Defamation- Section 356- Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam

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By Legal Referencer

Defamation meaning as per section 356 of Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam –

Defamation is a critical concept in the legal realm, referring to the act of harming someone’s reputation through false statements. The definition provided elaborates on how defamation can occur and under what circumstances it is considered such, barring certain exceptions.

Defamation occurs when an individual, through words—spoken or written—signs, or visible representations, makes or publishes any statement about another person with the intention of causing harm, or with the knowledge or reasonable belief that such a statement will harm the person’s reputation. The essence of defamation lies in the intent and the impact on the person’s reputation, which can be damaged through various forms of communication, be it verbal, written, or symbolic.

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Forms of Defamation as per section 356 of Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam

1. **Spoken Words or Written Statements**:

The most straightforward form of defamation is through spoken words or written statements. If someone verbally spreads false information about another person, or writes an article containing untrue allegations, they are committing defamation. The intent behind these words, whether to malign the person or a reasonable knowledge that the words will damage the person’s reputation, is crucial.

2. **Signs and Visible Representations**:

Defamation isn’t limited to verbal or written words. Signs or visual representations that convey false information about someone can also be defamatory. This includes gestures, caricatures, or any visual media that imparts a harmful imputation about an individual.

Specific Scenarios of Defamation-

The definition further elucidates particular scenarios through explanations to cover various nuanced situations where defamation can be applicable:

1. **Defamation of Deceased Persons**:

Defamation can also occur posthumously. If an imputation about a deceased person is made, and such a statement would have harmed their reputation had they been alive, it can still be considered defamatory. This aspect takes into account the feelings of the deceased person’s family or close relatives, acknowledging that harm to reputation extends beyond the individual to their loved ones.

2. **Defamation of Entities**:

   The concept of defamation extends to entities such as companies, associations, or groups of persons. Making false imputations about a company or an association can harm the collective reputation of that entity, just as it would for an individual. This inclusion underscores that reputational harm is not confined to natural persons but also affects corporate bodies and other collectives.

3. **Alternative or Ironical Imputations**:

   Defamation can also be subtle, occurring through statements made in an alternative form or expressed ironically. Even if the imputation is not directly stated but implied in an ironic or suggestive manner, it can still be defamatory. This recognizes that harmful implications can be made through indirect means, and the law takes into account the context and the manner of expression.

Understanding defamation is essential because it balances freedom of expression with the need to protect individuals’ reputations. While people are free to express their opinions, this freedom does not extend to spreading false information that can damage another’s reputation. The intent behind the statements, whether there was a deliberate aim to harm or a reasonable belief that the statements would be damaging, plays a pivotal role in determining defamation.

In summary, defamation encompasses any act of making or publishing false imputations that harm an individual’s or entity’s reputation, through words, signs, or visual representations. It includes imputations made about deceased persons, companies, or groups, and can occur through direct statements or ironically expressed alternatives. The legal framework surrounding defamation seeks to protect reputations while balancing the right to freedom of expression, emphasizing the significance of intent and the actual harm caused.

Explanation 4 of the defamation law clarifies the criteria for determining whether an imputation harms a person’s reputation. According to this explanation, for an imputation to be considered damaging to someone’s reputation, it must meet specific conditions that affect how others perceive the individual.

Firstly, the imputation must lower the person’s moral or intellectual character in the eyes of others. This means that the statement must make people think less of the person’s ethical standards or intellectual abilities. For instance, accusing someone of dishonesty or incompetence would likely meet this criterion.

Secondly, the imputation can harm a person’s reputation by affecting their standing within their caste or profession. In societies where caste and professional roles are significant, suggesting that someone has acted in a manner inappropriate for their social or professional status can damage their reputation significantly.

Thirdly, the imputation can lower the person’s credit, meaning it affects their financial reputation or trustworthiness. Statements that lead others to believe that a person is financially irresponsible or untrustworthy would fall under this category.

Lastly, the imputation can cause people to believe that the person’s body is in a loathsome or disgraceful state. This includes imputations suggesting that a person has a contagious or repulsive disease or condition. Such statements can result in social ostracism or loss of personal dignity.

In summary, an imputation harms a person’s reputation if it negatively affects their moral or intellectual standing, social or professional status, financial trustworthiness, or physical dignity in the estimation of others.

Defamation is an essential concept in law, encompassing actions or statements that harm a person’s reputation. The provided illustrations clarify how defamation can occur through various means and the intent behind these actions.

