Criminal Defamation and Hate Speech

In a world , where words fight deadlier than a sword in a battle against individual or a group and can be used for harming the individuality and reputation of an individual or a group there must be a clear line drawn against freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by Indian Constitution Under Article 19. It Is evident from many instances in the world where false words may lead to fall of a person reputation or fall of a whole community, so it can be said if freedom speech and expression granted unrestrictedly may result in grave consequences so this is why some very important laws such as Criminal Defamation and Hate speech have a great value in the modern era . So, this assignment will discuss both in detail and along with it the differences between them and how they are interlinked.


Under Article 21 of the Constitution, a citizen's right to life includes the right to reputation. A person's reputation, honour, integrity, and character are just as important as his right to enjoy property, health, personal liberty, and a variety of other benefits. A good reputation is an important aspect of personal security, and it is protected by the constitution in the same way as the rights to life, liberty, and poverty are.

Defamation, as the name implies, is harm to a person's reputation that is both a civil and criminal offence. Criminal defamation is covered under sections 499 to 502 of the Indian Penal Code. Defamation is a practise that serves as a check on the right to freedom of expression and communication. It is a method to guarantee that no one hurts a person's reputation or attempts to establish a false public perception of the person who has been defamed.

“Sec 499 defines defamation as: Whoever, by words spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person with the intent to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, that person's reputation, is said to defame that person, except in the cases hereinafter expected.

1. Explanation —

Impugning something to a deceased person may be considered defamation if the imputation would impair that person's reputation if he or she were still alive and is meant to hurt the feelings of his family or other close relations.

Explanation 2. — Making an imputation against a corporation, an association, or a group of people as such may be considered defamation.

Explanation 3: Defamation can occur when an imputation is offered as an alternative or sarcastically.

Explanation 4.—No imputation is said to harm a person's reputation unless it directly or indirectly, in the opinion of others, lowers that person's moral or intellectual character, or lowers that person's character in respect of his caste or calling, or lowers that person's credit, or causes it to be believed that that person's body is in some stain.”

Essentials for Criminal Defamation

  1. Making or disseminating an imputation about a person.

  2. Such Imputation must have made by

  3. words either Spoken or

  4. signs or

  5. visible representations;

  6. The offender wants to hurt that person's reputation, or knows or has cause to suspect that such imputation would harm that person's reputation.

Exception for Criminal Defamation

Following are the exceptions for criminal defamation as stated in Section 499 of IPC

• The truth for the greater good

• Public servants' public behaviour

• Appropriate criticism of public officials who are not public servants

• Report of Court Proceedings

• The merits of the witness's behaviour case

• Public Performance's Benefits

• The censure was enacted in good faith.

• Authority Complaint

• Imputation for Interest Protection

• Intended for a person's or a community's benefit

Subramanian Swamy v UOI (Ministry of Law)

The Supreme Court, in upholding the constitutional validity of criminal defamation provisions in sections 499 to 502 of the Penal Code of India, 1860, drafted during the colonial era, said, "Please do not muzzle free speech," and asked politicians Rahul Gandhi, Subramanian Swamy, Arvind Kejriwal, and others for allegedly defamatory statements.

500. Punishment for defamation

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

501. Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory

“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”.

502. Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter

“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”.

Hate Speech

Hate speech, according to Oxford, is defined as expression that is likely to offend or upset other people because of their affiliation with a specific group and/or provocation. In India, there is frequently a contradiction between hate speech and freedom of speech, making the subject of what should be the scope of freedom of speech and expression a hotly debated matter. As a result, constitutional experts from diverse constitutional benches create a line of demarcation over time to identify a point beyond which such freedom is forbidden by law and must be severely examined.

Under Article 19(1) (a) of India's Constitution, which stipulates that "all people shall enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression," freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed as a basic right.

The Indian constitution, however, has imposed a reasonable restriction under Art 19(2), where the word reasonable should strike a balance between the use and misuse of this right. It also says:

“Nothing in Article 19(1)(a) shall influence the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in thus far intrinsically law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the nation, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, dignity or morality or in Relation to contempt of court, defamation or instigation to an offence.”

When a restriction does not come within the scope of Art 19(2), it must be fair. Because the Supreme Court has determined that no abstract norms are typically made relevant to all or any cases3, the reasonableness test must be applied to each particular legislation challenged.

“Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes the promotion of enmity between groups of people on grounds such as religion and race, place of birth, residence language, and acts that are prejudicial to maintaining harmony, imposes a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine in such cases”.

Mens rea plays an important role in commitment of this offence. Although truth can be used as a defence in this case, it is not an absolute defence under Section 153A.