Bihar royal slaps Rs 1cr defamation suit on Chetan Bhagat
A scion of the erstwhile princely state of Dumraon in Bihar has slapped a Rs 1 crore defamation suit on author Chetan Bhagat, claiming male members of the royal family were maliciously portrayed as alcoholics and gamblers in his bestselling novel 'Half Girlfriend'.
The suit was filed in the Delhi high court by Chandra Vijay Singh for "express and implied references" to his family in Bhagat's book that are "false and derogatory in nature".
Singh is the eldest son of Maharaja Bahadur Kamal Singh, a two-term Lok Sabha MP and the last ruler of Dumraon before its accession to the Indian union in 1952.
Apart from Bhagat, Rupa Publications, the publisher of 'Half Girlfriend', has been named as a respondent in the defamation suit.
Reached for a reaction, Virali Panchamia, business manager of Chetan Bhagat Entertainment Pvt Ltd, and Vasundhra Raj of Rupa publications, declined comment on the development.
Singh has sought a permanent injunction restraining Bhagat, Rupa Publications and all others from further publication, sale and circulation of 'Half Girlfriend' in its present form "with immediate effect".
The Delhi high court has issued summons to Bhagat and Rupa Publications to appear before it on May 1, either in person or by a pleader.
The suit was filed within days of Bhagat changing the setting in the Hindi version of ‘Half Girlfriend'. The setting was changed from Dumraon, which exists, to a fictional place called Simraon.
But the Dumraon royals are firm they will not accept anything short of a full retraction of the original novel in English and an apology from Bhagat and the publishers.
Singh's son Shivang Vijay Singh said Bhagat had been given every chance to make amends and to repair the damage caused to his family's reputation but the author had not taken the family's concerns seriously.
"I also understand that the word 'Dumraon' has been changed to 'Sunraon’ or some such name in the Hindi translation of Half Girlfriend. This is a tacit admission and we were right all along," Vijay told Hindustan Times late on Tuesday.
To make his point, Singh cited an excerpt from page 25 of the book wherein the protagonist says: "My ancestors were landlords and from the royal family of Dumraon, the oldest princely state in British India... My great-granduncles squandered their money, especially since they all felt they could gamble better than anyone else in the world. Several near-bankruptcies later, the women of the house took charge as the men had all turned into alcoholics."
Singh argued in his petition that this and several other references made to his family in 'Half Girlfriend', first published in October 2014, were incorrect and cast aspersions on his family that had held it up for ridicule.
Insisting that the references were "deliberate and malicious", Singh said his lawyers sent a legal notice on November 14, 2014 to Bhagat and Rupa Publications, asking them to make amends.
In his reply dated November 25, 2014, Bhagat expressed regret and offered his lifelong friendship to the family, Singh said in his petition. But Bhagat then made a "mockery" of Singh’s grievance through a post on Twitter.
Singh quoted Bhagat as tweeting: "Meanwhile, have to write letter to the family in Dumraon explaining the meaning of fiction and imaginary stories. Will do so privately."
Thereafter, Singh sent another notice to Bhagat and Rupa dated December 8, 2014, stating that Bhagat's expression of regret was not enough to repair the damage to the Dumraon family.
In his reply dated December 15, 2014, Bhagat appeared to imply "he was willing to settle the matter". But when there was no further response from the author, Singh sent him a third notice on January 16.
Singh said Bhagat then sent a "vague" reply, causing him to file the defamation suit.
Singh said the damage caused to his family "is enormous and cannot be assessed and in any case, is much more than the token amount of rupees one crore only (Rs 1,00,00,000)" claimed in the suit.
He also sought references to "the royal Family of Dumraon" to be expunged from 'Half Girlfriend' and the recall of all copies of the book in its present form.
The erstwhile princely state of Dumraon, located 100 km west of Patna, was founded by a branch of Ujjainia rulers and the reign of the first king, Raja Bhoj Singh, is traced back to 1018.