Defamation under the Indian Penal Code, 1860


Defamation is the term which describes offence regarding harm caused to the reputation of any person resulted from the statement of another person which is untrue. There is a phrase which is most commonly used in respect of harm, that is the harm caused to the physical health of any person may recover easily but the harm caused to the mental health of any person is very difficult to recover or may unforgettable and uneasy to make recovery. The reputation of the person seems to be like a property of such person and if any other person harms the property of any person shall be liable for such harm. Hence, under the provisions of Indian Penal code, 1860, a person who causes the damage to the reputation of any person shall be liable and punishable for it.


Defamation is defined under section 499 of IPC and punishment for committing the defamation is given under section 500. Defamation is a civil wrong under the law of torts as well as a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code. Every person builds up their image or reputation, it takes many years to make form a good and valuable reputation which is more than money. Therefore, IPC protects such offence.

Section 499 of Chapter 21 of the IPC defines defamation, it states that any person said to commit defamation if he conducts any statement or publication by following ways: Stating words through writing, oral presentation of the statement, stating by sign or visible representation, making or publishing any imputation regarding any other person.

Also, that statement conducting by such person consisting the intention of harming the reputation of the other person for whom he stated or published before the public or third person, by knowing or having reason to believe that such statement or publication shall injure or destroy the reputation of that person.


Section 199 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 plays a very important role in the aspect of defamation, this section provides that no court shall accept the cognizance of the offence or judicial notice which is contained under chapter 21 of the Indian Penal code, 1860 (chapter 21 consists section 499,500, etc regarding defamation) until and unless it involves the complaints to the court against such offence by the aggrieved party. In the case of Subramanian Swami vs UOI Ministry of law, 2016, the constitutional validity of section 499, 500 of IPC and section 199 of the CrPC were challenged. In this case, constitutional validity was upheld for the offence of criminal defamation. It was laid that section 499 and 500 of the IPC is a reasonable restriction on the right to freedom of speech and expression.


There are some of the essentials which are mandatory to be present in the statement so that it could be called defamation. Here, there are various components which are required to be there in the statement for calling it defamation, are as follows:

The statement should involve the defamatory part within it:  The statement used by any person who tends to defame the other person must contain the quality of harming the reputation within such a statement. The statement must cause harm to the respect and reputation of the other person. For defamation, the statement stated by the defendant must consist of the elements which injure the reputation. Also if any person by stating any defamatory statements says that he was not in the intention of harming any person but still the statement belongs to him contains the feeling of hatred, dislike, and contempt. Such statement must lower the reputation before the public.

In the case of Ram Jethmalani vs Subramanian Swami,2006, the court held that Dr Swami shall be liable for the defamation as he defamed Mr Jethmalani by stating that he had taken money from a banned organization to provide security to the then CM of Tamil Nadu in the case of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Also in the recent case, Arun Jaitley vs Arvind Kejriwal, 2018, the court held Arvind  Kejriwal and 5 other leaders liable for defamation for stating the defamatory statement, This matter, however, at last, was disclosed after all the defendants apologised for their actions.

Knowledge and reason to believe: The person who belongs to the defamatory statement or who stated such statement must have the knowledge what he is stating or he must have the reason to believe what he is stating. He must have the knowledge what he is saying or publishing whether he intentionally tries to harm the plaintiff or not.

In the case of T.V Ramasubha Iyer vs AMA Mohindeen, the court held that if damage caused to the plaintiff by any statement published with intention or not shall be entitled to get compensation and justice. In this case, the defendant was held liable for defamation, he had published a statement that persons carrying business of Agarbatti to Ceylon had been arrested in case of Smuggling and plaintiff belongs to one of such business and suffered damage to his reputation due to such false statement

Statement regarding plaintiff: The defamatory statement must be referred to the plaintiff, it must be regarding the plaintiff. The statement must include the plaintiff as a subject. For charging defamation, the plaintiff had to prove that said statement belongs to him and causing harm to his reputation.

For an instance, If D is a person who publicly stated that parlour in the ABC locality provides very poor service. M is one of the reputed parlours in the ABC locality, suffered loss of its customers due to such defamatory statement said by D.

Publication must be held: It is mandatory to the statement which belongs to defamation positioned before the third person. The defamatory statement must be kept in the knowledge of the public or third person. It is necessary to make the defendant liable that statement is published. This is also the main component that the defamatory statement must be held before the public or the third person excluding the person who is defamed.

In the case of Mahendra Ram vs Harnandan Prasad, the court laid down that the defendant shall be liable for sending a letter containing defamatory statements against the plaintiff. The defendant held liable for defamation as he sent a letter written in the Urdu language which contained defamatory statements against the plaintiff, also wherein the plaintiff was not knowing such language.


