Defamation under Indian Penal Code and Bhartiya Nyay Sanhita: Provisions, Exceptions, Types, and Cases

Author: Pratyush Mahapatra, Lajpat Rai Law College, Sambalpur University

Edited By: Gyanu Patel, Law Student at Amity University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh


When someone injures the reputation of other by words or by any other act, it is called as defamation. Defamation in India is both a civil and criminal wrong. Treating defamation as a civil wrong amount to compensation paid by the wrongdoer on the other hand as a criminal wrong the wrongdoer needs to be punished according to law. However there are certain exceptions to this provisions in the code itself.

Keywords: Defamation, freedom of speech and expression, reputation, Section 499 of       IPC, Sedition, Supreme Court


Next to life, man cares and loves most for his reputation. If any injury causes to his reputation, he psychologically suffers to a great extent. Some persons may commit suicide due to defamation. We learnt in history, Rajput women and men committed suicides when they were defeated in the wars. In such circumstances, they felt it would be better to end their lives than falling into the hands of their enemies, and being compelled to live in shame and slavery.

‘‘Defamation is an injury to the reputation of a person. Rightly law gives protection to his reputation as it gives protection his life and property.’’

Freedom of speech and expression are the cornerstones upon which all the democratic societies are constructed. Everyone should be able practice it as it is a fundamental human right, regardless of their upbringing or beliefs about politics, religion, ethics, culture and other topics. The maintenance of social harmony and the repair of social connections depend on freedom of expression, plurality and the media.

Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression for identical reasons. But freedom comes with a price, and that price is someone’s ‘reputation’.

Historical Background

Although the defamation laws in India were first proposed as part of Indian Penal Code in 1837, they were not codified until 1860, and Lord Macaulay is credited with their conception and implementation[1]. Defamation was prosecuted in the same manner as it was at the time under English Law. The goal of making defamation illegal in British India was clearly linked to maintaining public order, state security and the protection of British Raj’s commercial and territorial interest. Consequently, Indian Penal Code 1860 was passed, resulting in Section 499, which has stayed the same for 158 years.



According to Section 499 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Section 354 of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, 2023 defamation includes,

“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 excepted, to defame that person.

Explanation 1.— 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 hurtful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives.

Explanation 2.— It may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such.

Explanation 3.— An imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically, may amount to defamation.

Explanation 4.— 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 lothsome state, or in a state generally considered as disgraceful”

This extends beyond only an individual; Section 124A (Sedition) of IPC, 1860 governs the protection of defamation against the state.


  • A person intends to defame another person.
  • He makes or publishes any imputation intending that another person
  1. By words, either spoken or intended to be heard
  2. By signs, or
  3. By Visible representations
  • The person making any imputation, intends to harm to that another person, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person.
  • If the imputation comes within anyone of the ten exceptions the person making imputations is not held liable.


The Indian Penal Code, 1860 prescribes the defences that can be claimed by the offender in case of defamation. If the act of such offender comes within the defences, then he/she will be exempted from criminal liability. Those exceptions are:

Imputation of Truth

“It is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person, if it to be for the public good that imputation should be made of published. Whether or not it is for the public good is question of fact.”

Illustration:”A” wrote an article stating that public agency “B” is suspected of embezzling public money. If “A” can prove with evidence that “B” has engaged in such behavior, then A’s words will not be considered defamed, even if they damage B’s reputation because they are slanderous.

Public Conduct of Public Servants

“It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of his public function, or respecting his character, so far as his character appears, in that conduct and no further.”

Illustration: In C, a journalist publishes a report criticizing government leader D’s behavior in dealing with public health problems. If C can prove that the criticism was made in good faith and was intended to promote the public welfare rather than damage D’s reputation, this will not be a defamation.

Conduct of any person touching any public question:

“It is not defamation  to express in good faith any opinion whatever respecting the conduct of any person touching any public question, and respecting his character appears in that conduct, and no further.”

Illustration: Political commentator E spoke out against politician F over alleged corruption in F’s political campaign. If E can prove that the statement was made to highlight the problem of political corruption for reasons of justice and public interest, then it is not libel.

