Topic: Indian Polity : Issues
7) It is trite to say that there must exist a balance between the freedom of expression and the right to reputation. In this light, critically analyze India’s defamation laws?(250 words)
Why this question
Criminal defamation complaint is again in the news, courtesy the metoo movement, where the rich and powerful have again used this tool to preserve their “reputation”. While the SC last year, had upheld the validity of criminal defamation laws, the misuse of the law by the rich and powerful as a means of coercion is problematic and needs to be discussed.
Key demand of the question
The question expects us to bring out the conflict between the need to protect reputation which is done using the defamation laws and the need to protect freedom of speech, which is threatened by defamation laws. The question expects us to bring out the pros and cons of having a defamation law like India does and give a fair and balanced opinion on whether a change is required.
Critically analyze – When asked to analyze, you have to examine methodically the structure or nature of the topic by separating it into component parts and present them as a whole in a summary. When ‘critically’ is suffixed or prefixed to a directive, all you need to do is look at the good and bad of something and give a fair judgement.
Structure of the answer
Introduction – Explain in brief about India’s defamation laws and an overview of the debate surrounding it.
- Explain what it meant by the statement in question – why maintaining a balance is necessary.
- Discuss the issues with having a strict defamation law and how it stifles freedom of expression
- unlike many other countries, defamation in India is a criminal offence (and not just a civil wrong), and a conviction entails both social stigma and potential jail time.
- Second, there is a very low threshold for a prima facie case of defamation to be established by a complainant. Simply put, he must only show that an “imputation” has been made that could reasonably be interpreted as harming his reputation.
- while in a civil defamation case, a defendant need only show that her statement was true in order to escape liability, in a criminal defamation proceeding, an accused must show that her statement was true and in the public interest. This leads to the paradoxical situation where our legal system is more advantageous towards those at the receiving end of civil defamation proceedings, and harsher towards those who have to go through the criminal process!
- Discuss why having strict defamation laws are necessary – Can give the arguments given by the 2 judge bench while declaring section 499 as constitutional
- Discuss the problem in the present context , in light of Metoo allegations and the use of criminal defamation to silence the victims.
Conclusion – Give a fair and balanced opinion and discuss way forward.