A Delhi court on March 16 dismissed a petition seeking action against publishing house HarperCollins and others for allegedly not obeying a previous stay order on the publication of a book on self-proclaimed religious leader Asaram’s conviction and arrest in a rape case.
On September 4 last year, the Patiala House Court had passed the order on a civil suit filed by Sanchita Gupta, an associate of Asaram’s who was convicted under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences in 2018 in the case related to the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Asaram is currently serving a life term in Jodhpur in Rajasthan. However, on September 22, the Delhi High Court allowed the publication of the book, noting that it was based on facts available in the public domain.
The book, titled Gunning for the Godman: The True Story Behind Asaram Bapu’s Conviction, is a first-hand account of the religious leader’s arrest and conviction by police officer Ajay Lamba along with writer Sanjeev Mathur. An excerpt from the book was also published by Scroll.in.
Meanwhile, Sanchita Gupta moved the Patiala House Court again, arguing that its injunction order was breached in the intervening period, before the High Court vacated the stay.
In her plea, Gupta said that HarperCollins and other defendants were served the court’s injunction order immediately after it was passed and it was being “openly sold” and circulated. She submitted that her advocate was able to procure a copy of the book from a shop in Khan Market in New Delhi, four days after the order was passed.
She also contended in her submission to the High Court that HarperCollins had said that only an excerpt of the book was in public domain and not the rest of it. Gupta said this amounted to misleading the High Court.
The counsel for HarperCollins said that it did not sell the book directly, but does so through wholesalers and distributors. The publishing house said that copies of the book were already dispatched before the stay order, so that it can be made available in shops on its launch date of September 5. HarperCollins also said that the stay order was communicated to it late on a Friday night and they could not follow the order till Monday.
The publisher also cited the High Court order, highlighting that as per its observation, Gupta obtained the injunction order by concealing material facts and that no contempt proceedings were maintainable against HarperCollins.
The court, in its order, said that the time of receipt of the email sent by Gupta to HarperCollins, about the stay order, does not presume that the publisher was in knowledge of the injunction. It said, since HarperCollins and other defendants in the case were served the notice at 7.53 pm on a Friday night, and the next two days were weekend, they cannot be held guilty of wilful breach of the order. The court, thus, dismissed the plea even as it did not agree to the submissions made by HarperCollins that it was not responsible for the actions of third parties – in this case, booksellers.