All about defamation and its exceptions and types

All about defamation and its exceptions and types


What is defamation under section 499 of IPC?
Essential elements of defamation
Types of Defamation
Punishment for Defamation under Section 500 IPC
Landmark Judgements


One may not be oblivious that the right to freedom of speech and expression is highly valued and cherished, but the Constitution envisions reasonable restrictions. Criminal defamation in the context that exists in the form of Sections 499 and 500 IPC not prohibiting free speech can be described as inconsistent. Freedom of expression cannot mean that one citizen can defame another. It is a fundamental right to protect the reputation. It is also a human right. Cumulatively it serves the social interest.

Many demands are being made saying that defamation is only civil wrong. The misuse of defamation laws on a large scale, especially by the activists and leaders of political parties, is a grave concern nowadays. Many cases are being registered based on statements made in the press by political leaders. Such complainants claim to be an 'aggrieved person,' hurt by statements made by a political or social leader against their so-called leader or mentor.

Defamation as an offense is dealt with in section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. The main paragraph of the section defines what defamation is. In short, it is an action that harms a person's reputation by accusing him. The two Explanations to the section (1st and 2nd) pertain to defamation of a deceased person and defamation of a group of persons, respectively. The third explanation for the clause relates to slander as a substitute, or irony, expressed. The meaning of damage to reputation is explained in the fourth interpretation.

The Bhagavad Gita states that "defamation is worse than death" to a man of honor. Reputation is considered a significant characteristic of dignity and is guaranteed under Article 21.
A person's reputation is treated as his property, and if someone causes damage to his property, he is liable under the law. Defamation means publishing defamatory material, which can damage a person's reputation in the eyes of an ordinary person. The defamatory statement can be oral or in writing. Any untrue and false statement, published orally or in writing, which harms or diminishes the honor, and reputation of any person or gives rise to a defamatory, hostile or unpleasant opinion against any person, shall be treated as defamation is believed.

What is defamation under section 499 of IPC?

Defamation is defined in section 499 of IPC. According to this section, any person who makes or publishes any false allegation or allegation relating to any person, either by spoken or written words or by signs or visual representation, is said to defame that person. However, it must be done to damage the person's reputation against whom the allegation is made. It includes four interpretations and ten exceptions.
In Scott v Sampson, 1882, Justice Kew defined defamation as a false statement made about a person by his defamation.

Further, any allegation or allegation made against a deceased person shall amount to defamation if it causes damage to the reputation of that person if he is alive or to the members of his family. And if any allegation or allegation is made relating to any company or association or collection of persons, then it may also amount to defamation.

Essential elements of defamation:

Section 499 binds three essential elements for the offense of defamation under IPC.

  • An allegation or charge must be made of causing harm to the person against whom it is made.
  • Such an allegation or charge must be made:

           o   Words, either spoken or written or
           o    Signs; or
           o    Visible representations.

  • Making or publishing such imputation or allegation.

The intention behind such imputation may be to cause harm or to cause to believe that it would damage the reputation of such person.

The statement must be defamatory:

The statement made should be treated as derogatory. The types of defamatory expressions and the category of guards differ by scope. However, there is a general arrangement among all wards that offensive, disturbing, insulting, or hurtful explanations of one's feelings are not noteworthy.

The plaintiff must be mentioned in the statement:

While filing a defamation case, the claimant's burden is to prove that the defamatory statement is aimed at him. It must be targeted to defame a particular individual or group to defame a statement. Words like 'all' or 'many' do not target an individual, and hence statements like "all politicians are corrupt" would not be considered defamatory.

The statement must be published:

The main ground of defamation is the distribution of defamatory substance to an outsider. Except if there is a distribution of the assertion, then no activity is implied. If the third person wrongly reads or sees a defamatory statement intended for the plaintiff, and the defendant knew that someone other than the plaintiff could see or hear it, it would be defamation.

Explanation 1: If the imputation hurts a living person's reputation and intends to hurt the feelings of his family or any near relative, the imputation of anything on a deceased person may amount to defamation.

Explanation 2: The allegation regarding any company or association or collection of persons may amount to defamation.

Explanation 3: Allegations expressed either alternatively or ironically may amount to defamation.

Explanation 4: No stigma shall cause damage to the reputation of any person, so long as it does not diminish the moral or intellectual character of any person or their character in relation to caste or society directly or indirectly calls.

Types of Defamation:


  • It refers to defamation committed in a permanent form, composed, printed, or comparable manner. Thus, it can very well be said that it will remain so long as the idol or picture remains.
  • For an activity to be considered criticism, the verification in opposition must be recorded as defamatory, untrue, overt, or hard copy. 
  • The defamatory remark must be made directly or with an implication pointed to the offending party. Furthermore, this comment should create a sensible connection between the comment and the person.
  • Even though it is fundamental that a person's name should be explicitly stated, neither is the goal of that defendant. However, criticism cannot be made against a class or a mortal such as experts.


  • It refers to that form of defamation that is transient, for example, verbal criticism, i.e., slander. 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 in defamation cases, extraordinary damages must be demonstrated. Slander can be similar to what would deliberately address defamation.
  • For example, when you make some derogatory remark to your representative, who types it as anything other than a letterhead, that would be to a third person via correspondence.

