Bombay HC orders removal of derogatory posts “baselessly” attacking Malabar Gold, calls Kajal Shingala’s call to boycott the brand “prima facie defamatory”

The petition for interim relief was raised when Malabar Gold Limited’s CSR initiative of supporting education of girls was given a communal turn and Kajal Shingala had selectively targeted the company for providing scholarship to Muslim girl

On May 9, 2024, the Bombay High Court granted interim relief to Malabar Gold Limited on the issue of defamatory social media posts and directed for the removal of the same after finding them prima facie defamatory. The case dealt with the defendants circulating social media posts making derogatory comments regarding Malabar Gold Limited’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiative of providing scholarship to girls and baselessly raising calls for a boycott.

The bench of Justice Bharati Dangre remarked in the order that the quote by Martin Luther King Jr. is squarely applicable to the present case – “Darkness cannot drive out darkness…only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate and only love can do that…”

Brief facts of the case:

Malabar Gold Limited, the plaintiff in the case, is engaged in business of manufacturing and trading of jewellery and other articles made of gold, silver, precious stones, diamonds and premium watches, under the brand name “Malabar Gold and Diamonds”. It approached the Bombay High Court after being aggrieved by the uploading of the defamatory post by Defendant Nos.1 to 3, namely Kajal Shingala, Murali Iyengar and Shefali Vaidya, which called for the boycott of the said company and intended to cause irreparable damage and harm to its reputation. The interim relief sought by the plaintiff by the court was to have an injunction to prevent its further percolation. It is essential to note that the current order was given by the Court in the interim application and the larger relief in the plaint, damages to the tune of Rs. Seventy Crores have been claimed.

In regards to the company’s CSR policy, the Plaintiff provided to the court that it focuses on Health, Education, Women Empowerment, Housing, Hunger-free world and Environment. As per the claim of the plaintiff, the company has contributed more than Rs.246 Crores towards CSR activities and one of its major activities is extended to women empowerment, under which the benefits are conferred on 81000 women. In addition to this, through its special programme for educating girl students, Educational Scholarships are provided and approximately 77000 girls have benefited from the same.

Along with the plaint, the plaintiff had also provided to the Court several reports/reviews reflecting upon its CSR activities “Empowering Education and Empowering Womanhood” with the involvement of various known personalities in different parts of the country. The Court also noted that the initiatives of the spread over major cities like Varanasi, Kolhapur, Noida, Pitampura, Kurnun, Vadodara as well as remote places like Waddepally, Hanamkonda, Sanand etc.

It was alleged by the plaintiffs that certain photographs from their scholarship distribution events were misused by the provided three defendants to irreparably damage its reputation in the business world. Additionally, the plaintiff pointed out the communal nature of the posts and their potential to incite division in society. In view of the same, the plaintiff had moved the High Court to seek an injunction against Shingala, accusing her of attempting to tarnish its image through a campaign labelled as “#BoycottMalabar”. The present interim application in the suit majorly urges the court to restraint the defendants from spreading any false propaganda.

It is essential to highlight here that the plaintiff company had, in addition to moving the Court for damage and interim relief, also lodged a complaint with the Cyber Crime Cell at Andheri, Mumbai (MIDC Police Station).

Observations by the Court:

  1. In regards to the selective targeting of Muslim community and spreading misinformation:

The bench began by criticizing the defendant for selectively choosing one photograph that captures scholarships program extended to girls from the Muslim community while ignoring the broader initiative of empowering girls through education. Referring to the documents and annexures of reports submitted by the plaintiff, the court had noted the following:

“A bare scanning of the accounts enlisted, would reflect upon the wide amplitude of the scholarship distribution programme of Malabar Charitable trust and the photographs appended to the distinct news reporting/publications would make it evident that the scholarship scheme is implemented for girl students in various age groups, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion to which they belong and it is evident that such programme was conducted for more than 60 colleges and more than 630 girls had been benefited out of the same.” (Para 4)

The court noted that photographs of the scholarship distribution event depicted that across the spectrum of womanhood and woman in different age groups at different places, in distinct universities are the beneficiaries of the CSR schemes and it did not matter whether they are Muslim or Hindu or Christian or Jain etc. Specifically referring to the pictures of the Muslim girls, the court stated that,

“The photographs clicked have captured a particular group of girls in their attire making it evident that they belong to the Muslim community. One of the various clicked photographs is of the girls from Government PU College, Uppinangady and the picture of several girls is captured, where the girls are seen posing for the camera, with the scholarship certificate along with four others, who may be the part of the trust or some officials from their institution, and they clad in their traditional attire.” (Para 4)

Taking note of the aforementioned, the Court then notes how defendant Kajal Shingala, who goes by the name of Kajal Hindustani and claims to be a social activist and an influencer on Instagram and various other social media website, specifically chose that picture with the girl in the Muslim attire to spread misinformation and make derogatory comments. Regarding the defamatory and derogatory post, the Court stated that,

“The tagline of Kajal Shingala’s post-dated May 1, 2024 under the #BoycottMalabar, is commented upon, alongside photographs of the student scholarship ceremony arranged by the Plaintiff CSR activities, and what impression is given to the readers is that the Plaintiff gives scholarship only to the students of a particular community (Muslim) and this is viewed by the Plaintiff as creating nuisance and defaming it by making a victim of undeserved vicious defamatory onslaught and misleading the general public resulting into loss of its reputation.” (Para 7)

In furtherance to this, the Court also noted that the other two defendants also shared a similar post with the very same photograph of the Muslim girl to target the Plaintiff. In addition to this, the defendants also called upon Hindus to refrain from giving any business to Malabar Gold and Diamonds as ‘Akshya Tritiya’ is coming, with the attempt of hitting the company where it pains very hard.

