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This article is written by R Sai Gayatri, from the Post Graduate College of Law, Osmania University. This article deals with defamation and the landmark case of D.P Choudhary v Manju Lata. 

Introduction

If an individual publishes false imputations and unfair comments against you and spreads them among others due to which you feel miserable and enraged, then wouldn’t you want such an individual to be held and punished for causing you pain and trouble? A similar situation was dealt with in the landmark case of  D.P. Choudhary v. Manju Lata, 1997 where the Rajasthan High Court elucidated upon the intricacies of the act of defamation. The term ‘defamation’ seems to be surfacing everywhere these days, comments and statements are passed by people in an instant, however, it is important to know when a comment or statement passed by someone amounts to defamation. In this article, we shall discuss defamation and the landmark case that focused upon the extent and scope of defamation.

Defamation and Indian laws

When an individual causes injury to the reputation of another then it is known as defamation. Since reputation is considered as the most precious property of an individual which he values and protects, the publication of any defamatory content regarding such individual shall be unlawful. Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution states that every citizen has the right to freedom of speech, but such freedom does not extend to publishing defamatory statements against any other individual. Further, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that every individual has the right to life which includes the right to protect oneself from defamatory statements lacking lawful justification.

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 talks about defamation. Any intentional false communication which is either spoken or written or done by signs or visible representations, that harms the reputation of a person or decreases the regard, respect or confidence that they are held in or if it induces hostile, disparaging or disagreeable opinions or feelings against such person, then it is known as defamation.

When it comes to English law, the act of defamation is divided into two types i.e, libel and slander. Where defamation is done through writing, publishing, or printing any defamatory statement against any person it is known as libel. Where the defamation is done by orally passing defamatory statements then it is called slander.

Defamation is considered as a civil wrong under the law of torts when it involves no criminal offence, however, the person making such defamatory statements can be sued to get legal compensation. Under the Indian Penal Code, defamation is considered a criminal offence when it involves the act of defaming or offending an individual by committing an offence or crime. The person making such defamatory statements is liable to be prosecuted.

Essentials of defamation as per IPC

Section 499 of IPC specifies three essential ingredients for the offence of defamation – 

  1. An imputation or allegation must be made to harm the individual against whom it is made.
  2. Such an imputation or allegation must be made by means of – 
    1. words, either spoken or written; or
    2. signs; or
    3. visible representations.
  3. Publishing such imputation or allegation.

Exceptions to defamation as per IPC

The following circumstances are exceptions to defamation – 

  1. Imputation of truth which public good requires to be made or published.
  2. Public conduct of a public servant.
  3. Conduct of any person approaching any public question.
  4. Publication of reports of proceedings of courts.
  5. Merits of a case decided in court or conduct of witnesses and others related to the case.
  6. Merits of public performance.
  7. Censure passed in good faith by a person having lawful authority over another.
  8. Accusations desired in good faith to authorised persons.
  9. Imputation made in good faith by a person for the protection of his or others interests.
  10. Caution intended for the good of a person to whom conveyed or the public good.

Punishment for defamation as per IPC

Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code mentions the punishment for the offence of defamation. As per this Section, the punishment for defamation is simple imprisonment, the term of which may extend to two years, or fine, or both.

Now that we know about defamation briefly, we will understand about it in depth through the landmark case of D.P. Choudhary v. Manjulata, 1997.

Quick insights on the case

NAME OF THE CASED.P. CHOUDHARY AND ORS. VS KUMARI MANJULATA
CITATION OF THE CASEAIR 1997 RAJ 170
NAME OF THE COURTRAJASTHAN HIGH COURT
PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENTIN THE CASEKUMARI MANJULATA
DEFENDANT-APPELLANTS IN THE CASED.P. CHOUDHARY & ORS.
HON’BLE JUDGEJUSTICE MOHD. YAMIN
DATE OF JUDGEMENT4TH APRIL, 1997

Facts of the case

Kumari Manjulata, the 17-year-old daughter of Mohan Singh was residing with her family in Kalal Colony, Jodhpur. It is stated that Manjulata (plaintiff-respondent) was a student of B.A., her mother was M.A. B.Ed, her father was M.A. M.Com, M.Ed and employed as a senior teacher and her brother was a university student. Therefore, it was stated that the plaintiff-respondent was a member of a distinguished and well-educated family.

Durga Prasad was the Principal Editor of Dainik Navjyoti, a daily newspaper. Under Durga Prasad, the Managing Editor and Publisher of the same newspaper were employed. These three individuals (defendant-appellants) are responsible for the publication of news regarding Manjulata in the daily newspaper. 

On 18th December 1977, the daily newspaper Dainik Navjyoti published a news item along with unfair comments along with false imputations about Manjulata stating that she had eloped with her boyfriend named Kamlesh when she went out of her home in the name of attending extra classes in her college. In this regard, the present case was appealed by the defendants stating that they are not liable for publishing defamatory statements against the plaintiff-respondent.

Issues raised in the case

  • Whether the publication of the news regarding Manjulata by Durga Prasad and others in the daily newspaper Dainik Navjyoti was true or false?
  • Whether such publication regarding Manjulata was done intending to harm her reputation?
  • Whether the lower court decided correctly in awarding damages of Rupees 10,000?

Defendant-appellants’ arguments

The defendant-appellants argued that the information published by them was gathered by their reporter who in turn got the information from the police station. On this basis, the defendant-appellants were stating that the published content was true and it was collected from a reliable source. It was further contended that the defendant-appellants do not know the plaintiff-respondent personally and they had no intention of any kind to defame, harm or harass the plaintiff-respondent.

