Defamation is the act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person when observed through the eyes of ordinary man. Any false and unprivileged statement published or spoken deliberately, intentionally, knowingly with the intention to damage someone’s reputation is defamation. A man’s reputation is treated as his property and such damage are punishable by law. It could be written or verbal. Written defamation, printed or typed material or images is called as libel and spoken defamation is called slander.
According to section 499 of IPC, whoever, 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, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person. Section 499 also cites exceptions.
These include “imputation of truth” which is required for the “public good” and thus has to be published, on the public conduct of government officials, the conduct of any person touching any public question and merits of the public performance. Section 500, which is on punishment for defamation, reads: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” In India, defamation is both civil and criminal offence. The remedy for civil defamation is covered under the Law of Torts. In a civil defamation case, a person who is defamed can move either High Court or subordinate courts and seek damages in the form of monetary compensation from the accused. Also, under sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, a person guilty of criminal defamation can be sent to jail for two years.
Controversies have erupted over the fact that defamation laws are violation of fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution. The Supreme Court has ruled that the criminal provisions of defamation are constitutionally valid and are not in conflict with the right to free speech. The court also held that the freedom of speech and expression is “absolutely sacrosanct” and is not absolute. The right to life under Article 21 shall also include the right to reputation of a person and cannot be allowed to crucify by other’s right of free speech.
In D.P.Choudhary v/s. Manjulatha, a publication was made in the local newspaper, Dainik Navjyothi that the plaintiff a 17 year old college girl ran away with a boy after she went out of the house by saying she was having lectures. This false news item had adverse effects on her and ruined her marriage prospects. It was actionable per se and she was awarded damages of Rs.10000/- by way of general damages. In Mahendra Ram Vs. Harnandan Prasad, a letter written in Urdu was sent to the plaintiff. Therefore he needed another person to read it to him. It was held that since the defendant knew the plaintiff does not know Urdu and he needs assistance, the act of defendant amounted to defamation. In T.V.Ramasubha Iyer Vs. A.M.A.Mohideen, defendants published a statement without any intention to defame the defendants. It related to a particular person carrying on business of Agarbathis to Ceylon has been arrested for the offence of smuggling. The plaintiff was also a person carrying on similar business and since his reputation was damaged, the court awarded him damages. In Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India, it is a landmark judgement regarding internet defamation. It held unconstitutional the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which punishes for sending offensive messages through communication services.
The Supreme Court ruled that the criminal provisions of defamation are constitutionally valid and are not in conflict with the right to free speech. The court stated that notwithstanding the expansive and sweeping ambit of freedom of speech, like all rights, the right to freedom of speech and expression is “absolutely sacrosanct” but “is not absolute.” It is subject to the imposition of reasonable restrictions. It also said that the reputation of a person is an integral part of the right to life granted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of the other’s right of free speech.
Intentional act of defamation is also punished with imprisonment which prohibits defaming a person with malice intention. The defamation law is also constitutional and is reasonable restriction on the right to free speech and expression. However, it is no defamation if the acts done fall within the exceptions provided. Over the seventy one years of Independence, there are has been numerous cases of defamation and the court has interpreted each and every case with utmost care and they serve as precedents. Reputation is an asset to each and every one. Any damage to such asset can be legally dealt with. Defamation laws have been enacted to prevent person maliciously using their right to freedom of speech and expression. The Indian law has rightly not made any distinction between libel and slander. Otherwise there could have been chances for committing slander and escaping from the laws that there is no written publication of matter.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge