Section 499 of the I.P.C. defines the `Defamation’, whereas Section 500 thereof provides the punishment for the offence. The same read as under:
499. Defamation. – 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 case 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 loathsome state, or in a state generally considered as disgraceful.
500. Punishment for defamation. – Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a terms which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
The word “defamation” has not been defined in the I.P.C. This has derived its form from word “defame”. As per the Chambers Dictionary (Delux Edition), the word “defame” has the following meanings:
to take away or destroy the good fame or reputation of; to say malicious things about; to speak evil of; to charge falsely.”
While enumerating the meanings of “defame”, the word “defamation” has been defined as “the act of defaming; calumny; slander or libel.
According to Lord Atkin, to ascertain whether a defamation has been made, the test for that is to see “whether the words tend to lower the complainant in estimation of the right thinking members of the society generally.”
The essence of the offence of defamation as given in Section 499 of the I.P.C. is that the imputation must have been made either with the intention of causing harm or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation would cause harm to a person.
The first explanation to the offence of defamation as given in the I.P.C. is “it is not defamation to impute anything which is true concerning any person if it be for the public good that the imputation should be made or published. Whether or not it is for the public good is a question of fact.