Publication of Reports of Proceedings of Court

“It is not defamation to publish a substantially true report of the proceedings of court of justice or of the result of any such proceeding.”

Merits of Case Decided in Court or Conduct of Witnesses and Others Concerned

It is not defamation to express in good way any opinion whatever respecting the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by a Court of Justice, or respecting the conduct of any person as a party, witness or agent, in any such case, or respecting the character of such person, as fas as his character appears in that conduct and no further.”

Illustration: A legal analyst wrote an article evaluating the verdict in a major criminal case and discussing the conduct of the witnesses and prosecutors involved. Decision Opinions expressed in good faith are not considered defamation.

Merits of Public Performance

It is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion respecting the merits of any performance which it’s author has submitted to the judgement of the public, or respecting the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and no further.”


A film critic reviews the new film and offers a negative perspective on the director’s work. Since the video is presented to the public and the comments are fair criticism, there is no defamation.

Censure passed in good faith by person having lawful authority over another

It is not defamation in a person having over another any authority, either conferred by law or arising out of a lawful contract made with that other, to pass in good faith any censure on the conduct of that other in matters to which such lawful authority relates.”

Illustration: Employers write performance reviews for employees, pointing out their weaknesses. The review was made in good faith and is within the employer’s rights and does not constitute defamation.

Accusation preferred in Good Faith to Authorized Person

It is not defamation to prefer in good faith an accusation against any person to any of those who have lawful authority over that person with respect to the subject matter of accusation.”

Illustration: A tenant reported to his landlord that his neighbor was causing a disturbance by playing music late at night. Since the complaint in this regard is made within the person’s right, it does no constitute defamation.

Imputation made in good faith by person for protection of his or other’s interest

It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another provided that the imputation be made in good faith for the protection of interest of the person making it, or of any other person, or for the public good.”

Illustration: The store owner notifies the other store owner that an employee was caught stealing. These warnings are issued in good faith to protect all store owners and are not malicious.

Caution intended for good of person to whom conveyed or for public good

It is not defamation to convey a caution, in good faith to one person against another, provided that such caution be intended for the good of the person to whom it is conveyed, or of some person in whom that person is interested, or for the public good.”

Illustration: Doctors warned patients not to use it, saying that some emotions returned due to side effects. These warnings are made in good faith for the benefit of the patient and are not considered as defamation.


Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for the punishment of the offence of criminal defamation. The section reads as follows;

“Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

Forms of Defamation:

There are two types of defamation.

  • Libel: Libel is a type of defamation that involves the publication of false statement about an individual or entity in written, printed, or visual forms. Libelous statements are typically communicated through mediums like newspaper, magazines, books, online articles etc.

For Example- A magazine publishes a false article on Mr.A that the dishes he is serving in his restaurant is not up to quality. In consequence, Mr.A faced a severe loss in his business. As the defamation was published in written form, it is a libel.

  • Slander: On the other hand, Slander is a form of defamation that involves making false spoken statements about an individual or entity. Unlike libel, these statements are not permanently recorded and are more temporary in nature[2].

For example- At a community event someone falsely tells all the attendees that one of their teacher called Mrs.X was caught cheating in the certification exam. This false statement damages the reputation of Mrs.X. Since the false statement was spoken, this comes under Slander.

Case Laws:

Harbhajan Singh vs. State of Punjab[3]In this case, certain Urdu papers of Punjab published news of smuggling in Punjab, suggesting that there were the hands of political and ruling parties. The State of Punjab issued a Public Notice dated 22-07-1957 stating that the State Government took severe and serious steps to prevent smuggling and no officer or his relatives were involved in smuggling. It also invited the public to name the persons involved in smuggling.

The appellant/Harbhajan Singh was the State Secretary of Punjab Praja Socialist Party issued a press note alleging that S. Surinder Singh Kairon(S/O S. Pratap Singh Kairon, the then Chief Minister of Punjab) was the leader of the smuggling and also was involved in several criminal activities. The appellant also stated that he was prepared to face any consequences thereof. He demanded to conduct an inquiry by the judges of High Court, other than Punjab and Haryana High Court. This was published in Tribune on 25-07-1957.

