Details of Defamation Law in India by Krishna Sreeja @LEXCLIQ

Article 19 of the de Indian constitution grants various freedoms to its citizens. However, Article 19(2) has imposed reasonable exemptions to Freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19(1)(a). Contempt of court, Defamation and incitement to an offence are some exceptions.

Defamation – “Any type of deliberate false communication, either written or can spoken, that can harm a person’s reputation or decrease the respect, regard or confidence of a person; or induces disparaging, or a hostile or disagreeable opinion or feeling against a person is known as Defamation”.

History of defamation can be traced in Roman  law and German law. Abusive chants were  capitally punishable in Roman. In early English and German law, insults were punished by cutting out the tongue. In the late 18th century, only imputation of crime social disease or casting aspersion on professional competence constituted slander in England. In Italy, defamation is criminally punishable and truth seldom excuses defamation.


  • Statement must be defamatory.
  • The said statement must refer to the plaintiff.
  • The statement must be published i.e., communicated to at least one person, other than the claimant.

For historical reasons, defamation can be divided into the following categories

  • Libel – Representation in a permanent form, eg., writing, printing
  • Slander Depiction in transient form. It is basically through words spoken or gestures.

But, in India, there is no such distinction between is libel and slander. Both libel and slander are criminal offence. For better understanding, it can be divided into two categories:

  1. 1. Criminal
  2. 2. Civil

Defamation as a Crime :

Under the Criminal law, Defamation is bailable, non-cognizable offence and compoundable offence. Hence a policeman may arrest only with an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate.

But under a criminal suit, intention to defame is necessary. The allegation should be made with malice intent to defame another or at least the knowledge that the publication is likely to defame another is essential. It has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the act was being done to lower the reputation of another.

According to Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, words or signs imputed intending to harm or with the knowledge that such imputation will cause harm. It may amount to defamation if anything is imputed against the deceased and it  causes harm to the reputation of his/her related persons who are in alive. It is no Defamation unless the alleged defamatory statement either directly or indirectly lowers the moral or intellectual character or his calling in estimation of others.

Exceptions provided in Section 499 of 1PC are:

  • Truth is seldom defense unless made for a public good.
  • Opinions made in good faith.
  • Censures passed by persons neither having authority over another either conferred by a law or from a lawful contract in good faith is nor defamation
  • Cautions conveyed to one person against another are not defamation if it is intended for the good of the conveyed person, or any other, or for public good.

Section 500 of the IPC punishes defamation if it does not fall within the above said exceptions with simple imprisonment which may extend to 2 years or fine, or both.

Civil defamation: 

As far as defamation under tort law is concerned, as a general rule, the focus is on liber (i.e., written defamation) and not on slander (i.e. spoken defamation).

In order to establish that a statement is libelous, it must be proved that it is (I) false, (II) written, (III) defamatory, and (IV) punished.

The statements made, need to be false and it must be made without the consent of the alleged defamed person. Monetary compensation can be claimed from the defendant for defamation. There Once, all the essential characteristics of defamation are satisfied, a successful defamation suit subsists.

  • The defendant can plead defense that:
  • The statement published was true.
  • Fair comments made with public interest based on true incidents.
  •  Certain persons are vested with the privilege to make statements, even if they are defamatory, example judicial proceedings and members of parliament.

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