During a rally in Kolar, Karnataka in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi allegedly said “how come all the thieves have Modi as the common surname?” Against these remarks, BJP MLA and former Gujarat Minister Purnesh Modi had filed a complaint against Gandhi. This case is called a Defamation case.

What Is Defamation?

Defamation is the act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person when observed through the eyes of an ordinary man. Any false and unprivileged statement published or spoken deliberately, intentionally, or knowingly to damage someone’s reputation is defamation. A man’s reputation is treated as his property and such damage is punishable by law. It could be written or verbal. Written defamation, printed or typed material or images is called libel and spoken defamation is called slander.

Defamation Law in India

Article 19 of the Constitution grants various freedoms to its citizens. However, Article 19(2) has imposed reasonable exemption to freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19(1) (a). Contempt of court, defamation, and incitement to an offence are some exceptions.

Defamation is an offence under both civil and criminal law. In civil law, defamation is punishable under the Law of Torts by punishing in the form of damages to be awarded to the claimant. Under Criminal law, Defamation is a bailable, non-cognizable offence and compoundable offence. Hence a policeman may arrest only with an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate. The Indian Penal Code punishes the offence with simple imprisonment up to two years, with a fine, or both.

Defamation is both a criminal (which carries a prison sentence) and a civil offence (punishable through the award of damages) in India. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) codifies the criminal law on defamation, whereas defamation is penalized as a civil offence under the law of torts.

Civil defamation under civil and tort law

Defamation is mostly used in the context of libel in civil law. The person’s reputation in the eyes of society is damaged as a result of the comment being published against him.

There are certain requirements for a successful defamation suit. They are:

  • The presence of a defamatory statement is required. Defamatory content is one calculated to injure the reputation of a person or a class of persons by exposing them to hatred, contempt, or ridicule. The test of whether it damages reputation has to be calculated from the eyes of a common man and his comprehension of the matter.
  • Secondly, the statements must purport to a person or a class of persons. General statements like all “politicians are corrupt” is too broad and no specific politician can gain compensation for the same.
  • It must be published either in oral or written form. Unless the content is made available to a third person, there can be no defamation. When a letter is sent in a language unknown to the recipient, he needs a third person to read to it him. If any defaming statement is made in it, it will constitute defamation even if it was sent as a private letter, since the aid of a third person was needed to read it.

The defendant can plead defenses that:

  1. The statement published was true,
  2. Fair comments made with public interest based on true incidents,
  3. Certain persons are vested with the privilege to make statements even if they are defamatory,

Example judicial proceedings and members of parliament. If the defendant fails to substantiate his act, the suit is successful.

Defamation under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Under a criminal suit, the intention to defame is necessary. The allegation should be made with malice intent to defame another or at least the knowledge that the publication is likely to defame another is essential. It has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the act was being done to lower the reputation of another.

Defamation is defined in Section 499, and the punishment is outlined in Section 500. The offence of defamation is defined as any spoken, written, or visual statement about another person designed to damage that person’s reputation. The conduct of any person addressing any public issue or expressing comments on a public performance is an example of exceptions to this rule, as well as any imputation of truth required for the public benefit.

defamation case against rahul gandhi

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 reads as follows, “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.

Punishment for defamation under the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Anyone who defames another person is subject to punishment under Section 500 of the IPC, which includes fine, simple imprisonment for a time that may not exceed two years, or both.

Landmark Judgements in India

  • 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 the defendant amounted to defamation.
  • Ram Jethmalani Vs. Subramanian Swamy: The court held Dr.Swamy for defaming Ram Jetmalani by saying that he received money from a banned organization to protect the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu from the case of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
  • Arun Jaitley Vs. Arvind Kejriwal: The court held that statements made by Arvind Kejriwal and his five other leaders were defamatory. The matter was sorted out when all the defendants apologized for their actions.
  • Ramdhara Vs. Phulwatibai: – The plaintiff, a widow of 45 years was imputed that she is a keep of the maternal uncle of the plaintiff’s daughter-in-law. The court held that more than vulgar abuse it was an imputation up on her chastity and hence it constitutes defamation.
  • Chintaman Rao Vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh: The Supreme Court explained the meaning of “reasonable restrictions” imposed in Article 19 (2). It implies intelligent care and deliberation and that is required in the interests of the public.
  • Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India: It is a landmark judgment regarding internet defamation. It held unconstitutional the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which punishes for sending offensive messages through communication services




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