Defamation Law in India

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 23, 2022, 12:58

Defamation is the written or verbal communication of a false statement that unfairly harms the reputation or constitutes a crime against someone else. The written form of defamation is called Libel, whereas the oral form of defamation is called slander. From very early times, injurious, hostile, and disparaging statements made in public have been seen as defamatory. The first-ever case involving defamation was in New York in the 19th century when a police officer claimed that false allegations against him had appeared in the newspaper. Since then, there have been laws in place to ensure a citizen's reputation and privacy outweighs the right of free speech.

Defamation Law in India History

Lord Macaulay conceived the Defamations Laws in India for the first time in 1837. The intention behind criminalizing the act of defamation during British rule was simply to protect the interest of the British rulers. Then after independence, the Rajiv Gandhi administration passed a bill that widened the definition of the term defamation and shifted the burden of providing proof from the accused to the victim. Consequently, a nationwide strike forced the government to withdraw the bill.

Current Defamation Law in India

According to the Constitution of India, the fundamental right of speech is subject to some fair restrictions. These restrictions have been defined in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. However, Section 499 outlines ten legitimate exceptions under which any spoken or written statement would not be considered defamatory. Punishment for defamation is fine or imprisonment or both. It is a bailable, non-cognizable, and compoundable offence.

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Civil and Criminal Defamation Law in India

Under both civil and criminal law, defamation is an offence. Under civil law, defamation is punishable under the Law of Torts, whereas, under criminal law, defamation is a bailable, non-cognizable, and compoundable offence.

Civil Defamation Law in India

Under civil defamation, the statements made against the defamed person need to be false and must be made without his/her consent. The defamed person can claim monetary compensation under certain circumstances. However, certain requirements must be met to file a successful defamation lawsuit.

  • The proof of a defamatory statement must be provided. The test of whether the statement harms a person's reputation must be done from the eyes of a common man and his/her comprehension of the matter.
  • The defamatory statement must be directed towards a specific person or class of persons. General broad statements like all men are shameless will not be considered defamatory.
  • If it is in written form, it will be considered defamatory only when the content is made available to the defamed person directly. If the written form is in a language incomprehensible to the defamed person, a third party must read it out to him/her.

Criminal Defamation Law in India

Under criminal defamation, intention to defame a particular individual or body is necessary. It must be proved with reasonable evidence that the defamatory act was being done to affect the reputation of another person. For the same, Section 499 of the Indian Penal code clearly defines what defamation is and what are its ten exceptions.

The 10 exceptions are:

  • Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published
  • Public conduct of public servants
  • Conduct of any person touching any public question
  • Publication of reports of proceedings of courts
  • Merits of a case decided in court or conduct of witnesses and others concerned
  • Merits of public performance
  • Censure passed in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another
  • Accusation preferred in good faith to the authorized person
  • Imputation made in good faith by a person for the protection of his or other's interests
  • Caution intended for good of a person to whom conveyed or public good
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FAQs on Defamation Law in India

Q.1. Is defamation punishable according to the Defamation Law in India?

Yes, Defamation Law in India is punishable with a fine of up to two years of imprisonment or both.

Q.2. Under the Defamation Law in India, can a case be filed against police officers?

Police officers are given immunity from any prosecution under the Defamation Law in India, sections 132 and 197 of the Code of Criminal procedure.

Q.3. How can one file a case under the Defamation Law in India?

A case under the Defamation Law in India can be filed with a magistrate under sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.

Q.4. Who can file a case under the Defamation Law in India?

Any person whose reputation has been damaged due to someone else's verbal or written statement can file a case under the Defamation Law in India.