The defendant-appellants further stated that the published content was purely based on correct facts. It was also stated that the correspondent, who is an advocate, had received the information from the police station which he further verified from the mother of the plaintiff-respondent. The correspondent forwarded the report to the daily newspaper with the sole intention that if Manjulata comes across any person who knows her and has read the news then they would make her go back to her parents.

Plaintiff-respondent’s arguments

The plaintiff-respondent argued that the published news contained false imputations and unfair comments against her thereby causing injury to her reputation. It was further stated by her that the news regarding her was published with utter disregard to her reputation. The plaintiff-respondent further stated that the act of the defendant-appellants was negligent and malicious which resulted in creating and spreading hatred against her due to which she was miserably ridiculed and shocked.

It was further contended that the act of the defendant-appellants also led to the suffering of her family, they faced disrespect in the society and felt dishonoured. It was further stated that solely because of the publication of such news against her, the plaintiff-respondent was not able to arrange for her marriage which caused her inferiority complex. As a result, the plaintiff-respondent sent a notice to the defendant-appellants which was unheeded. Subsequently, the plaintiff-respondent claimed a sum of Rupees 10,100 as damages from the defendant-appellants along with an interest of 12%.  

Judgement of the case

The Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan opined that if a false news item is published then whoever reads it has their own reservations about the individual regarding whom such false publication was made. It further stated that the object of the law of defamation is to safeguard an individual’s interest in his reputation. Even if the defendant states that they had no intention to injure the reputation of the plaintiff such reason cannot be a ground for defence. If the defendant believes in the truth of the words published in a bonafide manner, he will still be liable for defamation unless the defence of privilege is raised.

The plaintiff-respondent stated that she had to face mental tension and many hurdles for her marriage proposals. She also stated that she was being looked down upon by her known people and the published news was also affecting her career badly. The plaintiff-respondent further stated that due to the published news the reputation and prestige of her and her family were lowered down and her character was assassinated.

The Hon’ble High Court further mentioned that the defendant-appellant had stated that there was no malicious intent on their behalf towards the plaintiff-respondent. However, the Court stated that it goes unsaid as to how in such cases an individual may be held liable even if he had no malicious intent against the defamed individual. It is immaterial whether there was any intention or motive involved when the person wrote, spoke or published such words regarding another’s reputation.

By considering the evidence on record, the Hon’ble High Court found that the defendant-appellants published the news after receiving the information from the police station but without any verification. As a result, the plaintiff-respondent and her family lost their reputation and prestige in the eyes of society. Further, the Court also stated that the defendant-appellants were never asked by any one of the family members of Manjulata to publish a news item and find her.

The Court further stated that the words published by the defendant-appellant have proved to be defamatory of the plaintiff and thus general damages will be presumed since all the defamatory words are actionable per se. The publication of the news by the defendant-appellant has injured the reputation of the plaintiff-respondent and her family causing them various troubles. Therefore, the Court held that the damages awarded by the lower court are not excessive and that the amount was rightly decided by it. In the present case, since the appeal failed it was dismissed by the Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan.

Critical analysis of the case

The Hon’ble High Court of Rajasthan mentioned that every man must be presumed to know and to intend the natural and ordinary consequences of his acts. The words are actionable if false and defamatory, although published accidentally or inadvertently. In the present case, though the defendant-appellants tried to establish that they had no malicious intent to publish the news regarding the plaintiff-respondent, their actions still affected her and her family extensively.

Each individual protects their reputation considering it as one of their most valuable property and when any other person through defamatory statements and unfair comments causes injury to such reputation of an individual then they must be punished. The reputation, if damaged for unlawful and unjustified reasons, cannot be easily revived by an individual in the view of the ideal society which further creates various problems in the life of such individuals. In the instant case as well, even though there was no fault of Manjulata, she had to face various troubles due to the defamatory statements published against her in the newspaper, such as being looked down upon in society, the decline in career growth, rejection of marriage proposals, family being dishonoured and so on. This is a clear case where one individual’s irresponsible, negligent and insensible act leads to grave consequences on another’s life. Therefore, it is essential to understand that defamation is not just a petty offence, any individual who is held guilty of defamation must be dealt with by law in a stringent manner.

In the present case, no statement was proved to be true by the defendant-appellants and therefore, they are liable for the publication of such unfair comments and defamatory statements against the plaintiff-respondent. The defamatory news item against Manjulata affected her and her family’s reputation to a grave extent and thus the damages awarded by the court are appropriate and not excessive.

Conclusion

Any intentional false communication which is either spoken or written, that harms the reputation of a person or decreases the regard, respect or confidence that they are held in or if it induces hostile, disparaging or disagreeable opinions or feelings against such person, then it is known as defamation. 

Defamation is considered as a civil wrong under the law of torts when it involves no criminal offence, however, the person making such defamatory statements can be sued to get legal compensation. Under the Indian Penal Code, defamation is considered a criminal offence when it involves the act of defaming or offending an individual by committing an offence or crime. The person making such defamatory statements is liable to be prosecuted.

In the instant case of D.P. Choudhary v Manjulata, the daily newspaper ‘Dainik Navjyoti’ negligently published a defamatory news item against Manjulata which gravely affected her and her family’s reputation. The Court held that the words published were defamatory and actionable per se and thus under general damages Manjulata was entitled to receive an award of Rupees 10,000.

References


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