Analysis of the offence of Defamation
- Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code talks about defamation. So, what is
Any person who by spoken or written words, signs, or visible gestures creates
or publishes any imputation on any person with an intention to harm the
reputation of that person. The person making such an imputation should have the
knowledge or a reason to believe that such an imputation will ruin the
reputation of the person.
However, there are many exceptions included in this Section. We will discuss
them in the approaching topic.
To sue any person it is necessary to establish that real damage or harm has
occurred to the reputation of the person. Only speaking or writing the words,
picturing, or gesturing does not amount to defamation until the reputation of
the person has been harmed.
Harm to reputation is the only negative consequence that can arise from the act
It could prove harmful to your professional career as well. For example, if
someone points out to a shopkeeper says that you should not buy groceries from
him as he sells low-grade things at a high rate. In this case, if the statement
is found to be untrue then the reputation of the shopkeeper is being harmed as
this will lead to a shortage of customers coming to his shop.
For a person to be sued for defamation, it is required that the publication of
the words he spoke or wrote must have happened. What does it mean?
It means that damage to the reputation of the person happens when the defamatory
words have reached to any third person. Publication means that the third person
has read, heard or seen the written, spoken, gestured or pictured defamatory
If it has not happened then there is no ground to sue for defamation.
The Distinction Between English Law And Indian Law
An act of defamation can occur in two forms, libel and slander.
It is a kind of defamation that is present in some permanent form such as in
writing, printed or a picture.
It is a kind of defamation that is present in an unwritten form such as spoken
words, gestures or representation made with hands.
In English law, there is a distinction made between both of the forms under the
categories of criminal defamation and civil defamation.
Under criminal law, only libel is an offense and not slander. Whereas in civil
law, libel is an offense just like in criminal law but the change here is that
slander is also an offense when provided with proof.
In Indian law, both slander and libel are recognized as criminal offenses under
Section 499 of IPC. Whereas, in the law of torts libel is actionable per se and
slander is actionable. It means in the case of slander there has to be proof of
the act of defamation.
D.P. Choudhary v. Kumari Manjulata
In this case, it was published in a newspaper that Manjulata, a 17-year-old girl
belonging to a well-known family, eloped with a boy who lived closeby. After
this, her reputation got tainted and she suffered a lot of disgrace, as this
news was completely false and was published with irresponsibility.
Later on, the Court, in this case, ruled out the Rs. 10000, should be provided
to the defendant as it amounted to defamation.
Forms of Publication
There are various forms of publication in which the act of defamation can take
place, let's look at them.
Direct communication to the Defamed
If any defamation is made directly to the defamed and is not heard by anybody
else, then it is not defamation. It is necessary that any third party hears it
through which the reputation of the defamed goes down.
Publication by Repetition
There is a limited period to sue for defamation. It is maintainable till one
year since the act of defamation took place. For a single publication, an action
for libel can arise but for repetitive or multiple publications, the action can
arise every time the libel is published.
The Limitation Act, 1968 makes the limitation period of the libel on the
internet to 1 year. After every publication on the internet, this period will
Khawar Butt vs Asif Nazir Mir
This case was decided in the year 2013. The Delhi High Court, in this case,
ruled out to set aside the multiple publication rule on the internet and to
follow only the single publication rule.
Printed Matters: Liability of editor and others
Section 501 of the Indian Penal Code talks about the printing of defamatory
It says that any person who prints or engraves such a matter which he knows or
has reason to believe that such matter is of defamatory nature and hence, will
lower down the reputation of the person and bring ridicule and disgrace to
This Section checks for the printed defamatory matters and provides the
provision for the punishment to the person who printed it. The punishment of a
maximum of two years in jail or fine or both is provided under this Section.
Now, let's understand what is the provision for the people who further sells the
defamatory printed content.
Section 502 of the Indian Penal Code says that any person who sells or offers to
sell any printed content that he knows or has reason to believe that it contains
defamatory matter will be punished.
