This Article is written by Sai Vivek Rao Beerelly (currently in 2nd Year of BBA LLB at Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad)
Table of Contents
A tort is a word that means wrong. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a tort as “a private or civil wrong or injury for which a court will provide a remedy in the form of an action for damages”. The word tort is a French word that means wrong and is derived from the Latin word Tortum which means twist. Everyone is said to act according to something and if they divagate with that then a person is said to be committed tort. The tort law in India is has been present since Pre-Independence also, the tort law isn’t that significant under Hindu law and Muslim Law as compared to English Law.
Defamation is something damaging someone’s reputation by passing false statements or facts by both “libel” which means the written form which is fixed and “Slander” which means Spoken form. Basically, Defamation means deceit. According to the black’s law dictionary Defamation means “the offence of injuring a person’s character, fame, or reputation by false and malicious statements. The term seems to be comprehensive of both libel and slander”. In India First case of defamation is “Ram Narain vs Emperor Through Shib Narain,in this case the plaintiff has filed a suit against the defendant on the grounds of defamation by stating that defendant has published a pamphlet stating that plaintiff as a “gentleman scoundrel” and before this pamphlet in another pamphlet he has given explanation of wrongs by the plaintiff and challenged the prosecution of defamation and said that he has done in the good faith but the counsel for the plaintiff said that it is impossible to say that he has don’t in good faith and to help the public. But the learned judge gave his judgement as the accused has been rightly convicted on the bases of section 499 of Indian Penal Code which states that “who publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm the reputation of that person whether harm is actually caused or not”.
DEFAMATION AND ITS DEFENCES
Defamation is “Any type of deliberate false communication, either written or spoken, that can harm a person’s reputation or decreases the respect, regard or confidence of a person; or induces disparaging, or a hostile or disagreeable opinion or feeling against a person is known as defamation.”
A person’s reputation is tending to be their property and such harm is actionable by law. A defamatory statement can be of written or verbal. The defamatory statements which are written are known as ‘lible’ and spoken are known as ‘slander’. The saga of defamation can be drawn in German and Roman law. The offensive shouts were punishable by death penalty in Roman law. In German and English laws defamatory statements were punishable by cutting their tongue. Later in the 18th century the proper laws were formed for defamation and exceptions were made if the statements are true.
In India, “The concept of Defamation is as old as Hills. It dates from ancient Vedic period to the modern legal era. Defamation as the concept has been discussed and described in smritis, shrutis and Sanhitas. Also, it has been defined by almost all jurists and scholars in their own words and understandings”.
Article 19 of the Indian constitution acknowledges numerous freedoms’ to its citizens. Nevertheless, Article 19(2) has enforced admissible dispensation to freedom of speech and expression under article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. Defamation is wrongdoing under both civil law and criminal law. “In civil law, defamation is punishable under the Law of Torts by imposing punishment in the form of damages to be awarded to the claimant. Under the Criminal law, Defamation is a bailable, non-cognizable offence and compoundable offence.”
One very first case of Defamation filed in independent India is “Harekrishna Mahatab vs Balkrishna Kar And Anr. on 17 September, 1953” In this the plaintiff was chief minister of Orissa and later union minter in central cabinet. The defendants in this case are editors of 2 various newspapers. The plaintiff has filed a suit because the defendants have written various articles by criticizing the plaintiff while he was chief minister or Orissa and even after becoming union mister. To which he has demanded 1 lakh rupees as compensation because he has lost in elections after the articles were published. To this defendants have shown all the proofs that the article they published were true and for the public interest and not with malicious intension. However, the court has given its judgement after going through all the Proofs submitted by both parties and gave its verdict as it was done in good faith and in public interest the suit was dismissed.
According to civil law, The statements made by the defendant must be false and he shouldn’t have consent of the plaintiff. Monetary redress can be made out from the defendant for the defamatory statement or defamation. There are some conditions for fruitful defamation legal action. And they are:
- The defamatory statement need to be present. Defamatory content is calculated based on the reputation, class of the person and the way of exposure of the statement. The test of reputation damage is seen based on the eyes of common man and compensation is calculated by the same.
- The statement must be regarding particular a person or class of people. A general statements like “All politicians are corrupt” in this situation no particular politicial can file a suit against the person who made this statement. But if he makes statements like all politicians from XYZ party are corrupt than those party politicians can file a suit.
- The statements must be published orally or in written form. The content published must be read by any third person so than only it can be considered as defamatory despite the language known to the third person.
In criminal law, For defamation maybe only imprisonment is awarded. Also there must be intention to defame the plaintiff it means that there must be malicious intension or must be aware of it that the statement will defame someone. It has to determine that the act has done to damage the reputation of the plaintiff.
Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines defamation as “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.” And section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 explains the punishments for defamation. It says “Punishment for defamation.—whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.
Defences for defamation
- The statements made are true.
- The statement made for the public interest based on true facts.
- The law has allowed certain people to pass statements even if they defamatory. For example judicial officers, members of parliament during parliament hours, etc.
- Publication of true reports and results of the proceedings.
- Allegations of wrong doing to a person who has lawful sovereignty over the so-called person without malicious intention. For example: Complaints about children to their parents and servants to their owners.
- Statements made about character of the person in attempt to save the person, or any other, or for public good.
