Gangster ‘Abu Salem’ Sends Legal Notice to Makers of ‘Sanju’ Alleging Defamation

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As per reports, convicted gangster and terrorist Abu Salem has sent a legal notice to filmmakers of the recently released Sanjay Dutt biopic ‘Sanju’ (the “Film”) stating that Salem has been erroneously depicted in the Film, thereby causing Salem ‘pain and disrepute’.

The notice refers to a scene in particular where Ranbir Kapoor (as Dutt) gives a confessional statement about possession of arms and ammunition during communal tension around our country in 1993.

The notice sent through Salem’s lawyer Prashant Pandey to makers Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Fox Star Studios states that the scene is based on unsubstantial facts and malicious in its form and content.

It is alleged in the notice that neither did Salem meet actor Sanjay Dutt nor supply arms and ammunition to him as depicted in the Film, which can be justified by evidence of approvers in the 1993 Bombay blasts case.

“All allegations levelled in the scenes are preposterous, absurd, ridiculous and libellous in character. The baseless allegations made in the film have injured my client’s reputation, lowered him in the eyes of others and exposed him to ridicule and dislike. Falsity of allegations to the point reveals concerted effort and malicious plan to malign my client unjustly to defame him. Contents of the film are extremely insinuating, disparaging and defamatory attacking the reputation of my client,” reads the notice.

The notice has demanded elimination of the scene within fifteen (15) days of receipt of the legal notice. Salem has also sought financial compensation for causing harm and disrepute to Salem and publication of an apology for the ‘malicious and scandalous scene’, failing which appropriate legal action would be taken.

Salem is currently serving a life sentence, after being convicted by a Special Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) court for his role in the 1993 Bombay blasts case.

Abu Salem was found guilty of transporting and distributing arms and ammunitions used in the blast from Gujarat to Mumbai. The court also noted that Abu Salem delivered AK-56 rifles to the home of actor Sanjay Dutt, who was also convicted under the Arms Act.

It is pertinent to note that as per records Abu Salem had initially confessed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that he along with others delivered two AK-47 rifles and hand grenades to Sanjay Dutt at his residence prior to the 1993 Mumbai blasts. However, he always maintained that he never knew that the van he was driving to Mumbai contained a consignment of arms and ammunition.

Interestingly, Salem later denied supplying arms to Dutt and submitted this statement to the TADA court under section 313 of Criminal Procedure Code, which enables the accused to personally explain any circumstances appearing in the evidence against him or her.

Surprisingly, although Sanjay Dutt had given his confession in 1994 claiming that gangster Salem did offer him weapons, reportedly he later retracted his statement.

In view of the above, considering Salem has threatened suing the makers of the Film for defamation, truth would be regarded as a valid defense to a claim of defamation.

Analysing the situation from the angle of right to privacy, in the landmark judgment in the matter of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India and Ors., the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India unanimously clarified that right to privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India. Justice Kaul has mainly dealt with the angle of ‘personality rights’ and through his judgement we can decipher that in light of the right to privacy becoming a fundamental right, the protection of one’s personality, individuality and dignity have been put on a higher pedestal. With information now being easily available due to technology, one’s personality needs even more protection than ever before and also with the ‘invasion of privacy’ having a wider connotation, people have a right to be protected not only against falsehoods but also against truths. A person has complete control on disclosure of personal information to any person whatsoever and any breach of confidentiality would be a breach of trust. Further, one needs to be protected from the judgmental views of the society.

Further, in another landmark judgment of R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court had laid down the various parameters of right to privacy. It held that right to privacy is implicit in the right to life and property guaranteed to the citizens of this country by Article 21 of the Constitution, consent and public record being exceptions in contravening the right to privacy.

Commenting on public records, the Supreme Court held that anybody is allowed publish the life-story of a person relying on the facts and content derived from public records, even without the consent or authorization of that person and his/her family members. Therefore, it can be said that, although every citizen of India has a right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution, any information based on public records could be published by the press.

“When the scenes are based on public records, including the Court records, right to privacy no longer subsists and it becomes legitimate subject for comment by press and media, among others.”

Therefore, in order to defend any claim on breach of right to privacy, the makers of the Film will have to prove that the scene was based on public records (including court records, police records, etc). It would be interesting to see how this new development unfolds.

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