The most famous defamation case in India currently is filed by ex-union minister MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani. Priya Ramani had accused MJ Akbar of sexual misconduct. Consequently, MJ Akbar filed a defamation lawsuit against her under Section 499 of the IPC. He termed the sexual harassment charges levelled against him as “false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous.” Ramani had pleaded not guilty to the defamation case. You can read more about the defamation lawsuit here. The verdict of the case is still not out. Until then lets read more about the defamation law in India.
We can define defamation as the act of maligning the good reputation of someone by slander. Slander may be done via writing, publication or speaking of a false statement causing harm to a person’s reputation. There is strict defamation law in India which help to prevent people from making fraudulent claims.
What is Defamation Law?
Indian citizens have the inherent advantage to Right to reputation. Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India backs the Right to freedom of expression. But it is not absolute and has reasonable restrictions for exercising rights in the matters of the security of the country, relations with foreign countries, defamation, etc. Only Defamation Law in India protects an individual’s interest and character.
Defamation in India can be either a criminal or civil offence. If it is a civil offence, then the person filing the case can move to either the high court or trial court. They can seek damages from the accused via a financial compensation. It is studied under the law of torts, i.e. civil wrong.
The IPC allows the defamed person to move to a criminal court. The criminal offence is bailable, non-cognizable and compoundable. This means that the police cannot arrest the accused without a warrant and the victim and accused can settle out of the court. This is studied under IPC as a criminal act.
So, What comes under defamation and what does not?
When someone speaks or writes or publishes false statements about an individual it is defamation. It must be false and injure directly or indirectly the reputation of an individual or their family members or caste. The court also considers statements to be defamatory if it lowers the morale of the victim.
But, the government doesn’t consider the following statements as defamation:
- Truth statements made in public interest
- Opinions are given by the public about the conduct of a public servant with regards to the discharge of their functions
- Any opinion expressed in good faith while respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question, and respecting his character, so far as his character appears in that conduct
- Printing of any proceedings of courts of justice including any trial of court and judgment
- Merits of the case decided in court or the conduct of witnesses
- A person having authority over another can publish opinions over lawful matters.
Punishment for defamation
If the victim wins the defamation lawsuit then the accused shall be punished. Punishment includes simple imprisonment for a term which may extend up to two years, or with fine, or with both.
In conclusion, freedom of expression does not give you the right to falsely malign an individual’s reputation. False information causes more harm than good and it’s always better to verify your facts before you publish or express anything.