Illustration (a)-

In the first illustration, A makes the statement, “Z is an honest man; he never stole B’s watch,” with the intention of implying the opposite—that Z did steal B’s watch. Even though the words appear to be a compliment, the context and intention reveal a hidden accusation. This is a form of defamation because the statement is made with the intention of casting doubt on Z’s honesty and suggesting guilt indirectly. The key aspect here is the intention behind the statement. A’s words are crafted to lead others to believe that Z is dishonest and a thief. Unless this statement falls within a legal exception to defamation, it is considered defamatory because it harms Z’s reputation by insinuating criminal behavior.

Illustration (b)-

In the second illustration, A is directly asked who stole B’s watch and responds by pointing to Z. This act of pointing is done with the intention of making others believe that Z is the thief. This is another clear example of defamation. Here, the act of pointing serves as a visible representation meant to convey the message that Z is guilty of theft. The intention behind A’s gesture is to damage Z’s reputation by accusing him of a crime. As with the first illustration, this act is defamatory unless it falls under one of the legal exceptions. The harmful effect on Z’s reputation is evident as others are led to believe that he is a thief based on A’s indication.

Illustration (c)-

The third illustration involves A drawing a picture of Z running away with B’s watch. The intention behind this drawing is to suggest that Z stole B’s watch. This form of defamation uses visual representation to convey the defamatory message. The picture is crafted to lead viewers to believe in Z’s guilt, thereby damaging his reputation. This method is particularly insidious as it visually portrays Z committing a crime, which can have a strong impact on viewers’ perceptions. Like the previous examples, this act is considered defamatory unless it meets an exception under the law.


These illustrations demonstrate that defamation can take various forms, including spoken words, physical gestures, and visual representations. The common thread among these examples is the intention to harm the reputation of another person. Defamation law focuses on the impact of these actions on the person’s reputation and the intent behind them. Statements or actions that indirectly or directly suggest criminal behavior, dishonesty, or immoral conduct can be highly damaging and are thus subject to scrutiny under defamation law.

Defamation law includes important exceptions that allow certain statements or opinions to be expressed without constituting defamation, provided they meet specific criteria. These exceptions are designed to balance the protection of reputation with the principles of freedom of expression and the public’s right to information.

Exception 1: Truth and Public Good-

The first exception to defamation states that it is not defamatory to impute something that is true about a person, if it serves the public good that such information is made known or published. The critical factor here is whether the disclosure of the truth benefits the public interest. This exception recognizes that there are circumstances where revealing true information about an individual, even if it damages their reputation, is justified because it serves a greater societal purpose. For instance, exposing a public figure’s corruption or criminal activities may be necessary for transparency and accountability in governance. However, the determination of whether it serves the public good is a factual question that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Exception 2: Opinion about Public Servants-

The second exception allows individuals to express, in good faith, any opinion about the conduct of a public servant in the discharge of their official duties or about their character as demonstrated through that conduct. This exception acknowledges that public servants, by virtue of their role, are subject to public scrutiny. As long as the opinion is based on the public servant’s actions in their official capacity and does not extend beyond what is observable in their conduct, it is protected from being classified as defamation. This exception safeguards the public’s right to critique and evaluate the performance and integrity of those in public office, ensuring transparency and accountability in governance.

Exception 3: Opinion on Public Issues-

The third exception permits individuals to express, in good faith, any opinion regarding the conduct of any person concerning a public issue and their character as it pertains to that conduct. Similar to the second exception, this provision recognizes the importance of public discourse on matters of public concern. It allows individuals to voice their opinions on issues affecting the community or society at large, as long as these opinions are genuinely held and based on the person’s conduct in relation to the public issue. The scope of protection extends only to opinions that are reasonably connected to the conduct in question and do not venture into personal attacks or unsupported allegations.

The illustration clarifies this exception by outlining specific scenarios where expressing opinions about someone’s conduct in relation to public affairs is not considered defamation. For instance, A can express opinions in good faith about Z’s actions such as petitioning the government on a public issue, signing a requisition for a public meeting, presiding over or attending such meetings, joining or forming societies that seek public support, or supporting a particular candidate in an election where public interest in the candidate’s performance is significant.

The key condition emphasized in this exception is that the opinion must be limited to the person’s conduct as it relates to public questions or issues. This means that opinions about an individual’s character, as perceived through their actions in these public contexts, are protected. However, the protection does not extend to making defamatory statements about the person’s character beyond what is evident from their public conduct.

