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Defamation: Meaning, Essentials, Defences, and Position in India

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Defamation- "Free speech doesn't mean careless talk"

Haven't we often wondered while reading the news, or while watching any form of content on the internet or TV, whether, the plethora of false statements constantly made by various personalities, the various accusations, and other such verbal assault, punishable or not?

Well, the answer is YES. In legal terms, such actions are called Defamatory Remarks or Defamation. Let us understand what it means.


Any purposeful false communication, either composed or spoken, that harms an individual's standing, diminishes the regard, respect, or trust in which an individual is held, or prompts unfriendly or obnoxious sentiments or sentiments against an individual is called DEFAMATION.

Defamation is an injury to the standing of an individual. It is a wrong done by an individual to another's standing by words, composed or spoken, sign or other noticeable portrayals.

In the expressions of Dr. Winfield-

Defamation is the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of the society, generally or which tends to make them avoid that person.


A distributes an ad in a local newspaper expressing fake data that the organization of B has submitted extortion of Rs 20,00,000. Presently, this assertion will add up to defamation as this paper will be read by numerous readers and will doubtlessly harm the reputation of B's organization.


Generally, there are two kinds of defamation: Libel and Slander.

1. Libel

It refers to defamation made in some permanent form, for example in composed, printed, or comparable way. In this manner, it very well may be said that it will remain as long as the sculpture or picture remains on.

For an activity to be considered as a criticism the verification in conflict ought to be demonstrated as defamatory, false, disclosed, or recorded as a hard copy.

The remark that defamatory made ought to be straightforwardly or by implication alluded to the offended party. Moreover, this remark ought to likewise draw a sensible association between the remark and the individual.

Even though it's anything but fundamental that an individual ought to be named explicitly nor is the goal of that respondent. However, criticism can't be made against a class or a perished individual like specialists.

2. Slander

It refers to the form of defamation that is transient in nature, for example, oral criticism i.e defamation. Subsequently, for this situation, the impact of criticism is considered to remain alive for the time frame of remark or activity.

Slander is a common wrong, and exceptional harm must be demonstrated in instances of defamation. Slander can likewise occur such that will intently address defamation.

For instance, when you direct some abusive remarks to your representative who thusly types it's anything but a letterhead the correspondence that will occur for the third individual through the discourse.


There are three main essentials of Defamation:

1. The statement must be published:

The main fundamental of defamation is the distribution of the defamatory substance to an outsider. Except if there is a distribution of the assertion, no activity lies. Be that as it may, assuming a third individual improperly peruses a letter implied for the offended party, the respondent prone to be obligated.

However, if the defamatory letter shipped off the offended party is probably going to be perused by another person, there will be a legitimate distribution.

In the case of Mahendra Ram v. Hamandan Prasad, the respondent had sent a letter in Urdu regardless of knowing the way that the offended party couldn't understand Urdu and the letter would need to be in the long run perused by another person or an outsider. The respondent was expected to take responsibility for the offense of defamation.

2. The statement must be defamatory:

Defamation is a public correspondence that will in general harm the reputation of another. The type of articulations that are defamatory and the range of guards differs from purview, however, there is a normal arrangement in all wards that explanations that are unflattering, irritating, humiliating, or hurt one's sentiments are not noteworthy.

In the case of Ram Jethmalani v. Subramanian Swamy court held Dr. Swamy to be at risk for defaming Mr. Jethmalani by saying that he got cash from a prohibited association to ensure the then CM of Tamil Nadu on account of the death of Rajiv Gandhi.

In another new instance of Arun Jaitley v Arvind Kejriwal, the court held the articulation said by Arvind Kejriwal and his 5 different pioneers to be defamatory. Be that as it may, the matter was at long last revealed after every one of the litigants apologized for their activities.

3. The statement must refer to the plaintiff:

It ought to be demonstrated by the plaintiff that the assertion was focused on him. The expectation of the litigants is unimportant.

The inquiry whether the slanderous words alluded to the offended party is dictated by a goals test and the responsibility emerges if the words are truth be told, disparaging of the offended party, regardless of whether there has been a goal to allude to the offended party or carelessness, according to the reference to the offended party.

