DEFAMATION: AN OVERVIEW UNDER INDIAN PENAL CODE 1860

As the definition of the word says, defamation is a hurt to a person's reputation caused by a false statement. A man's reputation is recognized as his property, and anybody who causes property damage is accountable under the law; similarly, anyone who harms a person's reputation is equally liable under the law.

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 defines defamation, and section 500 makes a person who violates this section liable to simple imprisonment for a term of two years, a fine, or both. Defamation is a practice that serves as a check on the right to freedom of expression and communication (Article 19)[1]. It is a method to guarantee that no one hurts a person's reputation or attempts to establish a false public perception of the person who has been defamed. Understanding it with an example, suppose there are 2 parties: Party A and Party B. Party B says “Party A is a corrupt politician. I have seen him accept bribes numerous times so don’t vote for him.”

This assertion is false and undermines Party A's reputation, as no one in the public will vote for a corrupt individual. Party A's chances of winning the election will be severely hampered as a result of this.

Libel and slander are two different types which define defamation. Libel is a type of defamation that exists in a permanent form, such as writing, printing, or a photograph. Slander is a type of defamation that occurs in an unwritten form, such as spoken words, gestures, or physical depiction.

Slander and libel are both considered criminal crimes in India under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. Libel is actionable per se in tort law, whereas slander is actionable. It indicates that in the event of slander, evidence of the defamatory conduct is required.

Kumari Manjulata v. D.P. Choudhary[2]

In this instance, a newspaper reported that Manjulata, a 17-year-old girl from a prominent family, had eloped with a male who resided nearby. Her reputation was ruined as a result of this, and she experienced a great deal of embarrassment as a result of the news, which was absolutely incorrect and published irresponsibly.

The Court then ordered that the Rs. 10,000 should not be paid to the defendant since it amounted to defamation.

Sections 499 to 502 include provisions concerning defamation. Let's have a look at Sections 499 and 500 to see what they have to say.

The definition of defamation is included in Section 499, as well as all of the situations and exceptions to the act of defamation. This is a lengthy section that includes explanations and a total of ten exceptions.

The act of defamation is punishable under Section 500.


ESSENTIALS OF DEFAMATION

1. It must be a derogatory comment.

The first requirement of a defamation crime is that the remark be defamatory, meaning that it tends to harm the plaintiff's reputation. The standard for determining whether or not a remark is defamatory is based on how right-thinking people of society are likely to react to it.

Furthermore, a person cannot claim that the comment was not meant to be defamatory even if it aroused hostility, disdain, or dislike.

Example: ‘A' places an advertisement in a daily newspaper falsely claiming that ‘B's’ firm has perpetrated a Rs 20,00,000 scam. Now, this comment will be considered defamatory because this publication will be read by a large number of people and will undoubtedly harm B's company's reputation. However, a hurried remark spoken in rage, or vulgar insult to which no one would assign any premeditated intent to harm a person's reputation, would not be considered defamation.

2. The plaintiff must be mentioned in the statement.

It will be immaterial that the defendant did not intend to defame the plaintiff in a defamation lawsuit since the plaintiff must establish that the remark to which he Complains related to him. The defendant shall be held accountable if the person to whom the statement was published may reasonably conclude that the statement was addressed to him.

The defendants were declared guilty in the case of T.V., Ramasubha Iyer v. A.M.A Mohindeen[3] Court for publishing a statement without intending to slander the defendants. According to the announcement, a specific individual who was transporting Agarbathis to Ceylon had been apprehended for smuggling. The plaintiff was also a participant in a similar company, and his reputation was seriously harmed as a result of this comment.

3. The declaration must be made public.

The publication of a defamatory remark to someone other than the person who has been defamed is a crucial part of holding someone accountable, and without it, no case for defamation would be possible. However, if a third party reads a letter intended for the plaintiff incorrectly, the defendant is likely to be held accountable. However, there will be a legal publication if the defamatory letter written to the plaintiff is likely to be read by others.

In Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan Prasad[4] The defendant was found responsible for sending a defamatory letter to the plaintiff in Urdu, knowing that the plaintiff did not know Urdu and that the message would most likely be read by another person.


Defamation of a group of people

When a group of people or a class of people is referred to by specific words said, no one member of that group or class can sue unless he can show that the words could fairly be interpreted as referring to him.

For example, if someone published that all physicians are crooks, no doctor could sue him unless there was evidence that the person meant to slander him personally. If the individual wrote that all physicians at ABC hospital are thieves, the doctors at ABC hospital can sue him for defamation.


Innuendo

When a statement's natural and apparent interpretation leads to such a conclusion, it is prima facie defamatory.

It is sometimes the case that a comment appears to be benign on the surface but is later found to be defamatory due to its secondary meaning. Plaintiff must show the secondary meaning, i.e., insinuation, which renders the remark defamatory in this circumstance.

Illustration Z asserts that X is a trustworthy individual who has never stolen my watch. Now, while this comment may appear to be harmless at first glance, it might be defamatory if the individual to whom it was made takes it to mean that X is a crooked man who stole the watch.


Husband and Wife

Both husband and wife are considered one person in the eyes of the law, and transmission of a defamatory thing from the husband to the wife or vice versa is not considered publishing and will not fall under the ambit of section 499.

Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 deals with privileged communications between husband and wife and exempts them from section 499, save in cases where one married person is tried for a crime committed against the other.

T.J. Ponnen v. M.C Verghese[5], a landmark decision, decided that a letter from a spouse to his wife containing disparaging information about the father-in-law does not constitute defamation. It will be protected under section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, which deals with private conversations between husband and wife.


DEFENSES FOR DEFAMATION

There are several defenses to a slander lawsuit.

  1. Truth's justification

  2. Reasonable remark

  3. Privilege

1. Truth's justification

The truth of the defamatory matter is a full defense in a civil defamation suit, and the rationale for this is that "Law will not let a man to collect damages for anything being true about him." In criminal law, however, just demonstrating that the statement was truthful is insufficient, and the defendant must additionally demonstrate that it was made for the public benefit.

The defense cannot be used if the defendant is unable to establish the facts are true. In the case of Radheyshyam Tiwari v. Eknath[6] , the defendants were found guilty of disseminating defamatory material about them. The defendants were later unable to establish that the facts he published were factual, and he was held accountable as a result.


2. Reasonable remark

A legitimate defense to a defamation case is making a reasonable opinion on subjects of public interest.

The following must be demonstrated in order to do so:

  1. It must be a statement of opinion rather than a statement of truth.

  2. The remark should be balanced, meaning it should not be based on false information.

  3. The subject of discussion must be of public concern.


3. Privilege

As the name implies, it refers to conferring special status. When the law accepts that the plaintiff's right to free

expression surpasses his or her right against defamation, a defamatory comment uttered on such an occasion is not actionable. There are two categories of privileges.

1. Absolute privileges– In certain cases, the individual speaking is granted entire immunity, and no defamation action may be brought against him. Parliamentary and judicial processes are included.

2.Qualified privilege– This privilege is also accessible, but it requires that the statement be made without malice, i.e., with the aim to deceive.


CONCLUSION

We discovered that the core of defamation rests in the harm to a person's reputation after studying all of the major features of defamation as spelled out in section 499 IPC. And he has a strong case against the defendants for this harm. Libel and slander are two forms of defamation. In India, both are considered criminal crimes. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule.


-- [1]https://byjus.com/free-ias-prep/freedom-of speech/#:~:text=According%20to%20Article%2019(1,%2C%20 movies%2C%20banners%2C%20 etc. [2] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/295448/ [3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1389851/ [4] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/899621/ [5] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1120728/ [6] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/719232/


This article is written by Dhruvi Nipun Joshi of Kes'Shri Jayantilal H Patel law college.

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