Published: 19th February 2021
What the FAQ: Everything you need to know about defamation after the MJ Akbar-Priya Ramani case
What do we understand by defamation, what is the punishment for defamation, and more — we try to answer some of the most asked questions around this subject
After Priya Ramani's acquittal, considered a milestone for the #MeToo movement, the thing that has come into the limelight, in this case, is the concept of defamation and how it works in this country. Here, we try to explain what the defamation law entails, how it was used in this case, what the court said and more.
What is defamation?
Ans: According to the universally accepted definition, defamation, in law, is "attacking another’s reputation by a false publication (communication to a third party) tending to bring the person into disrepute. The concept is an elusive one and is limited in its varieties only by human inventiveness." Typically, defamation requires the publication to be false and has to be without the consent of the person allegedly defamed.
What is the punishment for defamation?
Ans: Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (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." In India, defamation is considered both civil and criminal offence. When a civil defamation case is filed, a person who is defamed can move either High Court or subordinate courts and seek damages in the form of monetary compensation from the accused. Also, under sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, a person guilty of criminal defamation can be sent to jail for two years.
What was the case against Priya Ramani?
Ans: Following a trial that lasted almost two years, a Delhi Court recently acquitted journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed against her by former Union Minister MJ Akbar. The defamation case was filed after Ramani accused him of sexual harassment during the #MeToo movement of 2018. The criminal defamation case was filed by MJ Akbar in a Delhi Court in October 2018. He was accused of sexual harassment by numerous women. During this time, amid the ongoing #MeToo movement, Ramani had tweeted stating that the harasser spoken about in an article written by her in The Vogue was MJ Akbar.
What did the Court say in its judgment acquitting Priya Ramani?
Ans: The Delhi Court's judgment had a few salient observations in this case, which include:
- The court said that the victim has a right to put her grievance on any platform even after years and decades.
- The court accepts the fact that a complaint is not lodged due to the social stigma. The court said most women do not talk about sexual harassment to prevent her dignity as she also has a family and has to go through the trauma.
- The right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right to dignity; the right of reputation can't be weighed over the right of the life of a woman.