This exception encourages open discourse and debate on matters of public interest, fostering transparency, accountability, and informed public participation in democratic processes. It ensures that individuals can express their views on public figures’ actions and involvement in civic affairs without fear of legal repercussions, provided that these opinions are genuinely held and based on observable behavior related to public questions.

Exception 4 and 5-

Exception 4 and Exception 5 of defamation law provide protections for statements made in relation to court proceedings and their outcomes, as well as opinions expressed about the merits of legal cases or the conduct of individuals involved in those cases.

Exception 4: Reports of Court Proceedings-

Exception 4 states that it is not defamation to publish a substantially true report of the proceedings of a court or the result of any such proceedings. This exception ensures that accurate reporting of court proceedings, whether by journalists, legal analysts, or any other party, is protected from defamation claims. The rationale behind this exception is to uphold transparency and public access to judicial processes without the fear of legal repercussions, as long as the reports are truthful and substantially accurate.

The Explanation clarifies that any inquiry conducted by a Magistrate or another officer in open court, preliminary to a trial, is considered part of court proceedings under this exception. This includes preliminary hearings, testimonies, and other procedural aspects that occur in open court settings.

Exception 5: Opinions on Court Cases and Participants-

Exception 5 protects the expression of opinions in good faith regarding the merits of any civil or criminal case that has been decided by a court. It also extends protection to opinions about the conduct of any person involved in the case, whether as a party, witness, or agent, as far as their character is demonstrated through their conduct in that case.

Illustrations Explained:

Illustration (a):

A states, “I think Z’s evidence on that trial is so contradictory that he must be stupid or dishonest.” A’s statement falls within Exception 5 because it expresses an opinion in good faith about Z’s character as it appears from his conduct as a witness during the trial. This opinion is based on Z’s performance and behavior in the courtroom, which is a matter of public record.

Illustration (b):

However, if A states, “I do not believe what Z asserted at that trial because I know him to be a man without veracity,” A’s statement does not fall under Exception 5. This is because A’s opinion about Z’s character as lacking in truthfulness is not directly based on Z’s conduct as a witness in the trial. Instead, it is a general opinion about Z’s character that goes beyond what is observable from Z’s specific actions in the legal proceedings.

Exception 6-

Exception 6 of defamation law provides protections for expressing opinions about the merits of artistic or public performances and the character of their authors, so long as these opinions are expressed in good faith and are based solely on the performance itself and the conduct of the author as it is reflected in that performance.

Explanation of Exception 6-

Exception 6 states that it is not defamation to express in good faith any opinion regarding:

Merits of Performance: Opinions about the quality, substance, or characteristics of any performance that the author has submitted to the judgment of the public. This can include books published, speeches made in public, acting or singing on stage, or any other public display of artistic or intellectual work.

Character of the Author: Opinions about the character of the author, but only to the extent that their character is demonstrated through the performance itself. This means that opinions should be limited to how the author’s character is perceived based on the content, style, or themes of their work that has been made public.

Explanation Clarified by Illustrations-

Illustration (a): When a person publishes a book, they implicitly submit it to the judgment of the public. Therefore, opinions about the book’s content or quality, such as calling it foolish or indecent, and linking those traits to the author’s character (e.g., suggesting the author must be weak-minded or impure), fall within Exception 6. These opinions are protected because they are based on the book itself and how it reflects on the author through its content.

Illustration (b): Similarly, if someone makes a public speech, they are submitting their speech to public scrutiny. Opinions about the speech’s effectiveness, persuasiveness, or any other aspect directly related to the speech’s content or delivery, are protected under this exception. Illustration (c): Actors or singers performing on a public stage also submit their performance to the public’s judgment. Therefore, opinions about their acting or singing abilities, as reflected in their public performance, are protected from defamation claims.

Boundaries of Exception 6-

However, there are limits to this protection:

Scope of Opinion: The opinion expressed must be genuinely held and based solely on the performance or work being judged by the public. It cannot extend to personal attacks or opinions about the author’s character that are unrelated to the performance itself.

Contrast in Illustrations

Illustration (d): A critic states, “Z’s book is foolish; Z must be a weak man. Z’s book is indecent; Z must be a man of impure mind.” This opinion is protected under Exception 6 because it directly relates the characteristics of the book to perceived traits of the author’s character, based solely on the content of the book.

