According to section 499 of IPC, 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.
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 - 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.”
Supreme Court on defamation
The Supreme Court has ruled that the criminal provisions of defamation are constitutionally valid and are not in conflict with the right to free speech.
The court stated that notwithstanding the expansive and sweeping ambit of freedom of speech, like all rights, the right to freedom of speech and expression is “absolutely sacrosanct” but “is not absolute.” It is subject to the imposition of reasonable restrictions. It also said that the reputation of a person is an integral part of the right to life granted under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of the other’s right of free speech.
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