The punishment will either be imprisonment which can be extended to a term of
two years or could be fine. In some instances, both can be imposed.
Therefore, through both of these Sections, the printing or engraving, selling or
offering to sell, such a matter which contains some defamatory content, is a
crime and is punishable.
Imputations concerning 'Any Person'
In Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code the 'imputation concerning any person',
is mentioned. Imputation in general terms means accusation or claim that someone
has done something wrong.
As far as the term 'concerning any person' is concerned, this means that
defamation should be clear enough to point out the person to whom the defamation
is intended to be made and if it is published to others then the third person is
also able to clearly understand who is defamed by the publication.
Intention to Injure
There has to be a knowledge or reason to believe that the act will certainly
cause the defamation of the character of the person. It implies the mens rea of
the person, that is the person should have the intention to harm the reputation
of the other person.
To win a defamation lawsuit, the defendant should prove that he had honest
intentions and no malice, and it was just an honest mistake.
Analysis of provisions of Sections 499 and 500, IPC
The provisions regarding defamation are provided in Section 499 to 502. Section
501 and Section 502 has already been explained earlier in this article. Now,
let's understand the provisions contained in Section 499 and Section 500.
Section 499 provides the definition of defamation and all the cases and
exceptions of the act of defamation. This is a lengthy Section with explanations
and in total 10 exceptions included in it.
Section 500 provides for punishment for the act of defamation.
Defamation of the Dead
In case, a person defames another person who has passed away or is already dead,
by any means that is written, spoken, by gestures or pictures.then, it will be
an act of defamation, this act would have harmed the reputation of the person if
he would have been still alive, or in case it harms the reputation of the family
or close relatives of the deceased.
Defamation of a Company or a Collection of Persons
If an act is intended to cause harm to a company or association or a group of
people, then it will amount to defamation. This means under it companies or
associations can slap a defamation suit against an individual.
Priya Parameshwaran Pillai v. Union of India and Ors
In this case, Priya, a Greenpeace activist, wrote in her blog that the
environment is degraded by the power project which was set up by the Essar
group. After which a suit of defamation was filed by the Essar group.
Priya, in her argument, contended that the private companies should not be given
the right to file a defamation suit against an individual. But her contention
was set aside by the Court, not allowing any more questions and contentions to
be added further.
This particular case has its roots in the previous Subramaniam Swamy v. Union of
India case. Let us discuss that now.
Subramaniam Swamy v. Union of India
In the year 2014, Dr. Subramaniam Swamy alleged corruption charges on Ms.
Jaylathitha. After which Ms. Jaylathitha framed defamation charges on Dr.
Subramaniam Swamy. He in return challenged the constitutional validity of
Section 499 and Section 500 of the India Penal Code.
The court, in this case, upheld the constitutional validity of the offense of
And ruled out that Section 499 and Section 500 of the India Penal Code, impose
reasonable restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Defamation by Innuendo
Well, to be able to understand it we must first understand what innuendo in
general terms means.
Innuendo is a clever way to speak negative sentences in a very sarcastic way,
which may appear to be positive at the surface of it.
Under Section 499, defaming of any person by innuendo is a form of criminal
A says to B, pointing out to C, 'C is a very even-handed person, I have not seen
him making any discrimination against G.
This is discrimination as A intended to point at C has a discriminatory person
and that he has discriminated in the case of G.
B asks A,' do you think someone discriminated?
A in return pointed at C and said, 'well you know, who can'.
This is discrimination has it was said in a sarcastic way while pointing at C.
- What is Harming Reputation?
- Defamation is an act by which a person's reputation is harmed, but what
is harming reputation?
According to explanation 4 given in Section 499, the reputation of a person
is harmed when the act injures the moral or intellectual character of the person
or lowers his credit. It also hampers the reputation if the act lowers down the
person's character in the respect of his cast or his calling.
The act of defamation which let the others believe that the body of any
particular person is in a detestable condition.
All of these acts are considered to harm the reputation of the person and comes
under the offense of criminal defamation.