Exceptions of Defamation

Section 499 also covers certain circumstances under which a false statement against another person does not amount to defamation. The following circumstances are exceptions to defamation:

  • Allegation of truth is required to make or publish a public object.
  • Public Conduct of Public Servants.
  • Conduct of any person approaching any general question.
  • Publication of reports of proceedings of courts.
  • An unrestricted statement is required on the merits of a case decided in court or the conduct of witnesses and others relating to the case.
  • Merits of Public Display.
  • Condemned in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another.
  • The allegation is wanted in good faith to the authorized person.
  • A person makes imputations in good faith to defend himself or the interests of others.
  • Caution Intended for the Good of a Person to Whom Conveyed or the Public Good.

1. Allegation of truth required to make or publish a public object:
If a true allegation or allegation pertains to a person, it does not amount to defamation. The point to be noted here is that, first of all, the information must be true. Second, the information should be such that it benefits the public. Also, it is mandatory to publish that information.

2. Public Conduct of Public Servants: 

When an opinion is expressed in good faith respecting the conduct of public servants in the discharge of their ordinary functions, it does not constitute defamation. It should be noted that any such comments or views expressed must be made in good faith. If it has been made maliciously or maliciously, it will be considered an act of defamation. Any opinion criticizing the conduct, character, or discharge of functions of a public servant must be fair and honest. Otherwise, it will be treated as an offense of defamation.

3. Conduct of any person approaching any general question: 

When an opinion is expressed in good faith concerning the conduct of any person coming to a public question or discharging public functions, it does not amount to defamation. For example, the act of campaigners participating in politics or taking part in other public affairs in good faith does not amount to defamation.

4. Publication of reports of proceedings of courts:
The publication of a sufficiently authentic report of any court proceedings or the result of any such proceeding does not amount to defamation.

5. An unrestricted statement is required on the merits of a case decided in court or the conduct of witnesses and others relating to the case:
The courts' decisions, the decisions of the jury, and the actions of the parties and witnesses. Therefore, it is not defamation if any opinion is expressed as to the merits of a case decided by a court of justice or by the conduct of the parties and witnesses.

6. Merits of Public Display:
This exception includes criticism of a published book on literature, art, singing, etc. It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion about the merits of any performance, which its author has submitted for the public to judge.

7. Condemned in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another:
When a person places a right on another person by law or by law or by contract, which, in good faith, condemns that person's conduct, it does not amount to defamation.

8. The allegation wanted in good faith to the authorized person: 

When a person with lawful authority over another person alleges, he shall not be liable for defamation. However, the complaint must be genuine. Further, allegations in newspapers do not fall under this section.

9. Imputation made by a person in good faith to defend himself or the interests of others: 

This exception applies when a defamatory statement is made against a person to protect the interests of the person who made it.

10. Caution intended for the good of any person or the public good:
Any notice or warning given in good faith from person to person or for the public good does not amount to defamation.

Punishment for Defamation under Section 500 IPC:

Punishment for defamation is enshrined under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code. According to this section, the punishment for defamation is simple imprisonment for a term that may extend to two years, with a fine, or with both.

Landmark Judgements:

Case: Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India 

This is a landmark case where the Supreme Court upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), holding that the law on censorship passed by the central legislature is unconstitutional. Justice Nariman wrote, "Any law which seeks to impose restrictions on the freedom of expression can only be passed" if it relates to any of the eight subjects prescribed in Article 19(2). It was held that online intermediaries would be bound to remove the content only after obtaining an order from a government authority or court. The matter is considered a pivotal moment for online free speech in India.

Case: Subramanian Swamy Vs. Union of India
 In the case of Subramanian Swamy v Union of India, a request was filed regarding the acquittal of slander. The request, which tested the established validity of Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, is a nonsensical limitation on the ability to speak and express freely. The apex court held that criminal slander under Sections 499 and 500 did not constitute an abuse of Article 19(1)(a) as it is anything other than a sensible limit under Article 19(2). In Article 19(2),' slander' includes general and criminal mischief. Sections 499 and 500, IPC 1860, were non-partisan and non-discretionary and did not violate the right to correspondence guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution. Whereas in the majority rule system, a person has the option of condemnation and dissent, though his right under the Indian Constitution Article 19(1)(a) is not absolute, and he cannot accuse anyone else's image as it would hurt the right of the notoriety of the casualty, which is an essential part of Article 21 of the Constitution.


It is said that one person's rights end where the rights of another person start taking effect. The purpose of defamation law is to protect the individual’s reputation. Its central problem is how to combine this objective with the competing demands for free speech. Since these interests are highly valued in our society, the first is perhaps the most cherished quality of a civilized human being. In contrast, the second is the foundation of a democratic society. The top court gave the petitioner an interim time of eight weeks which they can challenge. The Constitution of India has given certain rights to the citizens, and they should make limited use of them so that they do not obstruct the rights of others. The right to freedom of speech and expression has a limitation governed by defamation provisions.

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