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Defamation is defined under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. It is the act of harming the reputation of another person through spoken or written words.

Defamation is the act of making untrue statements about someone, that can damage their reputation. It is based on false information circulated to harm a person’s reputation, decrease their respect, or induce negative feelings against them. In India, criminal defamation is punishable under the civil and criminal law. 


The meaning of defamation is stated under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. A person is said to defame someone if he/she harms his/her reputation by communicating false statements through spoken or written words, pictures, or signs. 

According to the law, defamation is of two types:

  • When defamation is in the spoken form, it is called slander.
  • When it is in written form, it is called libel. 

Under the Indian civil law, a person can move to court against any individual who has defamed them and seek compensation for the damages from the accused. 

Origin of Criminal Defamation 

The concept of criminal defamation originated in the ancient Roman Empire. The Romans used rough and chastening techniques to control people from slandering each other. According to “The Praetorian Edict,” action could be brought up against someone who used abusive words against another. The acts of the accused were punishable by death. In early English and Germanic law, a person who insulted another was punished by having their tongue cut out. 

The practice of punishing the act of defamation was also prevalent in ancient India. According to the Gautama Dharma Sutra, a shudra who intentionally abuses a member of the twice-born caste is to be punished by depriving him of the limb with which he offends.


In India, criminal defamation can be civil or criminally punishable under Section 500 Indian Penal Code, 1860. According to the section, a person who has been found guilty of defamation shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine, or both.

Requirements to Prove Defamation 

The following requirements need to be met in the court of law for an accused to be punished for defamation:

  • Statement: The victim must produce a statement expressed in words spoken or written, pictures, or through gestures.
  • Publication: It must be proved that the defamatory statement was seen, heard, or read by a third party. The statement must be published because if there is no publication, there is no harm to the victim’s reputation.
  • Injury: The victim has to prove that the statement caused damage or harm to their reputation. Due to the statement, other people now see them in a  negative light, or with hate and disrespect.
  • False Facts: It has to be proved that the defamatory statement comprises incorrect or false information regarding the victim. It is essential to prove this because if the information is true, the statement does not amount to defamation. 
  • The Accused’s Intention: It has to be shown that the accused knew that other people would believe the statement, and it would cause injury to the reputation of the person defamed.
  • Unprivileged: It has to be proven in court that the accused is unprivileged and can be sued for the offence of defamation.

Defences against defamation  

According to law, not all statements that lead to loss of reputation amount to defamation. Thus, certain defences are available to the accused if wrongfully accused of defamation. These are:

  • Justification by truth: In the eyes of the law, truth is a complete defence. If the statement published by the accused comprises accurate information, then it does not amount to defamation. The burden to prove the validity of the statement lies with the accused. 
  • Fair and bonafide comment: A statement does not amount to defamation if made in a fair and bonafide manner in the general public’s interest. The important requirements of a fair and bonafide comment are:
    • That it should be based on facts.
    • Although based on facts, it should not be a statement of fact but a comment or criticism.
    • It should be on a matter of public interest
    • Iit should be fair and honest
  •  Privileged Comment: According to the law, certain statements are considered privileged and do not come under criminal defamation. Privilege is of two types: 
    • Absolute Privilege: It gives a person to make any statement even if it is defamatory. Such privilege includes remarks made during judicial or parliamentary proceedings, political speeches, and communication between spouses. 
    • Qualified Privilege: It is a situation where a person has a legal, social or moral duty to make a statement. For example, statements made during police inquiry or while giving a reference for a candidate for the purpose of employment do not amount to defamation.
  • Statement of Opinion: A statement is not considered defamatory if it merely expresses an opinion. For instance, a person may express his critical opinion about an author’s writing style. While doing so, it does not amount to defamation. 

Freedom of Speech and Reasonable Restriction 

All citizens have the right to the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, 1950. Freedom of speech is the foremost pillar of a democratic nation. It enables the proper functioning of the democratic process.

The laws relating to criminal defamation are against the right to free expression. They lead to harsh punishment, such as imprisonment or a hefty monetary compensation. The law of defamation was challenged in the case of Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India. It was argued that defamation was an unreasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. 

However, the Supreme Court held that defamation did not violate Article 19(1)(a) as it is a reasonable restriction, and it was not discriminatory or arbitrary. It is a critical restriction to protect the dignity and reputation of a person under Article 21 of the Constitution.


Defamation is civil and criminally wrong which leads to injuring a person’s reputation. The criminal defamation law allows the victim to take action against those who issue false and malicious statements against them, intending to harm their reputation and respect. Although it restricts a person’s right to freedom of speech and expression, people must be restrained from exercising this right and harming another person’s reputation.


Frequently asked questions

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What is defamation?

Ans. Defamation is the act of harming a person’s reputation by circulating false statements through spoken...Read full

Is defamation punishable?

Ans. Defamation is punishable under both civil and criminal law. Under the criminal law, it is punishable ac...Read full

How is libel different from slander?

Ans. Libel and slander are types of defamation. Spoken defamation is called slander, while written or printe...Read full