Defamation as a crime under Indian Penal Code

Section 499 – 502 of Indian Penal Code deals with the defamation. Offence of defamation can be dealt both under the law of crimes as well as under Law of Torts. Criminal nature of defamation is defined under Section 499 of Indian Penal Code and Section 500 provides the punishment for such offence.

Bare reading of section 499 it becomes clear that any person by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm the reputation of such person is said to defame that person. Section 499 is followed by 4 Explanations and 10 Exceptions.

The essence of the offence of defamation under the provisions of Indian Penal Code is the publication of the defamatory statement ((Baburao Shankarrao v. Shaikh Biban Baban Pahelwan, 1984 Cri LJ 350)). It may be either libel or slander.

If publication of truth is in public interest it would not be a defamation, but if it has nothing to do with public interest and relates to privacy of an individual then it would certainly be defamatory ((Abk Prasad v Union Of India, 2002 (3) ALT 332)).

Exception 8 to Section 499 clearly indicates that it is not a defamation to prefer in good faith an accusation against any person to any of those who have lawful authority over that person with regard to the subject- matter of accusation ((AS Sree Nandhini v R Uthaman, decided on November 27, 2014, Madras High Court)).

General law relating to defamation is to be found in the operative part of Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code and various exceptions which only carve out the circumstances in which the act of the accused, which was otherwise defamatory, would not amount to defamation within the meaning of the section. The onus of proving these circumstances must, therefore, be borne and discharged by the accused himself and it is not the function of the prosecution to prove that no such circumstance exists ((Baburao Shankarrao v. Shaikh Biban Baban Pahelwan, 1984 Cri LJ 350)).

The question came before the Andhra Pradesh High Court ((Abk Prasad v Union Of India, 2002 (3) ALT 332))was that, whether Section 499 and Section 500 violates any principles on which our democratic set up rests, especially, whether it violates Article 19 of the Indian Constitution.

Decency and defamation are two of the grounds mentioned in clause (2). Law of torts providing for damages for invasion of the right to privacy and defamation and Sections 499/500 IPC are the existing laws saved under Article 19(2), and court held that, defamation is one of the exceptions created under Article 19(2) of the Constitution, therefore, Section 499 or 500 does not suffers from any Constitutional infirmity.

Hence, Sections 499 and 500 are not in violation of any principles on which our democratic set up rests. Truth is an exception to the law of defamation. By virtue of Section 500 of Indian Penal Code, whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.