‘‘Surinder Singh Kairon/the complainant sued the appellant under Section 500 IPC for defamation stating that he passed M.A. and worked as Lecturer and was the Managing Director of Amritsar Coperative Cold Storage. He stated that he enjoyed good reputation amongst friends and relatives. He filed the case before First Class Magistrate. The accused filed a petition to the Supreme Court for transfer the case apprehending political influence of the complainant. The Supreme Court transferred the case to the Additional Sessions Judge, New Delhi.

The accused contended that he made the statement with “good faith” and in the “interests of public”. He contended that he was protected by ninth exception of Section 499 IPC. The trial court convicted the accused with one year imprisonment. The accused appealed to the Supreme Court.’’

The Hon’ble Supreme Court altered the conviction from one year to three months and also imposed Rs.2000/- as fine.


Kartar Singh and Others vs. State of Punjab[4]The appellants were the members of the “Amritsar District Motor Union”. The then Chief Minister was Bhim Sen Sachar and the Motor Transport Minister was Jagat Narain. The state government nationalized the Motor Transport under the Punjab Motor Transport Act, 1954.

Aggrieved by it, the appellants and other hundreds of motor workers took up a procession in Amritsar against the Nationalization. In the procession, they uttered “Jaggu Mama ahi hai”(Jaggu maternal uncle be dead) and “Khachar Khota ha”(Mule-cum-donkey be dead). The first slogan was alleged to have been directed against Jagat Narain, Motor Transport Minister and the Second slogan against the Chief Minister.

‘‘The CM and the Minister initiated criminal proceedings against the appellants under Section 499 IPC and under Section 9 of the Punjab Security Act, 1953. The First Class Magistrate held that the slogans were abuses hurled at the CM and the Minister and passed the conviction against the appellants. On the appeal to Additional Session Judge, Amritsar the appeal was dismissed. The Punjab and Haryana High Court also dismissed the appeal, and in consequence the appellants moved to the Supreme Court.’’


The Supreme Court set aside the conviction, and stated that it would be an eye-opener to the appellants and they should behave themselves better in the future.


Muppala Ranganayakamma vs. K. Venugopala Rao and Yandamoori Veerendra Nath[5]Yandamoori Veerendranath is a famous Telugu novel writer. He wrote “Tulasi Dalam” mixing science and devils. It made sensation throughout Andhra Pradesh and had become best seller. Dr. K. Venogopala Rao wrote foreword to the said book. Muppala Ranganayakamma is also a famous novel writer and critic. She severely criticized by imputing words to the complainants, which lacked good faith and showed malice. The trial court found her guilty. On appeal, the Andhra Pradesh High Court confirmed the judgement of the trial court.

Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India[6]– ‘‘In this case, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of criminal defamation laws. The petitioner, Subramanian Swamy argued that these laws violated the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. The court ruled that criminal defamation serves as a reasonable restriction on free speech to protect an individual’s reputation.’’


A person’s reputation and public image are things they have earned during their life and they are valuable assets. Defamation is the opposite of these things. The balance between Freedom of Speech and Expression is perfectly balanced by the defamation laws in India. The New Criminal Law Bill has been passed and in this new Bill the IPC has been renamed as Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita including some changes in the provisions. In the newly passed BNS the provisions of defamation has been described under Section 354.


Cases Referred

  • Harbhajan Singh vs State of Punjab
  • Kartar Singh & Ors. Vs State of Punjab
  • Muppala Ranganayakamma vs. K. Venugopala Rao and Yandamoori Veerendra Nath
  • Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India

Statutes Referred

  • Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, 2023


[1] Prep BE, “BYJU’S Exam Prep” (BYJU’S Exam Prep, October 17, 2023)  accessed June 14, 2024

[2] Defamation law in India: IPC Section 499 and 500. (n.d.). Defamation Law in India: IPC Section 499 and 500. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from

[3] AIR 1961 SC 215

[4] AIR 1956 SC 541

[5] 1987 Cr LJ 2000 AP