What Are The Essentials Of Defamation?


Defamation means an injury to the reputation of an individual resulting from a statement that is fake in nature. If an individual injures the reputation of another he does so at his own risk, as in the case of interference with the property. A man’s reputation is considered as his property. Defamation is stated in Section 499 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Section 500 provides that an individual committing an offense under this section is liable with simple imprisonment for a term of two years or fine or with both.

According to the Section 499 of IPC, 1860 “Whoever by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning a 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 excepted, do defame that person”.

Any intentional fake (written or spoken) communication that harms an individual’s reputation; lessens the respect or regard in which an individual is held; or convinces denigrating, confrontational, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against an individual, is named Defamation.


  • Criminal Defamation: Criminal defamation is that the act of offending or defaming an individual by committing a criminal offense. For criminal defamations, you’ll always get the liable person or party prosecuted. It is mentioned in IPC as a criminal act.
  • Civil Defamation: Civil defamation involves no criminal offence, but on account of this type of defamation, you’ll sue the person to urge a legal compensation for your defamation. It is mentioned under the law of torts i.e. as a tort


  • Libel: Libel is defamation expressed in writing. An act of libel could also be committed through any visible means including print (newspapers, magazines), pictures, sculptures, and films. It’s an untrue defamatory statement that is made in writing. For e.g., ‘A’ printed some advertisement saying ‘B’ is bankrupt but ‘B’ wasn’t thus it had been representation in a visible form.
  • Slander: Slander could also be interpreted as verbal defamation communicated to a few numbers of individuals. It’s an untrue defamatory statement that is spoken orally. It is the publication of a defamatory statement in transient forms like spoken words or gestures. For e.g., ‘M’ questions the chastity of ‘N’ in an interview, ‘M’ is slanderous.

Also Read – What Do You Mean By Defamation?

Mainly, there are four elements that the plaintiff is required to prove during a defamation lawsuit, whether for libel or slander. These are as follows:

  1. The statement, which must be about another person, must be false.
  2. The statement must be ‘published’ to a third party, who cannot even be the one that is being defamed. Publishing in this context doesn’t mean that it must be printed, but purely that the statement has got to be ‘made available’ to someone aside from the person about whom the statement was made.
  3. If the character of the statement is ‘of public concern’ the one that has published it must be priory liable in negligence. Public officials trying to claim they have been defamed must show that the defendant was behaving with ‘real intent’ or at least having an utter disregard for whether the assertion is true or not in publishing the assertion.
  4. Such imputation was made with the intention of harming or with knowledge or reason to believe that it’ll harm the reputation of the person concerning to whom it is made.


Under the Indian Penal Code, however, defamation has been made an offence without any regard to its tendency to cause acts of illegal violence. The essence of this offence is mental suffering caused to the defamed person.

1. Makes or publishes any imputation concerning a person which is fake

Defamation law will only consider statements defamatory if they’re, in fact, false. A real statement is not considered defamation. Additionally, due to their nature, statements of opinion are not considered false because they’re subjective to the speaker. Every such person who is engaged in composing, dictating or writing is the maker of the libel. Where the matter is dictated by one person and written down by another person, both shall be guilty of this offence. Likewise, if one person speaks, another writes and the third approves, all three shall be guilty. The rationale is that each one who assents to the doing of an unlawful act will be guilty of this offence.

2. Publication of defamatory matter to a third party

The defamatory matter must be communicated to some person aside from the person to whom it concerns sort of a person dictating a letter to a clerk is publication.[1] When a defamatory matter is communicated to the person defamed, this communication does not amount to publication.[2] If the defamatory content is written on a postcard or printed on a paper, it’ll amount to publication when it is distributed or broadcasted.[3]

In the eyes of law, both husband and wife are one person and therefore the communication of a defamatory matter from the husband to the wife or the other way around is not any publication and cannot come within the purview of Section 499. Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 deals with privileged communications between husband and wife and makes them out of the scope of section 499 except in suits between married persons, or in proceedings in which one spouse is prosecuted for any crime committed against the opposite.

For instance, the court held that the letter from husband to his wife containing defamatory matter concerning the father-in-law won’t amount to defamation. It will considerably be covered within the scope of privileged communications between husband and wife as laid in Section 122 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872.[4]

But, if a defamatory letter against the wife is shipped to the husband or vice-versa, such communication will constitute publication.[5]

3. The statement must be defamatory

One of the important essentials of the offense of defamation is that the statement must be defamatory i.e. that appears to diminish the plaintiff’s prestige. The test to see whether a specific statement is defamatory or not, it depends upon how the right-thinking members of society are likely to take it.

Further, an individual cannot take a defense that the statement was not intended to be defamatory, although it caused a sense of hatred, contempt or dislike. In the case of Ram Jethmalani v. Subramanian Swamy[6], the court held Dr. Swamy to be responsible for defaming Mr. Jethmalani by saying that he received money from a banned organization to guard the then CM of Tamil Nadu in the case of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. The statement by the defendant was ex facie defamatory.[7]

4. Imputation made with the intention, knowledge or reason to believe that such imputation will harm the complainant

There must be an intention to damage the complainant’s reputation or the knowledge that the imputation will damage that person’s reputation.[8] It is not necessary that the particular harm should result. The test to work out whether any statement is defamatory or not is whether under the circumstances in which writing was published; an individual of reasonable prudence to whom publication was made would be likely to know it in a denigratory sense.[9]


Having analyzed all of the key aspects of defamation as laid down in section 499 IPC, it is found that the essence of defamation lies within the injury to an individual’s reputation and he can sue the defendants for this injury. Defamation is of two kinds, viz. libel and slander. In India, both of these are considered criminal offenses. There are some exceptions to this, called privileges.

[1] V. Illath v. K. Keshavan, (1900) I Weir 579

[2] Sadashiv Atmaram, (1893) 18 Bom. 205

[3] Thiagaraya v. Krishnasami, (1892) 15 Mad. 214

[4] T.J. Ponnen v. M.C Verghese, 1969 SCR (2) 692

[5] Prof. S.N. Mishra, Indian Penal code, (20th ed., 2016), [p. 931]; Wenman v. Ash, (1853) 13 C.B. 836

[6] AIR 2006 Delhi 300, 126 (2006) DLT 535

[7] Ibid Note 6

[8] Municipal Board Konch, AIR 1952 All. 114

[9] Luchmi Narayan, AIR 1931 All. 126

This Article Written by Deeksha Shrivastava, Student of FIMT, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi

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