- Awareness brought to a person about another in order to make good to the person or in good faith towards public.
JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS ABOUT DEFAMATION
“D. P. Choudary v. Manjulatha”
In this case plaintiff respondent Kumari manjulatha was aged about 17 years old living with her family i.e. Mother, father, Brother who are well educated and well known in the society. Defendant appellant Mr. Choudary is a newspaper editor named Dainik Jyothi, on 18.12.1977 dated newspaper he has published that Manjulatha has slip away with her boyfriend Kamlesh, when she went out for attending extra classes in her college. Because of publication of this article the reputation of the plaintiff has been damaged and because of which no one was ready to marry her. To this damage the plaintiff has asked for compensation of Rs. 10,000. The defendant was unable to prove the facts he published and the fact is hence proved so the intension of the defendant is not matter but the statement published by his defamatory or not is the matter and for which the court has given its judgement to pay the compensation for the statement he published.
“Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan Prasad”
In this case the defendant has written a defamatory statement against the plaintiff in urdu langue and gave it to plaintiff. The plaintiff didn’t know urdu langue so he has taken the help of other person to read it. The court gave its judgement as the defendant know that plaintiff can’t read urdu so he has to take help of others on the basis of this court held defendant liable for the statement.
“Jiwab Mal vs. Lachhman Das”
In this case there was other petty case going on and in which the trial court has ordered for compromise. In this case Lachhman Das was witness and he made statements against the Jiwab that the compromise cannot take place because he has looted the whole Dinanagar and has filed wrong suits. In fact, this statement was irrelevant to the on-going case and the court has ordered that defendant is liable for the statements he made.
“Ram Jethmalani vs. Subramanian Swamy”
In this case the Subramanian Swamy the defendant was agovernemnt official who was appointed by central government of India in order to know about the role of Jaya Lalitha (then chief Minister of Tamilnadu) in the assassination of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi former prime minister of India. In which the defendant has passed few untrue fact about the plaintiff and for which plaintiff has filed for the compensation of Rs. 50,00,000. The court gave its judgement held Defendant for the act he made.
“Chintaman Rao vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh”
This case is about manufacturing of bidis and fundamental right to trade. For which the honourable supreme court of India has explained the meaning of “Reasonable restriction” under article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. It suggested that interest of the public requires intelligent care and consideration.
“T.V.Ramasubha Iyer vs. A.M.A.Mohideen”
In this case defandant has published an article in his newspaper that the plaintiff who is an exporter of “Scented sticks (Agarbatties)” to cylone has exported few illegal drugs and he was arrested by the cylone police so he is in custody of the police and brought him to the madras. Because of which the reputation of plaintiff is damaged so he has brought a action in front of court for defamation. To this the defendant has said in their proceedings that there was no intention of them to damage reputation of the plaintiff but still the court has held defendant liable for his act.
“R. Rajagopal & Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors.”
In this case the petitioners are editors of weekly magazine where they want to publish the autobiography of Auto Shankar who was the serial killer and put behind the bars. The autobiography contained his contacts with various IAS, IPS and other officials so they have convicted them and asked not to publish the auto-biography. For which they have moved to Supreme Court for objecting freedom of press and to that SC has said that autobiography can be published by anyone even that person is behind the bars also even without their permission. The case of defamation arises once the publication is done and before that no one can object anyone for anything.
Reputation is considered as person asset and any damage to that asset can be dealt legally. Laws related to defamation have been imposed because to prevent people from mischievous use of their freedom of speech. The laws in India didn’t make any difference between slander and libel if there was any difference than that could have been a big loop hole in the justice system as people could easily escape from slander from of defamation. The Indian laws are designed such a way that even intentional act of defamation are liable for imprisonment which is guiding people from malicious intension. Although there are exemptions made for defamation if they fall under that category. Over seventy years of Independence, there are many cases about defamation and courts are doing their best to solve them and given utmost care to improve the legal system in India.
Definition from Black’s Law Dictionary
Ram Narain vs Emperor Through Shib Narain , AIR 1924 All 566 (I)
Indian Penal Code 1860, §499
 Shourya Shubham, Lexlife India, Defamation law in India, (June 17, 2021), https://lexlife.in/2020/05/03/defamation-law-in-india/
Kapil Chandna, Remedies for defamation: All you need to know, Lawyersclubindia, (June 18, 2021), https://www.lawyersclubindia.com/articles/remedies-for-defamation-all-you-need-to-know-8826.asp
 Harekrishna Mahatab vs Balkrishna Kar And Anr. on 17 September, 1953, 1954 CriLJ 311.
Indian Penal Code 1860, §499
Indian Penal Code 1860, §500
 D. P. Choudary v. manjulatha, AIR 1997, Raj 170
 Mahendra Ram v. Harnandan Prasad, A.I.R. 1958 Pat. 445.
 Jiwab Mal vs. Lachhman Das, A.I.R. 1929 Lah. 486.
 Ram Jethmalani vs. Subramanian Swamy, Suit No.2724 of 95.
 Chintaman Rao vs. The State of Madhya Pradesh, 1951 AIR 118, 1950 SCR 759
 T.V.Ramasubha Iyer vs. A.M.A.Mohideen, AIR 1971 2 Mad 398
 R. Rajagopal & Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors., AIR 1995 SC 264, (1994) 6 SCC 632