How to defame someone and escape trial

The answer, apparently, is not to turn up for your own defence

Comrade Harkishen Singh Surjeet had no compunctions in denouncing Anupam Kher, actor and former chairman of the censor board as a member of the RSS and therefore, in the current government’s book, unfit for that position.

Kher resigned and sued for libel. But the wily old Comrade did not survive so long in the rough and tumble of Indian politics without knowing a thing or two about India’s legal system. Surjeet repeatedly failed to show up citing, among other reasons, ill-health. The lower court was prevented from deciding in favour of the plaintiff in absentia by those much abused instruments of legal protraction — stay orders from higher courts. Recognising that the legal system was taking him nowhere, Kher is now contemplating dropping the lawsuit entirely.

“This being the sixth time the case is getting adjourned, I am planning to withdraw the case against Singh not out of sympathy towards him or his ill-health”, he told the media outside the court. “Singh is not above law and even I am a busy man and just adjourning the matter will not take us anywhere,” he said.

Earlier, Singh’s lawyer informed Sessions Judge M H Belosay, hearing the case, that the Bombay High Court had stayed the bailable warrants issued against Singh for failing to appear in court despite summons, till May 2. [The Hindu]

Now, it is too much to expect integrity or honourable conduct from the old Comrade, but it is very disturbing that the legal system has so visibly failed to address a very important issue.

Whether or not membership of a religious right-wing organisation disqualifies a person from assuming an important public position is one thing, but allowing denouncements and insinuations to replace the burden of proof is totally another. By allowing Comrade Surjeet’s dilatory tactics to succeed, the judiciary has allowed India to sink into the same class as old-style Communist countries — where an allegation made in the official mouthpiece of the Party was sufficient bury careers and destroy reputations.

Tailpiece: Instead of wasting time debating who is best qualified to be the government-appointed custodian of public morality, it may be worth debating whether there is need for such a custodian at all. Using those scissors on the Censor Board itself is a good way to go.

10 thoughts on “How to defame someone and escape trial”

  1. It seems the good comrade was healthy enough to meet President Musharraf in Pakistan, and attend the CPI(M) Congress in New Delhi.

  2. Poor Surjeet…
    The man’s dream of converting this ancient land into some commie utopia has remained a broken dream…*tch, tch*. Now in the last years of his failing health, frustration and senility increasingly befriend his company agaionts his wishes…Seeing India prosper under the acursed free matrket system rankles no end, I’m sure….These little peccadillos like mere defamations, slander and libel are not a speck of dust when compared to the stature and greatness of this ever bright and glowing star in the commie firmament….
    /sarcasm off.

    Surjeet and his ilk are boring. Giving these gasbags ant attn is tantamount to feeding parasites.

  3. You don’t think you are giving oxygen to Surjeet by writing about him? The best way to tackle him is not condemning him to anonymity?

  4. Anand,

    The ‘condemnation to anonymity’ strategy is aimed at shameless self-promoters, who score same side goals just to stay in the news.

    Comrade Surjeet may have an overblown sense of self-importance because of the undue influence the Communists have over the ruling coalition, but he shameless self-promoter he is not.

  5. Thanks Nitin.

    I too wouldn’t think that Surjeet is a self-promoter. But whatever influence the Communists have on this government, I wouldn’t call that “undue”. They’ve got 60+ Members of Parliament precisely because their campaign promised the electorate that they would do what they are doing now. You (and I, perhaps on different issues) may disagree with them, but I guess you’ll have to admit that they don’t say one thing to get elected only to alter their position conveniently later. That way, their influence is “due” not just because they’ve the strength as far as the numbers go, but also because their mandate is precisely for this “influencing”.

    On the Kher controversy, Surjeet had expressed his opinion on Kher’s decisions. If Kher thought that sacking wasn’t justified, he should have sued the I & B authorities, and not Surjeet. I’m definitely not for suing somebody for making a comment or voicing an opinion; right thing would be to speak up and show that the other person was wrong. I would have had more respect for Kher if he attempted that instead. Sadly Kher looked for loopholes in the law to win this game; Surjeet proved that he’s smarter in finding loopholes! I guess I would try to do the same thing if Kher sues me for this comment or what I write on my blog.

  6. The Censor Board is an anachronism. It’s part of the benevolent State’s policy of telling people what is right and wrong, and not allowing them to make their own minds up. A far better alternative is to have rating system based on violence, nudity, etc. and adhere to that.

  7. Anand,

    I guess nobody here is a fan of the defamation suit. But I am inclined to consider this case as an exception. The bigger problem is what Nitin has pointed out – a situation similar to the old communist countries where all that is needed to destroy somebody is an allegation that he is an RSS member.

    Kher actually resigned, so suing the government is out of the question. He himself stated that he is suing Surjeet just to inconvenience him by dragging him to Mumbai for court. He must have mis-underestimated Surjeet 🙂

  8. Even if we agree with Anand that Kher should have sued the I&B minitry, he still holds the right to fight against any malicious accusation thrown on him… may be not in the way he did…

    The whole issue highlights that, though so many loopholes in our judiciary system have been exposed over the years, no steps have been taken to plug them. Sadly, people who get the power to rectify them, are the ones who use them to exploit the system. And we are the main culprits, who return these people back to power year after year … hoping that one day, the light will dawn on them.

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