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Indian Polity

Right of Reputation vs Right to Dignity

  • 19 Feb 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, a Delhi court has rejected a criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister against a journalist over her tweets accusing him of sexual harassment.

Key Points

  • Consideration by the Court:
  • Court's Ruling:
    • The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of women.
      • Right to Reputation:
        • As per the SC, the right to reputation is an integral part of Article 21 of the Constitution.
        • Further, existence of Section 499 (Criminal Defamation) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is not a restriction on the freedom of speech and expression because it ensures that the social interest is served by holding a reputation as a shared value of the public at large.
      • Right to Life (Article 21):
        • No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
        • It confers on every person the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.
      • Right to Live with Dignity:
        • In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India 1978, the SC gave a new dimension to Article 21 and held that the right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity.
    • Woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.


  • About:
    • In India, defamation can both be a civil wrong and a criminal offence.
      • The difference between the two lies in the objects they seek to achieve.
      • A civil wrong tends to provide for a redress of wrongs by awarding compensation and a criminal law seeks to punish a wrongdoer and send a message to others not to commit such acts.
  • Laws for Defamation:
    • In Indian laws, criminal defamation has been specifically defined as an offence under the section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) whereas the civil defamation is based on tort law (an area of law which does not rely on statutes to define wrongs but takes from ever-increasing body of case laws to define what would constitute a wrong).
    • Section 499 states defamation could be through words, spoken or intended to be read, through signs, and also through visible representations.
      • These can either be published or spoken about a person with the intention of damaging the reputation of that person, or with the knowledge or reason to believe that the imputation will harm his reputation.
  • Exceptions:
    • Section 499 also cites exceptions. These include “imputation of truth” which is required for the “public good” and thus has to be published, on the public conduct of government officials, the conduct of any person touching any public question and merits of the public performance.
  • Punishment:
    • Section 500 of IPC, which is on punishment for defamation, reads, “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
    • Moreover, in a criminal case, defamation has to be established beyond reasonable doubt but in a civil defamation suit, damages can be awarded based on probabilities.
  • Validity:
    • The SC of India, in the Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India, 2014, upheld the constitutional validity of the criminal defamation law.


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