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Defamation under IPC (Section 499-502)

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Defamation under IPC by Kanooniyat



According to Salmond “Defamation is the publication of a false and defamatory statement about another person without lawful justification”. Every person has a right to reputation which is an implicit right in Article 21. Art 19(1) (a) guarantees freedom of speech and expression but the same is subject to the reasonable restrictions and defamation is one such restriction imposed by the constitution. In India, in civil defamation intention is immaterial but in criminal defamation under IPC in 499 intention plays a crucial role in establishing the offence of defamation.


Following are the three essential ingredients of criminal defamation under IPC (Section 499) :

  1. Making or publishing, any imputation concerning any person.
  2. Such imputation must have been made by –
  3. words, either spoken or written or; or
  4. signs; or
  5. visible representations.
  6. The said imputation should have been made with intent to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that it will harm the reputation of such person or defame him.


Making or publishing any imputation concerning any person – The word ‘publication’ means bringing the defamatory material to the notice of the others, other than the accused and the injured. The word ‘imputation’ means an accusation which is something more than an expression of suspicion. The accusation is made to injure the reputation of another and it is made intentionally to defame the other. It is highly important that the imputation should be against a specific person or persons. But it is not necessary that the person concerned should be an individual, it can be anyone whose identity can be established.

Case Law :- S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal & Anr

Held : A complaint filed had been dismissed on the ground that the statement of the accused was given to a news magazine calling for acceptance of pre-marital sex  and therefore it did not attack the reputation of any one in particular.

Publication of defamatory matter in newspaper –  In Ashok Kumar Jain v. State of Maharashtra, it was held that where a defamatory statement is published in a newspaper against a person, then the editor, printer and publisher who has made the declaration and is shown in the paper would be liable for the same.

  • Imputation by words – In India a person can be defamed by words either spoken or written and it does not make any distinction b/w libel and slander as far as it is concerned as an offence under IPC. But in English Law, defamation is a crime only when it is committed by writing, printing or some similar process. Some examples of ‘visible representations’ are caricature, pictures etc.
  • Imputation causing harm – The last ingredient is that there must be an intention to harm the reputation of the complainant or knowledge that the imputation will harm the reputation of such person. The word ‘harm’ means lowering the image of a person in the estimation of others.

The test to determine as to whether a statement is defamatory or not is that whether a person of reasonable prudence to whom the publication was made would understand it in a libellous sense.

Explanation 1 – It provides that a statement may amount to defamation if that would have caused harm to reputation of that person if he would have been alive and is intended to hurt the feeling of his family and relatives.

Explanation 2 – It provides that it may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons (must be an identifiable group) as such.

Explanation 3 –  If the imputation is in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically (innuendo)  it may amount to defamation.

Explanation 4 – This explanation makes it clear the statement to be defamatory must tend to lower the man’s character in the estimation others and not himself. Therefore, describing a woman that she has paramours wherever she goes, is per se defamatory.


This section provides defences to a charge of defamation. It provides for 10 exceptions which are as follows :

Exception 1 – Following are the requirements of this section :

  1. The impugned statement must be shown to be true AND
  2. That its publication must be shown to be for public good.

It is sufficient if statements are shown to be substantially true and whether or not it is for the public good is a question of fact. (Good faith does not matter)

Exception 2 – If anyone expresses his opinion in good faith regarding the conduct of the public servants while discharging his functions, it will not amount to defamation. But it must relate to actions of public servants. Good faith presupposes a reasonable degree of care and caution in making an imputation.

Exception 3 – If anyone expresses his opinion in good faith regarding the conduct of any person or publicists (politicians etc. ) touching any public question, it will not amount to defamation. The third exception (any person) is wider in its ambit as compared to the second exception (public servants).

Exception 4 – If anyone publishes a substantially true report of the proceedings of a court of justice or of the result of any such proceedings, it will not amount to defamation. The report should be without malice. (Good faith does not matter)

Case Law : T. Satish v. NN. Nayak

Held : A report published containing contents of FIR of which cognizance has been taken by the public authorities would not amount to defamation.

Exception 5 – If anyone expresses his opinion in good faith regarding the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by a court, or with respect to the conduct of any party, witness or agent, it will not amount to defamation.

Exception 6 – If anyone expresses his opinion in good faith regarding the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgement of the public, it will not amount to defamation. It would include criticism of book published on literature, art, speeches made in public etc. Criticism must be fair and made in good faith.

Exception 7 – This exception allows a person under whose authority others have been placed either by their consent or by law, to censure in good faith. The persons placed under some authority can be censured to an extent to which the authority relates.  But the censure must be in good faith. For instance :

  1. A judge censuring in good faith the conduct of the witness or office of the court;
  2. A head of the dept. censuring in good faith those who are under his order.

Case Law : Harsh Mendiratta v. Maharaj Singh

Held : General remarks made by some authority regarding the competence of a subordinate would not amount to defamation.

Exception 8 – This exception will be attracted if it is proved :

  1. That the person to whom the complaint was made had lawful authority over the officer complained against; and
  2. That the accusation was made in good faith.

It is necessary that the complains is bona fide and not made with an intention to injure anyone.

Exception 9 – This exception provides that where a defamatory statement is made but in good faith and for the protection of the interest of the person making it, or for any other person or for the public good, this exception can be invoked.

Case Law : Sankamma v. Govinda Chetty

Held : A notice had been issued by Hindu widow charging the accused with criminal breach of trust and the accused replied that the widow was living an immoral life. It was held that the accused was entitled to exception 9 as it was in the interest of person making it.

However, the interest has to be real or legitimate.

Difference b/w exception 8 & 9 – In exception 8 the person to whom the complaint is made is a lawful authority, while under exception 9 there is no such requirement, if communication is made to a person for protection of one’s own interest along with that of the other or is made for public good.

Exception 10 – To attract this exception it must be proved that the accused in good faith conveyed a caution to one person against another. Further, it must also be proven that the caution was conveyed :

  1. For the good of the person to whom it was conveyed or
  2. It was conveyed to some person in whom the person is interested or
  3. For public good.

The imputation must be made in good faith.


This section provides that a person who defames another can be punished with simple imprisonment which may extend up to 2 years or with fine or both. The offence under this section is non-cognizable, bailable and is triable by court of sessions.

Case Law : Rekhabai v. Dattatraya

Held : It was held in this case that where an offence of defamation has been committed through a letter, then the case can be tried at the place where the letter was written and posted or at the place where the letter was received and read.


For the application of this section the following essentials shall be met :

  1. The accused printed or engraved a defamatory matter and
  2. The accused knew or had reason to believe that such matter was defamatory.

A person who commits an offence under this section can be punished with simple imprisonment which may extend up to 2 years or with fine or both.


This section supplements the provisions of the previous section. Following are the essentials of this section :

  1. Selling or offering to sell any printed or engraved substance and
  2. Knowing that such substance contains defamatory matter.

A person who commits an offence under this section can be punished with simple imprisonment which may extend up to 2 years or with fine or both.

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