DEFAMATION IN INDIA (Syllabus: GS Paper 2 - Polity & Governance)

News-CRUX-10     5th August 2023        

Context: The Supreme Court stayed the conviction of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case for the ‘Modi’ surname remark he allegedly made during a political rally in 2019.

  • Challenging the July 7 Gujarat High Court decision which upheld his conviction, he asked how an “undefined amorphous group” could possibly be defamed in the first place.

Defamation in India

  • About: Defamation is the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.
  • Legal provisions: In India, defamation can both be a civil wrong and a criminal offence.
  • Criminal defamation has been specifically defined as an offence under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
  • Section 499 states defamation could be through words, spoken or intended to be read, through signs, and also through visible representations.
  • Section 499 also cites exceptions: These include “imputation of truth” which is required for the “public good” and thus has to be published, on the public conduct of government officials, the conduct of any person touching any public question and merits of the public performance.
  • Section 500 of IPC, which is on punishment for defamation, reads, “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
  • Civil defamation is based on tort law (an area of law which does not rely on statutes to define wrongs but takes from ever-increasing body of case laws to define what would constitute a wrong).
  • Supreme Court View
  • Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India case (2014): The Court approved the Constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 (criminal defamation) in the Indian Penal Code, underlining that an individual’s fundamental right to live with dignity and reputation “cannot be ruined solely because another individual can have his freedom”.
  • J Jayalalithaa case (2016): The court passed strictures on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa for misusing the criminal defamation law to “suffocate democracy” and, the court said, “public figures must face criticism”.
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