Defamation under Indian Penal Code

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This post has been written by Shivangi Khattar pursuing 2nd Year B.B.A., LL.B. from JIMS School of Law, IP University 

INTRODUCTION

The law gives protection to the reputation of each and every person of a country, as to someone it is dearer that the life itself. Love of reputation inspires people to do many things in life, acquire name and fame, which is considered to be the mainspring of life in every walk of life. The main objective of “Law of Defamation” is to protect one’s reputation, honor, and dignity in the society. A person needs protection of his reputation, honor, integrity and character as much as the right to the enjoyment of property, health, personal safety, liberty and number of other privileges.

Defamation (libel) is a crime and as well as a civil wrong. An aggrieved person can file a criminal prosecution as well as a civil suit in order to recover the damages for defamation. withdrawal of a criminal complaint on tender of apology is no bar for civil action for libel unless there is a specific agreement barring a civil action.

Law of civil defamation is uncodified in India whereas the law of criminal defamation is codified under Section 499-502 of Indian Penal Code. In civil action for defamation in tort, truth can be considered as a valid defense, whereas in a criminal action, the accused must prove the truth of the matter and also prove that the publication was made for the benefit of the public. However, this defense of truth will not be satisfied only by proving that the publisher honestly believed the statement to be true, he must prove that the statement was in fact true.

WHAT IS DEFAMATION

Defamation is defined as a publication of false statement without any justification or excuse, which can cause harm or injury to the reputation of the person. The defamatory statement tends to bring the person into hatred, ridicule or contempt[1] in the estimate of right-thinking members of the society. However, any injury caused to the feelings of the defamed person will not be considered as defamation, only injury caused to the reputation of the person will be taken into consideration. Also, it is not necessary that the name of the person should be mentioned, the only necessity is that the person must be ascertainable.

CATEGORIES OF DEFAMATION

In Indian Penal Code, the offence of defamation is divided into two categories: –

LIBEL: The first and the foremost category of defamation is libel. It is basically related with the publication of a false statement which can harm the reputation of the defamed person in permanent form. This publication can be done in form of written statements, by pictorial representations or another medium which can expose the person to hatred, shame or disgrace. Actions for libel generally results from news stories that allege crimes, fraud, dishonest, immoral or dishonorable conduct. Also calling a person as a murderer, an alcoholic, thief, a child molester, a drug abuser etc can also be considered as grounds for the case of libel as these are also causing harm to the person in permanent form.

SLANDER: The second category of defamation is slander. It is related with publication of a false statement in verbal form in order to cause harm to the reputation of defamed person in temporary form. Actions for slander results by telling someone that a certain person committed tax fraud, claiming a person to be gay or lesbian or bisexual, when it is not true, in order to harm the reputation of a person.

ESSENTIALS REQUIRED TO MAKE A PERSON LIABLE FOR  COMMITTING THE OFFENCE OF DEFAMATION

In order to make a person guilty for committing the offence of defamation, some of the essentials must be fulfilled that are provided under the Indian Penal code. Firstly, there should be making or publication of an imputation concerning a person. Here, imputation means an accusation which is something more than an expression of suspicion. Some of the imputations that can be considered as defamatory are: to call a person drunkard[2], black marketer, goonda[3], a woman of loose character[4] , imputation against a deceased person etc. However, it is totally immaterial that the imputation was conveyed indirectly or by the way of question, conjecture, exclamation or by irony. It is essential that the words must contain an imputation concerning a particular person or a group of persons whose identity can be established.

Secondly, these imputations should have been made by words either spoken or written, or by the way of signs or by any visible representation. The visible representation will include every possible form of defamation from which ingenuity can device. For instance, a statute, a caricature, chalk marks on a wall and publication of a group photograph with a false opinion in a newspaper will be considered as defamatory[5].

Last but not the least, the said imputation should have been made with the intent to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that it will harm the reputation of such person or defame him.

EXCEPTIONS TO SECTION 499 OF INDIAN PENAL CODE

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code provides ten exceptions to the charge of defamation, when the statement would not attract a penalty. These exceptions are based on different grounds. The first and the foremost ground relates to the imputation of truth made in public interest and also for benefit of the public. Second ground relates to the public conduct of public servants or in other words it deals with the criticism of public servants[6]. The third ground relates to the conduct of any person touching any public question. Fourth ground relates to the publication of reports of proceedings in the court. Fifth ground relates to the comments that were related with the conduct of parties and witnesses in a case. Sixth ground relates to the criticism of public performances submitted to its judgement. It covers criticism of books published on literature, painting, acting etc. Seventh ground relates to the censure passed in good faith by the person having a lawful authority over another. Eighth ground relates to the accusation made in good faith to the authorized person. Ninth ground relates to the imputation made in good faith by a person for protection of his or someone else interest. The last ground relates to the caution for the benefit of the person to whom it was conveyed or for the benefit of the public.

CONCLUSION

As the reputation is dearer to someone than the life itself, it became very important to protect it from getting destroyed. It is always seen that a reputation helps a person to acquire name and fame in the society. So, in order to protect one’s reputation, integrity, honor and dignity, the “Law of Defamation” was introduced under the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, this law provided various provisions through which the defamed person could seek justice.

[1] R v Robinson (1971)

[2] Horilal v Vishwanath (1957)

[3] Chellapen Pillai (1961)

[4] Kanwal Lal v State of Punjab, AIR 1963

[5] Queen v Sri Vidya Sarankara Narasimha Bharathi (1883)

[6] K Rama Rao v Emperor, AIR 1943

Also read:
Today’s Meme Culture and Online Defamation
Criminal Defamation vis-a-vis Freedom of Speech
Cyber Bullying: A form of Digital Defamation

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