In the case of T.V. Ramasubha Iyer v. A.M.A Mohindeen, Court expected the defendants to take responsibility for distributing an assertion with no goal to stigmatize the litigants. The assertion referenced that a specific individual conveying business of Agarbathis to Ceylon has been captured for the offense of smuggling.

The offended party was likewise one of the individuals carrying on a comparable business, and because of this assertion, his standing was additionally seriously damaged.


It is difficult to assume that all the suits instituted for Defamation are successful, as, in several instances, the Court has also entertained certain defenses against such accusation. Some of the are discussed below-

1. Justification or Truth:

Truth is an outright safeguard. Assuming the explanation made is valid, it doesn't establish defamation. The weight of confirmation is on the respondent who is guaranteeing the protection.

For example, A says something in a meeting about B enjoying betting and B records a suit against him. On the off chance that A can legitimize or demonstrate it, B's case will be excused.

In Radheshyam Tiwari v. Eknath, the respondent couldn't demonstrate the realities distributed by him and accordingly was expected to take responsibility for defamation.

2. Fair comment:

Nothing is defamatory which is a fair comment in the issue of public interest. The respondent can benefit from this safeguard when he has only offered a reasonable remark in a question of public interest. Any reasonable and legit assessment on a question of public interest is likewise secured although it's anything evident.

The main principles identifying with the safeguard of fair comment have been expressed by Duncan and Neill as follows:

1. The comment should be a statement of assessment as opposed to a declaration of reality.
2. The comment should be reasonable without malice.
3. The matter commented upon should be of public interest.

3. Privilege:

This is additionally one of the central rules that there are conditions when freedom of speech has the privilege and regardless of whether it is defamatory it is ensured.

The people's right to reputation is subordinate to the advantage of the right to speak freely of discourse. This privilege might be; absolute or qualified.

  • Absolute privilege: It gives the individual an outright right to offer the expression regardless of whether it is defamatory, the individual is safe from responsibility emerging out of slander claim. It applies to Parliamentary Privilege, Judicial continuing, and State correspondence.

  • Qualified privilege: A qualified privilege may apply to the topic that is of public concern or is of adequate significance that conveying openly is basic. The proclamation must be more likely than not to be without malice. The defendant needs to demonstrate that assertion was made on a privileged event decently.


There is a qualification as the distribution between English and Indian Law. English Law treats libel, which is defamation through distribution in composed structure as wrongdoing yet not Criticism, which involves slander through distribution in verbally expressed words.

Under criminal law in the UK, just defamation is wrongdoing and under the law of misdeeds, slander will be noteworthy just if:

1. There is an attribution of a criminal offense to the offended party recording the suit.
2. There is an explanation that the complainant had an irresistible illness which further prompts society to keep away from him.
3. There is an abusive assertion concerning the inadequacy of an individual to the workplace, calling, exchange or business carried on by him, or
4. If an explanation alludes to a young lady/lady's infidelity or character.

Under the law followed in India, notwithstanding, dissimilar to English Law doesn't separate between libel and slander, and consequently, both are remembered for Section 499 and comprise the offense of defamation.


Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides that

"Whoever, by words either verbally expressed or proposed to be perused, or by signs or by noticeable portrayals, makes or distributes any ascription concerning any individual planning to mischief, or knowing or having the motivation to accept that such attribution will hurt, the standing of such individual, is said, besides in the cases hereinafter expected, to slander that individual."

Then again, the Indian Penal Code offers a chance to the defamed individual to likewise move a criminal court, requesting the last to take discernment from his objection. It's a bailable, non-cognizable, and compoundable offense, which implies no police can enlist a case and start examination without the court's consent.

Under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, an individual saw as blameworthy can be shipped off prison for a very long time. The Supreme Court has held it's anything but a grip of petitions testing the sacred legitimacy of the two correctional arrangements.

In a criminal suit, the complainant ought to have the option to demonstrate that the blamed expected to defame him. Without a goal, it must be set up that the supposed wrongdoer had information that the distribution was probably going to criticize the individual.

Ordinary remain of confirmation in criminal cases, which is to demonstrate the offense past a sensible uncertainty, should likewise be set under the steady gaze of the court.

