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Whether the court can convict wife for defamatory pleadings made by her against the husband in matrimonial proceeding?

Background of the case :-

(1) The husband H.N. Nagaraja Rao, had instituted a matrimonial case against his wife in the Family Court at Bengaluru, seeking Restitution of Conjugal Rights under section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act. In that case, the accused (wife) filed her statement of objections wherein she had made certain defamatory allegations accusing the complainant (husband).

(2) The Family Court, by its judgment dated 11-04-2005 allowed the petition and ordered for restitution of conjugal rights.

(3) In the year 2006, the husband filed a complaint against his wife alleging that the statements made by his wife in her objections to the above case have brought down his reputation and have resulted in his defamation.

(4) After the trial ended the court by its order dated October 25, 2010, convicted the wife under Section 500 of the IPC and she was sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for one month and to pay a fine of Rs 5,000.

(5) The order was challenged by her before the Additional Sessions Judge, Fast Track Court-XIV, CCC, Bangalore which by its order dated December 15, 2012, dismissed the appeal. Following which the wife moved the high court and the husband moved a petition seeking enhancement of the sentence.

Questions before the court :-

The court framed the following questions while deciding both the petitions.

(A) Whether the instant case falls under the Ninth Exception to Section 499 of IPC, as to whether the statement was made with good faith ?

(B) Whether the complainant has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed an offence punishable under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code?

(C) Whether the sentence ordered by the Trial Court against the accused in C.C.NMo.11445/2006 on 25-10-2010 deserved to be enhanced?

(D)Whether the judgments and order on sentence impugned under these revision petitions suffers from any illegality, impropriety, warranting interference at the hands of this Court?

Contentions before the court :-

(1) The counsel for the appellant (woman) submitted that the statements made by her in the matrimonial case do not amount to publication as contemplated under section 499 of IPC.

(2) Learned Amicus Curiae for the respondent/complainant in Criminal Revision Petition No. 152/2014, in her argument stating that the pleadings filed in a Court and the deposition given in a Court of Law are not privileged one and further stating that a pleading filed in the Court also amounts to publication, has relied upon few judgments in her support as follows.

A. In the case of “Smt. Madhuri Mukund Chitnis Vs. Mukund Martand Chitnis and another” reported in MANU/MH/0120/1990 : 1990 CRL. L.J. 2084, the Bombay High Court was pleased to observe that, the imputations made in a proceeding which is filed in a Court is clearly a publication. It further observed that even a publication to an authority over the person against whom the imputations are made must be held to be sufficient publication which falls within the purview of the said Section 499 of IPC.

B. In the case of “M.K. Prabhakaran and another Vs. T.E. Gangadharan and another” reported in MANU/KE/0074/2006 : 2006 CRI. L.J. 1872, the Kerala High Court, in a matter where it is alleged that defamatory statements against complainant were made in a written statement filed before the Court held that, once a statement has been filed in a Court of Law, that statement can be taken as published. If such a statement amounts to per se defamatory, then it is the duty of the accused to establish that, they are justified in making such a statement under any of the exceptions to Section 499 of IPC.

C. In the case of “Sanjay Mishra Vs. Government of NCT of Delhi & another”, the Delhi High Court in paragraphs 11 and 12 of its judgment was pleased to observe as below:-

“11. In “Sandyal V. Bhaba Sundari Debi” MANU/WB/0241/1910 : 7 Ind. Cas. 803 : 15 C.W.N. 995 : 14 C.L.J. 31 the learned Judges, following the case of “Augada Ram Shaha V. Nemai Chand Shaha” MANU/WB/0132/1896 : 23 C.867 : 12 Ind. Dec.(n.s.)576, held that defamatory statements made in the written statement of a party in a judicial proceedings are not absolutely privileged in this country, and that a qualified privilege in this regard cannot be claimed in respect of such statements, unless they fall within the Exceptions to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. Undisputedly, the case of the petitioner was not in any of these Exceptions.

12. For criminal purposes “publication” has a wider meaning than it has in civil law, since it includes a communication to the person defamed alone. The prosecution for defamation in criminal cases can be brought although the only publication is to the person defamed as it is very likely to provoke a breach between the persons involved….”

D. In the case of “Thangavelu Chettiar Vs. Ponnammal reported” in MANU/TN/0132/1966 : AIR 1966 Mad 363, the Madras High Court was pleased to observe that, there can be no doubt that the defamation contained in the plaint was published by the plaint being filed in the Court.

Held :-

(1) The Court accepted this submission which was supported by precedents of other High Courts.

(2) The court took into consideration that the accused herself has, in unequivocal terms stated that, it is at her instance the statement of objection was filed in the Family Court, and she has given her evidence in the said case. Apart from filing her pleading, she has also stated about the contents of her said statement to his uncle, aunty and a friend.

(3) It said “Therefore, it is clear that apart from filing the statements in the form of statement of objections, in the matrimonial case, she has also revealed the contents of the same to the relatives and a friend of the complainant, which clearly establishes that there was publication as required under Section 499 of IPC of the alleged defamatory statement by the accused.”

(4) On the question of whether the alleged statements in the statement of objections are defamatory. The court reproduced the statement and said “The contents of the statements of the accused, suffice it to say, would per se reveal that the said statements are defamatory in nature unless they are shown to be falling within any one of the Exceptions to Section 499 of IPC.”

(5) The court even examined whether the instant case falls under the Ninth Exception to Section 499 of IPC, as to whether the statement was made with good faith.

(6) In the instant case, to bring the statements made by the accused in Ex. P-4 which are contested to be defamatory as the one made with good faith and thus falling within the Ninth Exception to Section 499 of IPC, she has to show that she had made those statements with due care and attention.

(7) The bench said : “Though the learned counsel for the accused contends that she made the same in good faith, but according to the accused, they were truth. If they are true and falling under First Exception to Section 499 of IPC, then it is for her to prove that they were the facts. Admittedly, except making those statements in her statement of objections and reiterating it in evidence, she has not even attempted to show that they were the imputation of truth or that they were made in good faith. Therefore it can be safely held that the complainant has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed an offence of defamation punishable under Section 499 of IPC, which is punishable under Section 500 of IPC.”

(8) While setting aside the sentence the court said “In special circumstances of the case, I am of the view that sending the accused to serve imprisonment, however small a period it may be, that itself would drastically affect her future as well as that of her daughter. On the other hand since Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code gives discretion for imposing only fine also, the quantum of fine imposed by the Trial Court can be enhanced.”

Case Details :-

Karnataka High Court

Case Title: Sushma Rani And H.N. Nagaraja Rao Case No: CRIMINAL REVISION PETITION No.152 OF 2014. Date of Judgement: 01-10-2020.

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