India: Plea To Ban Swami Dayanand´s Satyarth Prakash Refused

Last Updated: 4 March 2009

Fundamental and religious rights often come into question with respect to Holy texts, practices and beliefs. Dealing with philosopher Swami Dayanand's famous "Satyarth Prakash", the present suit [Sarvadeshik Press v. Usman Ghani and Ors. 2009 (38) PTC 67 (Del.)] dwells on the question of the Civil Court having the jurisdiction to entertain a suit to ban/issue an injunction on the publication of a book, which is in existence and is being published and read for the last 135 years. The ground to impose a ban on the publication of the book was based on the likelihood of the book to disturb public order.

The respondents Usman Ghani and others who consider themselves to be 'public spirited persons' filed a suit with the object of protecting the religious feelings of other persons of the same religion seeking a declaration that publication and distribution of 'Satyarth Prakash' written by Swami Dayanand was injurious to the religious faith of the Muslim Community and demanded a perpetual injunction to be
issued against the publishers and certain Arya Samba Organizations, restraining them from publishing, printing and distributing 'Satyarth Prakash' in any language.

The Court noted that as per Section 9 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 Civil Courts in India have the jurisdiction to try all suits of civil nature excepting suits of which the cognizance is either expressly or impliedly barred. The Court opined that while entertaining a suit, the Court must be cautious that it should entertain only those suits which are of civil nature and have the characteristic of affecting one's rights of civil nature. Where no civil rights or monetary losses or any function of the plaintiff connected with his civil rights have been affected, the Court should not entertain a suit, nor should they fall in a trap of allowing someone to use it as a tool for public disturbance.

The Court stated that restrictions on religious books or banning publication of certain works, involves constitutional issues and cannot be entertained by Civil Courts. The Court suggested that the same be raised only by way of Writ Petitions. In matters of religious nature, it was stated that no civil rights are endangered. The Court drew the analogy that admitting such a suit might lead to others from any other community filing a suit for the ban of The Bible, The Quran, The Gita or such other religious texts. The Court stated that it is not the province or duty of the Court to pronounce on the truthfulness of religious tenants or reasonableness of the contents of religious books or to regulate the religious sentiments and feelings of the sections of society. They stated that the suits demanding the relief of permanent injunction on Religious books were likely to arouse or injure the religious feelings and disturb peace and harmony are in fact meant to play mischief in the society and by filing such suits the plaintiffs would get nothing, but cheap publicity and create some more disharmony and disturbance in the society. The Court stated that such questions were the subject of Article 225 of the Constitution of India

The High Court also looked into the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code in the regard forfeiture and banning of publications. In view of the specific provisions made by law for forfeiture of such publications, the High Court stated that Civil Courts had no jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

The Court stated that in view of 'Satyarth Prakash' admittedly being written 135 years ago and having been in publication/distribution since, the same has not caused any ill-will and damage to the society. The Civil Court was said to have been incapable of entertaining the suit of injunction and declaration against a book with a standing of over 135 years merely based on the claim of two persons, considering themselves to be 'public spirited' individuals. The suit pending before the Trial Court was pronounced dismissed owing to the same being beyond the jurisdiction of the Civil Court.

© Lex Orbis 2009

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