Since the law is compoundable, a criminal court can drop the charges if the person in question and the denounced go into a trade-off with that impact (even without the consent of the court).

EXCEPTIONS to Section 499, IPC:

Even though the Indian law does not make a differentiation between Libel and Slander, there are, however, certain EXCEPTIONS to the application of this Section, and they are given as follows-

  1. Truth for the Public good.

  2. Fair analysis of Public workers.

  3. Fair comment on open direct of public men other than a community worker.

  4. Report of procedures of the court.

  5. Case remarks.

  6. Literary analysis.

  7. Censure by one in power.

  8. Complaint to power.

  9. Imputation for Protection of Interests.

  10. Caution in sincere trust.


Defamation- Landmark cases

Although Defamation is a concept in law, which in India is heavily divided between the Law of Torts and the Indian Penal Code as well. This phenomenon, however, has led to some interesting and landmark cases falling under this category of law. Some of those cases are discussed below-

1. G Narasimhan v. TV Chokkappa :

In the above-mentioned case, the Apex court saw that a defamatory assertion coordinated towards an affiliation or an organization will likewise cover the assortment of people.

In any case, the Hon'ble Court observed: "Such assortment of the individual should be a recognizable body so it is feasible to say that with definiteness that a gathering of specific people, as recognized from the remainder of the local area, was maligned.

Thusly, for the situation where clarification was turned to the character of the organization or the affiliation or the assortment of people should be set up to be relatable to the disparaging words or ascriptions.

Where composing denounces against humanity as a rule or a specific request of men it is no criticism. It should plunge to points of interest and people to make it defamation."

2. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India

This is a landmark case where the Supreme Court, after upholding the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) and held that the law on Censorship passed by the Central legislature was unconstitutional.

Any law seeking to impose a restriction on the freedom of speech can only pass muster,” wrote Justice Nariman, “if it is proximately related to any of the eight subject matters set out in Article 19(2).

It held that online intermediaries would only be obligated to take down content on receiving an order from a court or government authority. The case is considered a watershed moment for online free speech in India

3. T.J. Ponnen v. M..C. Verghese

In the above case, the court held that a letter sent by a spouse to his better half which contains disparaging about the father-in-law does isn't an instance of criticism. It's anything but a special correspondence between the life partners according to Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

4. Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India

In the case of Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, a request concerning the decriminalization of slander was recorded. The request tested the established legitimacy of Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a nonsensical limitation on the ability to speak freely and articulation.

The pinnacle court held that criminal slander under Sections 499 and 500 didn't abuse Article 19(1)(a) as it's anything but a sensible limitation under Article 19(2). The term 'slander' in Article 19(2) incorporates both common and criminal maligning.

Sections 499 and 500, IPC 1860, were held to be non-biased and non-discretionary and not violative of the right to correspondence ensured under Article 14 of the Constitution.

While in a majority rules system an individual has an option to censure and difference, however his right under Article 19(1)(a) isn't total and he can't malign someone else as that would annoy the casualty's key right to notoriety which is an indispensable piece of Article 21 of the Constitution.

5. Gorantla Venkateshwarlu v. B. Demudu

In the above case, the respondent was a bank official and was sent on assignment to function as the Managing Director of Co-usable society.

The litigant, the President of Society sent a grumbling to the Bank charging that the respondent had illegal associations with women which influenced the picture of the general public during his residency as the Managing Director.

The respondent sent an answer denying the charges made against him. The branch administrator of the bank directed a request and discovered that the claims were bogus and were made uniquely to see that the respondent isn't deputed to review the issues of the general public.

The respondent instituted a suit of slander guaranteeing harms of Rs. 20,000. The court held that the claims were as such abusive and the litigant was at risk to pay damages.

In any case, the court considered the way that the charges were spread the word about just to staff and the Bank and there was no wide exposure, so the appealing party was obligated to pay Rs. 5000 as harm.


Thus, till now we have come to understand the meaning of Defamation, the various necessities that constitute a suit for Defamation, various defenses available against a suit of defamation, and the position of the law of defamation in India.

Besides the above, we have also discussed some important cases related to defamation to better understand the theories and concepts we have discussed above.

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