Defamation under Indian Penal Code

Criminal Law Indian Penal Code LAW EXPLAINED
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Introduction –

Defamation refers to intentionally harming the reputation of another person by a false statement about him. The law considers that the reputation of an individual is his property and anybody who injures the property is liable for the injury caused. Defamation is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the person who defames another is punishable resultantly.

Defamation is the act of saying false facts about an individual in public to bring down his reputation. According to Dr. Winfield, “Defamation is the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right thinking members of the society, generally or, which tends to make them shun or avoid that person.”

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 considers defamation as an offence under Section 499 which reads as –

“Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person is said to defame that person.[1]

The punishment for defamation has been mentioned in Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which says that any person causing defamation is punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both[2].

Elements –

  • Defamatory Statement –

It is mandatory that the defamatory statement should bring down the reputation of the person to who is to defame. To check whether a statement is defamatory or not is dependent on how the reasonable men would take it. The defendant cannot take the defense that the statement made was not defamatory if it has incited hatred and contempt among the people.

However, it is to be noted that mere hasty expression spoken in anger, or vulgar abuse to which no hearer would attribute any set purpose to injure the character would not amount to defaming a person[3].

  • The defamatory statement should refer to the plaintiff –

The burden to prove that the statement was addressed to the plaintiff is on the plaintiff. If the plaintiff fails to prove that the statement was not addressed to him then the defendant is not liable under the offence. The statement made should be in such a manner that any reasonable man could identify that it is addressed to the plaintiff. 

  • The statement made must be published –

Publication means that the defamatory statement should come into knowledge of any third person other than the plaintiff himself. If the defamation is not done in front of a third person then no case of defamation can be filed.

Exceptions to Defamation-

  • True Statement –

The foremost exception to defamation is that no matter the defamatory statement was made maliciously or not if the statement is true then no case can be filed. The defendant has to just prove that the statement is true in substance to discharge his charges. 

  • Fair and Bonafide Comment –

An honest comment on a matter of public importance is not considered as defamation. It is just that the fair comment should be made in concern with matter of public importance but should not be a statement of fact. The comment made should be bonafide and honest.

Case Laws –

  • Ram Jethmalani v. Subramaniam Swamy [4]In the following case, Dr. Swamy was held liable as for saying that Mr. Jethamalani received money from a banned organization to protect the then CM of Tamil Nadu in the case of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
  • Ramanada v. Lokananda [5]In the following case, the Madras High Court opined that the editor can be excused if he in good faith had entrusted in his absence persons who in his view were competent and such persons published a libelous article.
  • Narottamdas v. Maganbhai [6]The High Court of Gujarat refused to convict the editors of an article who had described lawyers as dispute brokers in their newspaper.





[4] Ram Jthmalani v. Subramaniam Swamy AIR 2006 Delhi 300, 126 (2006) DLT 535

[5] Ramanada v. Lokananda (1886) 9 ILR 3 All 342

[6] Narottamdas v. Maganbhai (1984) Cr LJ 1790 (Guj)

This blog is written by Jaya Singh, Amity University.

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