range from the ab­surd - ‘my wife is a bad cook and her food is ined­i­ble’ to the ab­so­lutely hu­mil­i­at­ing – ‘my hus­band is not good in bed’.

per­son if liv­ing, and is in­tended to be hurt­ful to the feel­ings of his fam­ily or other near rel­a­tives.

Ex­pla­na­tion 2 - It may amount to defama­tion to make an im­pu­ta­tion con­cern­ing a com­pany or an as­so­ci­a­tion or col­lec­tion of per­sons as such.

Ex­pla­na­tion 3 - An im­pu­ta­tion in the form of an al­ter­na­tive or ex­pressed iron­i­cally, may amount to defama­tion.

Ex­pla­na­tion 4 - No im­pu­ta­tion is said to harm a per­son’s rep­u­ta­tion, un­less that im­pu­ta­tion di­rectly or in­di­rectly, in the es­ti­ma­tion of oth­ers, low­ers the moral or in­tel­lec­tual char­ac­ter of that per­son, or low­ers the char­ac­ter of that per­son in re­spect of his caste or of his call­ing, or low­ers the credit of that per­son, or causes it to be be­lieved

In­dia is no longer em­brac­ing tra­di­tional fam­ily val­ues and is march­ing forth with fam­ily dis­putes turn­ing into court bat­tles.

that the body of that per­son is in a loath­some state, or in a state gen­er­ally con­sid­ered as dis­grace­ful.

In lay­man’s terms, any words or ac­tion which will harm a per­son’s rep­u­ta­tion, will amount to defama­tion.

Al­though in the above case the learned coun­sel for the wife clar­i­fied that the wife did not mean that the hus­band was im­po­tent, but “that due to some med­i­cal prob­lem, the con­cep­tion of the child was not pos­si­ble.” Hence, words like “im­po­tent per­son” were used by the wife in the plead­ings and she had fur­ther clar­i­fied that “the child was born by med­i­cal ovu­la­tion pe­riod tech­nique as was sug­gested by the gyne­col­o­gist.” Yet these ar­gu­ments didn’t con­vince the Hon’ble Court.

The Hon’ble Jus­tice SB Shukre re­marked, “Even if the ex­pres­sion ‘im­po­tent per­son’ is read in all its con­tex­tual set­ting, in par­tic­u­lar, in the con­text of the birth of the child by adopt­ing a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure on the sug­ges­tion of the gyne­col­o­gist, still the ap­par­ent harm that the ex­pres­sion ‘im­po­tent per­son’ causes, is not di­luted or washed out. At this stage, the mean­ing ap­par­ently in­di­cated by the word would have to be taken as it is.”

This is a judge­ment which re­flects the chang­ing so­cio-le­gal at­ti­tudes of peo­ple to­wards di­vorce where both the spouses are get­ting to be in­creas­ingly vi­cious to­wards each other. It seems that In­dia is no longer em­brac­ing tra­di­tional fam­ily val­ues and is march­ing forth with fam­ily dis­putes turn­ing into court bat­tles. And the lawyers are the de facto gla­di­a­tors in these in­creas­ingly ac­ri­mo­nious di­vorces.

In lay­man’s terms, any words or ac­tion which will harm a per­son’s rep­u­ta­tion, will amount to defama­tion.

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