Illustration (e): On the other hand, if someone says, “I am not surprised that Z’s book is foolish and indecent, for he is a weak man and a libertine,” this statement would not be protected under Exception 6. This is because the opinion about Z’s character as a weak man and libertine is not grounded in the book itself but rather in unrelated judgments or assumptions about the author’s personal qualities.

Exception 7-

Exception 7 of defamation law provides protection for individuals who hold authority over others, either through legal authority or contractual agreements, to pass censure or criticism in good faith regarding the conduct of those under their authority in matters related to that authority.

Explanation of Exception 7

This exception acknowledges that individuals in positions of authority often have the responsibility to oversee and manage the conduct of others under their supervision. It permits them to express constructive criticism or censure in good faith without being liable for defamation, as long as the criticism is related to matters within the scope of their authority.

Illustration Explained-

The illustration provided highlights various scenarios where Exception 7 applies:

A Judge: A judge, who holds authority in the courtroom, can censure in good faith the conduct of a witness or a court officer. This includes criticizing the performance or behavior of individuals involved in legal proceedings under their jurisdiction.

Head of Department: A head of a department can censure in good faith those who are under their orders. This allows them to provide feedback or criticism regarding the work performance or conduct of their subordinates within the department.

Parent: A parent can censure in good faith a child in the presence of other children. This recognizes parental authority to discipline and guide children, including providing corrective feedback or criticism when necessary.

School Master: A school master, acting with authority derived from a parent or institution, can censure in good faith a pupil in the presence of other pupils. This includes offering constructive criticism or discipline aimed at improving the student’s behavior or academic performance.

Master and Servant: A master (employer) can censure in good faith a servant (employee) for remissness in service. This allows employers to provide feedback or criticism related to job performance and conduct in the workplace.

Banker: A banker can censure in good faith the cashier of the bank for conduct related to their role. This permits the banker to provide feedback or criticism regarding the cashier’s professional conduct within the banking institution.

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Exception 8-

Exception 8 of defamation law protects individuals who, in good faith, make accusations or complaints against another person to those who have lawful authority over that person regarding the subject-matter of the accusation or complaint.

Explanation of Exception 8

This exception recognizes that individuals have the right to bring forth allegations or complaints in good faith when they believe someone has committed wrongdoing or misconduct. It allows them to report such concerns to authorities who have the legal responsibility or authority to address the issue. The key requirement is that the accusation or complaint must be made sincerely and with the intention of addressing a legitimate concern related to the authority’s jurisdiction over the matter.

Illustration Explained-

The illustration provided clarifies how Exception 8 applies in practical scenarios:

Accusation Before a Magistrate: If A accuses Z before a Magistrate, alleging that Z has committed an offense or misconduct that falls under the Magistrate’s jurisdiction, A is protected under this exception. The accusation is made in good faith to the authority (the Magistrate) who has lawful power to adjudicate the matter.

Complaint to a Master: If A complains in good faith about the conduct of Z, who is a servant, to Z’s master (employer), regarding behavior or actions that affect the employment relationship, A is within this exception. The complaint addresses a matter within the master’s lawful authority over the servant.

Complaint to a Parent: Similarly, if A complains in good faith about the conduct of Z, who is a child, to Z’s father regarding behavior or actions relevant to parental responsibility, A is protected under this exception. The complaint is made to the lawful authority (the parent) who has responsibility for the child’s upbringing and behavior.

Exception 9 –

Exception 9 and Exception 10 of defamation law provide defenses for making imputations or conveying cautions in good faith, with the intention of protecting one’s own interests, the interests of others, or for the public good. These exceptions recognize situations where statements that may otherwise be considered defamatory are justified by legitimate motives aimed at safeguarding individuals or broader societal interests.

Exception 9: Imputation for Protection of Interests

Exception 9 states that it is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another person if the imputation is made in good faith:

Protection of Self: When the imputation is made for the protection of the interests of the person making it.

Protection of Others: When the imputation is made for the protection of the interests of any other person.

Public Good: When the imputation is made for the public good.

Illustrations Explained:

Illustration (a): A shopkeeper, A, tells B, who manages his business, “Sell nothing to Z unless he pays you ready money, for I have no opinion of his honesty.” Here, A’s imputation on Z’s honesty is protected under Exception 9 because A made the statement in good faith to protect his own business interests. A reasonably believes that warning B about Z’s honesty is necessary to safeguard his business from potential harm or loss. Illustration (b): A, who is a Magistrate, includes an imputation on Z’s character in a report to his superior officer. If A’s imputation is made in good faith and for the public good, such as highlighting concerns about Z’s conduct that are relevant to public safety or the administration of justice, A would be protected under Exception 9. This recognizes that officials may need to raise legitimate concerns about individuals’ characters or behaviors as part of their duties, provided it is done in good faith and serves a public interest.

