Between February 15-19, Vishal Gondal, founder of nCore Games, received six legal notices from persons based in six different cities in India, threatening him with criminal and civil action for his tweets about online rummy. The defamation notices were sent by individuals hailing from Indore and Gwalior (Madhya Pradesh), Nainital (Uttarakhand), New Delhi, Chandigarh, and Solan (Himachal Pradesh), all of whom claiming to be players of online rummy.
The copycat notices state that Gondal’s tweets that equate online rummy with gambling, or otherwise term such games as addictive and harmful, hurt the individuals’ reputations since people around them began calling them “gamblers”, in what is clearly a far-fetched reading of defamation law. The notices use similar language and follow the same logical conclusions to justify the defamation notices.
Some key points to note.
- Each of the six notices states that the individual plays online rummy; two of them specify that they play it for “fun and enjoyment” and “for recreation”. In addition, none of the six people specify which rummy app or website that they were using. One individual claims that he uses online platforms for rummy, poker, and other fantasy leagues and has been playing skill-games for 10 years.
- Each notice targets the game of online rummy specifically, even though Gondal has been critical of the broader real-money gaming industry. The notices claim that Gondal is incorrectly “labelling” people who play online rummy as gambling, and “belittling” the game of rummy itself, thus causing harm to the individuals’ reputation.
- The notices go so far to say that as a result of Gondal’s comments on online rummy and other games, people around the individuals, such as their friends, family, or neighbours have started “labelling” the players “gamblers” or “juari”.
- The notice from the individuals from Gwalior and Chandigarh also mentioned Vishal Gondal’s opinion piece published on MediaNama in January, stating that it was “false and misleading” and impacted the individuals’ reputations. It’s worth noting that both point out the same excerpts from the article as being misleading and incorrect. It’s also worth noting that Gondal’s piece, or these excerpts, did not specifically criticise online rummy, but rather on the possible harms of the broader real-money gaming industry.
- “misrepresentation which has just not caused not just loss of income and economic hardship to lakhs of people and even suicide in certain services”
- “services are designed to be highly addictive and misleading with the potential to cause harm to individuals and society”
- “the menace of unregulated gambling existing freely in society will lead to an increase in suicide, crime attributed to gambling” and that
- “more people will enter into a life of to fund the habit”.
- Every notice demands that Gondal delete the tweets and other public statements; at least four demand that this be done within 15 days; several demand unconditional public apologies, including on Twitter and ask for a promise that the statements won’t be made again.
- The notice from the Delhi and Chandigarh residents demand Rs 25 lakh each in damages for harassment and loss of reputation, among other things; the one from a Gwalior resident seeks Rs 5 lakh in damages with an “unconditional apology”; another from the Indore resident seeks Rs 10 lakh. Most of them threaten to initiate civil and criminal proceedings if the tweets are not removed.
- One of the notices, filed by a Delhi resident, states that Gondal is liable to be punished under Section 500 and 501 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66A of the IT Act, which the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in 2015. The notice by the Delhi resident said he has “already intimated the police station to take further action” on this.
Notices “extremely suspicious”: Gondal
In a public statement, Gondal said that the common language and similar timing of these notices sounds “extremely suspicious”. It seems to be a “concentrated effort” by strong lobbies to stop honest voice who speak up against the evil of gambling, he said. He suspects that proceedings could be filed against him in multiple parts of the country to cause harassment. He called for gambling under “surrogate forms” to be regulated and bring oversight to protect people.