Action by the defendants on being served notices:

In its order, the Court noted that defendants 2 and 3, namely Iyengar and Vaidya, removed the posts from their individual Twitter handles upon receiving notice of the plaintiff’s application.

On the other hand, in regards defendant Kajal Shingala, the court took note of a news report accompanying the plaintiff’s submission stating that defendant Kajal Shingala was arrested for delivering a provocative speech during Ramnavmi which allegedly led to tension between Hindu and Muslim communities and resulted in a riot.

“The Plaintiff, pending the claim in damages, today seek an injunction against the Defendant No.1, who has without any justification attempted to malign and tarnish its image by initiating a systematic campaign styled as “#BoycottMalabar”. Though Defendant Nos.2 and 3 also joined her, on receipt of the notice, they have taken down the post from their individual twitter handle.” (Para 12) 

Harm to goodwill, attempt to target and cause damage:

While noting the credentials of the Plaintiff as well as its goodwill, the court observed that by indulging in such philanthropic act of providing scholarships to young girls, the company aimed to encouraged their progress, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion.

The Plaint which is accompanied, with proof of its endeavour, in providing scholarships to girls, in various schools and colleges in the country and unlike for the discriminatory approach by showing favouritism towards a particular religion, the scholarship is made available to the enterprising girls, by focusing upon their talent and potential, than upon their religion or caste.” (Para 12)

The court then points that rather than being applauded for their endeavours, the company was targeted by Kajal Shingala by posting/uploading a post, by selectively picking up only one photograph, capturing the programme being extended to the girls belonging to a particular community i.e., Muslim. The court also highlighted how the same was done by Shingala without providing an overview of the whole initiative of education for girls by provided scholarships.

With this, the Court stated that this selective posting had the potential to damage the reputation and goodwill of the plaintiff, with the potential to create divisions in society.

Such post definitely has the effect of damaging the reputation and goodwill of the Plaintiff. Various unknown people and third parties are re-posting the same and this has the potential to create a divide in this united country, which definitely is not in the interest of the citizens of this country.” (Para 12)

Holding that the apprehension of adverse impact on the business raised by the plaintiff, the Court provided that the said apprehension was not unfounded as the calls of boycott were raised when the auspicious occasion of “Akshay Tritiya” was round the corner.

“It is to be noted that the post by Defendant no.1 has garnered 7955 likes and 260 comments and it is being shared and re-shared on WhatsApp and other social websites, reflecting upon the Plaintiffs’s Company with negative image.” (Para 13)

Harm to the secular structure of India:

While the court emphasised that the defendants have the right to form their own opinion, they cannot put out such unverified and misleading posts on social media as the same would be harmful to the secular structure of our country.

“The Defendant No.1 may carry her own opinion on an issue, but by uploading only one particular photograph out of the entire stack of photographs clicked, when the scholarships were conferred upon the girl child across wide spectrum, without verifying the veracity of post, definitely would cause harm to the secular societal structure of the country and in particular when the post prima facie is baseless”. (Para 14)

Holding the CSR activities of the plaintiff company to be in compliance with the laws governing the country, the court further opined the dissemination of misleading information on various social media platforms to be an intentional effort to harm the plaintiff’s reputation.

Order of the Court:

Based on the observations made above, the court held that the plaintiff made out a prima facie case for ad-interim relief, recognizing the potential irreparable loss and damage to its achievements and status if the defamatory posts are allowed to continue.

With this, the court directed Shingala to immediately remove the defamatory content from her Twitter handle and restrained her from issuing further defamatory statements against Malabar Gold.

“Hence, I deem it appropriate to direct the Defendant No.1, who despite service by email has failed to mark appearance, to forthwith take down/delete the alleged defamatory statement, from her twitter handle and she is further restrained from issuing, disseminating, circulating, communicating any defamatory, malicious, scandalous statement(s), allegations, insinuations, either written or spoken or in any manner communicating with the Plaintiff and/or its agents, servants, clients, business associates or any individual(s) or entity/ties associated with Plaintiff, by way of emails, letters, SMSs, social media posts, websites, newspapers print or electronic, or in any other manner whatsoever, to any third parties/ general public, or to any individual who is in any capacity associated with the functioning of the Plaintiff or any other third parties/general public.” (Para 15)

Further, the court ordered social media platforms X (Twitter), Instagram, and META Platforms Inc. to take down any posts or comments related to the defamatory content and prohibited the uploading of similar content in the future from specified URLs. Notably, in the present interim application, the plaintiff had not sought relief against YouTube, Google LLC and Google India.

Notably, the High Court scheduled further consideration of the matter for July 8, 2024.

The complete order can be accessed here.



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