Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory – Section 501 of IPC: Whoever prints or engraves any matter, knowing or having good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory of any person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter – Section 502: Whoever sells or offers for sale any printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter, knowing that it contains such matter, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. Defamation: Goodwill is an increasingly important factor in life which is becoming more and more dependent on social contacts and co-operative persuits. We cannot ignore that others do not have or do not like to have dealing with us. The reputation of a person consists in the opinion of other persons about him. A man’s opinion of himself cannot be called his reputation. It has as many sides as life itself—personal, social, professional, financial, etc.
An injury to reputation is the most harmful of all injuries. It may hit a man on any and all planes of life. It has an extensive range of potential harm. It may do anything from personal pain, domestic crisis, a crash in business to political downfall. The pain it causes, if nothing else may be enough to keep one man apart from another.
It may provoke a breach of the peace and disturb public tranquillity. The law cannot, therefore allow it. All systems of jurisprudence have recognised reputation as one of the four cardinal rights of man, the other three being rights relating to person, property and liberty. Artificial persons also have reputation. Section 44 defines an injury as harm illegally caused to any person in body, mind, reputation or property. Harm which can be legally caused is not punishable. A man may suffer from the disclosure of the fact that he has been convicted of theft and public good may require such disclosure. Harm caused by such disclosure is permitted by law for one thing it is true, for another it may prevent the harm likely from association with such person and put men on their guard against him.
Defamation is an offence against reputation. It consists in an accusation or imputation and the accusation must amount to an injury before it can be an offence under the law; it is the illegal harm—harm not excused or permitted by law. The accusation must be such as to lower the person accused in the opinion of others. Abusive language in a quarrel does not have such effect; it dies with the quarrel. A notorious burglar is one who has already fallen from popular grace; a communication that he is a thief will not lower him down in the opinion of others: he has lost their goodwill already. It is not defamation to accuse a person who has no reputation to lose in respect of the matter which the accusation relates.
Defamation as harm: No imputation is said to harm a person’s reputation, unless that imputation directly or indirectly, in the estimation of others, lowers the moral or intellectual character of that person, or lowers the character of that person in respect of his caste or of his calling, or lowers the credit of that person, or causes it to be believed that the body of that person is in a loathsome state or in a state generally considered as disgraceful (Explanation 4, Section 499). The defamatory accusation may thus relate to the physical, moral, intellectual social fiscal or professional aspects of life. Thus, by itself is quite a comprehensive list of varied aspects of life with which defamation may be concerned. The complainant organised a public meeting. The accused was not invited to it but he went there, and cried, in a loud, insolent tone that the complainant who was a zamindar was not only a liar but was ungentlemanly, barbarous and tyrannic in the presence of the raiyats of the complainant. The Patna High Court held that the words amounted to insult and not defamation.
Defamation—Intention and knowledge (Section 499): 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 defamation except in the cases provided in explanation. Before an offence of defamation can be said to be committed, must be proved affirmatively by the prosecution that an imputation was made intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such an imputation will harm the reputation of a person. The essence of the offence of defamation is the intention or the knowledge that the allegations will harm the reputation of the person against whom they are made. It is not enough that the accusation has an adverse effect of the kind above described; it will not be defamation unless the accusation is made with the intention to cause such effect or knowledge that such effect is likely to follow from the accusation or having reason to believe in the likelihood of such consequence. The prosecution must prove that the accused had made the imputation with the intention of harming or with the knowledge of having reason to believe that it would harm the reputation of the complainant. The essence of the offence of defamation is that the imputation must have been made either with the intention of causing harm or knowing or having reason to believe that imputation would cause harm.
In judging whether the accused had such intention or knowledge, the circumstances under which the main object with which the statement was made and the dispute between the parties should be considered. If from the facts, it does not appear that the accused had the necessary intention or knowledge, it will not be proper to place him on trial for an offence under Section 500. Defamation by irony, negation and interrogation: Defamation is made up of a chain of acts —the accusation, its consequence, the means and the manner of accusation and, behind them all a guilty intent or knowledge. An imputation may be made in the form of an alternative or it may be expressed ironically. A says, “Z is an honest man; he never stole B’s watch” intending to cause it to be believed that Z did steal B’s watch which he may also do by saying: “If not Z, Y or some other person known or unknown may have done”. In the former case the imputation is through irony. In the latter case the imputation is made through a negative alternative. Either statement amounts to defamation of Z.
It is not the form of language used but the intent behind that language that constitutes defamation. The language must however be effective in the circumstances to convey the intended meaning. An imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically, may amount to defamation (Explanation 3, Section 499).
There may be defamation in the form of a questionnaire. Whether a dispute of paternity will by itself be prima facie defamation would depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case. Direct and indirect harm: The reputation of a person may suffer directly or indirectly from an imputation. A thing imputed to one may adversely affect the reputation of another and it may indeed be made with the intention to lower the reputation of such other. Allegations against the character of the wife may be a defamation of the husband though nothing has been said against him.
There is reason to believe in such circumstances that the imputation shall harm the reputation of the husband. In a case a false imputation of unchastity was made against the daughter-in-law living with her father-in-law in the absence of her husband. It was held that the reputation of the entire family suffered from the imputation.
Deceased persons: It may amount to defamation to impute anything to a deceased person, if the imputation would harm the reputation of that person if living and is intended to be harmful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives (Explanation 1 Section 499). In order to amount to defamation, the imputation must not only harm the reputation of the person concerned, if living but also be “intended to be hurtful to the feelings of his family or other relatives”. The essence of defamation in such case consists in its tendency to be cause that description of pain which is felt by a person who knows himself to the object of the unfavourable sentiments of his fellow creatures, and those inconveniences to which a person who is the object of such unfavourable sentiments is exposed. Defamation—Means of commission: Defamation may be committed through signs and visible representations.
This is so also in the English Law of defamation. A statue, a caricature, an effigy, chalk-marks on a wall, signs or pictures may constitute the offence. A draws a picture of Z running away with B’s watch intending it to be believed that Z stole B’s watch. This is defamation, unless it falls within one of the exceptions. A is asked who stole B’s watch. A points to Z, intending to cause it to be believed that Z stole B’s watch.
This is defamation by making a sign.