Feb 25, 2022

Is deliberately harming someone’s reputation a crime?

The Delhi High Court has dismissed a criminal defamation complaint filed against the Business Standard newspaper and journalist Mitali Saran over an article with supposedly defamatory hints against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).


What is criminal defamation?

If you deliberately make or publish any claim about another person with the intention to harm their reputation, a court can consider it as criminal defamation under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. Courts have also said that a person’s reputation is their valuable asset and a part of their fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950


A person’s reputation is harmed when other people’s opinion about a person goes down because of your claim or accusation. Your statement can degrade someone if it:


  • Lowers the person’s moral or intellectual character; or
  • Lowers the person’s character in respect of his caste or occupation; or
  • Lowers the credit of that person; or
  • Results in a belief that the person’s body is disgusting or disgraceful.


The court can punish you for defaming a person if you make an accusation knowing that it will harm their reputation. It is possible to defame someone through spoken or written words, signs, etc.


Can you be punished for defaming an organisation?

Yes, you can be punished for defaming a collection of people such as a company, association, organisation, etc.


Are there exceptional cases which are not considered as defamation?

Yes, there are certain exceptions to defamation. For example, it is not defamation to:


  • Claim anything which is true about another person, if your statement needs to be made or published for the sake of public good.
  • Genuinely express your opinion about the conduct of a public servant in the performance of their duties.
  • Genuinely express your opinion about the merits of a case which has been decided by a court.


What is the punishment for defamation?

The court can punish you for defaming a person, knowingly printing anything that defames someone, or selling such defamatory material. The punishment is jail time up to two years and/or a fine. 


If you want to understand the law on defamation in detail, check out our explainer