Exception 10: Conveying Caution for Good Faith Reasons

Exception 10 protects individuals who convey cautions in good faith to one person against another, provided that the caution is intended for:

Good of the Person: Protecting the interests of the person to whom the caution is conveyed.

Interest of Another: Protecting the interests of someone in whom that person is interested.

Public Good: Serving the broader public good.

This exception acknowledges that individuals may need to warn others about potential risks or dangers posed by someone’s conduct or character, as long as it is done sincerely and for justified reasons.

Legal Framework and Considerations

These exceptions balance the protection of reputation with the need for free expression and public safety:

Good Faith Requirement: Both exceptions emphasize that the imputations or cautions must be made in good faith. This means the person making the statement must genuinely believe in the truth of their statement and must have a valid reason for making it.

Protection of Interests: They recognize the legitimate interests individuals and authorities have in safeguarding themselves, others, or the public from potential harm or wrongdoing.

Public Interest: Statements made for the public good, such as by public officials or concerned citizens, are protected under these exceptions if they are made in good faith and serve a legitimate public interest, such as preventing harm or promoting transparency.

Frequently asked questions (faq’s)-

1. What are the 4 points of defamation?

A: To establish a prima facie case of defamation, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate four elements:
1. False Statement of Fact: There must be a statement that is asserted as fact but is not true.
2. Publication or Communication: This false statement must have been communicated or published to a third party who is not the plaintiff.
3. Fault: The defendant must have been at fault, at least to the extent of negligence, in making or spreading the false statement.
4. Damages or Harm to Reputation: The false statement must have caused some form of harm to the reputation of the person or entity that is the subject of the statement.

2. How can you protect a defamation case?

A: Truth serves as a complete defense in defamation cases. The defendant bears the burden of proof, requiring them to demonstrate that the defamatory statements were substantively true.

3. What are the essential elements of defamation?

A: Criminal defamation plays a critical role in protecting individuals from untrue and harmful statements that can damage their reputation. It’s crucial to grasp the key elements of defamation, including false assertions, reputational harm, dissemination, and intent or awareness, to build a robust legal case.

4. What are the exceptions to defamation?

A: Exception three states that expressing opinions in good faith regarding a public servant’s conduct in the execution of their official duties or their character, as observed through such conduct, is not considered defamation, provided it pertains directly to those aspects and no more.

5. Is truth a defense to defamation?

A: Truth is the primary defense against defamation because defamation hinges on false statements. Therefore, if the accused can substantiate the truthfulness of their statements, they can avoid legal responsibility. However, this defense may not be applicable in criminal defamation cases.

6. What evidence is needed for a defamation case?

A: The statement must be defamatory and can take various forms such as spoken or written words, signs, gestures, or any other communication method. It is crucial that the defamatory statement is factually incorrect and not a legitimate expression of opinion.

7. Is there a time limit when suing for defamation?

A: A defamation lawsuit must be initiated within one year from the date of the defamatory publication. Generally, attempting to file a defamation claim after this period is not allowed. However, a court has the discretion to extend this limitation to up to three years from the date of publication if it finds it fair and reasonable considering all circumstances to allow the defamation case to proceed.

8. What are verbal defamatory statements?

A: A verbal statement that is defamatory is traditionally referred to as slander. In modern law, there is no distinction between libel (defamation through written words or other permanent forms) and slander (defamation through spoken or non-recorded means). Bringing a legal claim based on oral statements can pose challenges. The individual alleging defamation must specify the exact words spoken about them and identify the audience. It’s insufficient to only know the general content or essence of the statement when drafting a defamation complaint. Without confirming the precise wording, assessing the strength of the claim can be problematic.
Having a transcript or recording of the alleged defamatory statement is ideal for legal proceedings. In the absence of such evidence, obtaining accurate details of the statement’s exact words can be a time-consuming and difficult process.

9. What if the statement contains elements of truth?

A: A defense is accessible if the meaning conveyed by the publication is shown to be true or mostly true. For a defamation claim, it’s essential that the substance and facts of the defamatory content align with truth. Given that defamation hinges on the conveyed meanings or “imputations” rather than just literal words, the defense may falter if specific imputations cannot be substantiated as true.


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