Indian Penal code, 1860 provides punishment for defamation under its section 500, 501, 502. Any person who commits the offence named as defamation or defames any other person shall be punished under this section.

Section 500: This section of IPC deals with the punishment for defamation. According to this section, any person who commits defamation shall be liable for the punishment of simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both. In the case of  Indrajit Lankesh vs K.T Dhanu Kumar (2015), the supreme court laid down a condition for accused that if accused satisfies the condition contained in section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 then he cannot be made accused in the complaint under Section 500 of IPC.


Section 501: This section states the liability of editors and others. This section deals with the punishment and liability of the person who prints or engraves any kind of article or any matter consisting the defamatory part with the knowledge that such includes the defamatory part or having a good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory. And therefore, according to this section, such person shall be punished under this section and shall be liable for simple imprisonment of 2 years or with fine or both.

Section 502: This section deals with the liability and punishment of the seller who sells the defamatory matter or matter containing defamatory part. This section provides that any person who sells the matter containing the defamatory matter whether it is printed or engraved, also such person knows or knows that the matter which is selling contains defamatory part shall be punished with 2 years simple imprisonment or with fine or with both.


Defamation refers to harm the reputation which may be committed through 3 ways, there are 3 types of defamation exists such as Slander, Libel and Innuendo. There are 3 forms of defamation are very different and varies from each other.


This is the form of defamation which refers to any defamatory statements that have taken place orally. It is the oral form of defamation, it is temporary as the words of defamatory statements spoken before the public for a limited duration of time.


This is the form of defamation which refers to any defamatory statements that have taken place in the written form. It includes any representative form which indicates the defamatory statement or imputation in the written state. This is permanent because the defamatory statement is in written form such printed matter, sign, or symbol in the article, advertisement in newspapers, any letters containing defamatory matter, etc, hence these were some example of Libel. In the case of Hirabai Jehangir vs Dinshawdily, the high court of Bombay and Madras laid down that no variation requires to be made between entertaining Libel and Slander as criminal offences.

Innuendo: It is a kind of criminal defamation in which an imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically, it is a clever way to speak negative sentences way in a very opposite and sarcastic way, which may appear to be positive at the surface of it.

For example, ‘A’ works with ‘B’ and ‘C’ in a company, ‘A’s mobile was stolen suddenly ‘C’ laid down the statement by saying ‘B’ is a very honest man, he could never steal anything of anyone. In this way, he stated which was at first instance may be innocent, but it can be defamatory if the person to whom it was made, explains that ‘B’ is very dishonest and has stolen the watch of ‘A’.


Any statement contained defamatory matter stated by any person leads to defamation but there are some exceptions of defamation. There are some situations or circumstances consist of defamatory statements not leads to defamation. In other words, there are 10 defences which are used in the case of defamation are provided under section 499, so here are some exceptions as follows here;

Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published- The statement which is imputing any person but such statement involves truth as well as such statement needs to be published or made for the public good, shall not be the defamation.

Public conduct of public servants- Any opinion which is expressed with the intention of good faith about the public function provided by the public servants or respecting his character whatever appeared, shall not be the defamation.

Conduct of any person touching any public questions- Any opinion which is expressed by any person with the good faith about any other person who raised any public questions, shall not be the defamation.

Publication of reports of proceedings of courts- Anything which is published by any person involving true reports or any results or consequences of the court of justice or judicial proceedings, shall not be the defamation.

The merit of the case decided in court or conduct of witnesses and other concerned- Any opinion which is expressed by any person with the good faith, opinion consists the merit of any court involving civil or criminal cases that have been decided by the court of justice in respecting the conduct of any person as a party, shall not be the defamation.

The merit of public performance- Any opinion which is expressed by any person with the good faith regarding literary criticism or the merits of any performance given by the authors in respect of submitting the judgement of the public, shall not lead to defamation.

Censure passed in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another- Any opinion expressed with the good faith having the lawful authority over any other person for which the opinion is expressed, shall not lead to the defamation.

Accusation preferred in good faith to authorized person- Any accusation expressed in good faith by any person consisting the lawful authority over the person for which such accusations stated concerning the subject matter of accusations, shall not be the defamation.

Imputation made in good faith by the person for the protection of his or other’s interests- Any person making accusations or any imputation on the character of any other person in the good faith concerning his interest.

Caution intended for good of a person to whom conveyed or for the public good- Any person who conveys any caution in the good faith to the other person whom he is interested for good of that person or public good.


Defamation is something which is concerned with causing harm to the reputation or image of any person. Defamation includes 3 types of form such as libel, slander and Innuendo. Under IPC, chapter 21 provides section 499 containing the definition of defamation, section 500,501,502 deals with the punishment and liability of the person who defames, sells the defamatory matter, prints or makes such defamatory matter. However, there are ten exceptions which are given under section 499, which contains the opinion or statements that do not report to defamation.

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