Section 500 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The facts and total circumstances of the case must be taken into account while sentencing a convict under this section. Where in a words quarrel amongst village ladies, which is quite frequent, a widow was called a ‘chhinal’, that is to say, a woman of easy virtue, and was said to be the keep of her daughter-in-law’s maternal uncle, a fine of fifty rupees was held to be adequate. Journalists as responsible people must be presumed to know the consequences of their writings and, therefore, the courts have generally taken serious view in their matters.

In Shatrughna Prasad Sinha v. Rajbhau Surajmal Rathi, an interview of the appellant was published in a film magazine the contents of which were allegedly defamatory to the Marwari Community lowering them in the estimation of the public, or their reputation was lowered in the society.

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The Supreme Court held that the statement in the complaint that Marwari Community had no faith and love towards India, their motherland, was not sufficient to constitute the offence of defamation, and as such the process issued by the magistrate was liable to be quashed. There is no provision for rigorous imprisonment in this section.

In K. M. Mathew v. K. A. Abraham, the appellants were either managing editor, chief editor or resident editor of their respective newspaper publications. The complainant alleged that either the managing editor, chief editor or resident editor had knowledge of libellous publication and were responsible for publishing the defamatory matter in their respective newspaper publications.

In none of these cases the editor had come forward and pleaded guilty to the effect that he was the person responsible for selecting the alleged defamatory matter published. The Supreme Court observed that it would be a matter of evidence in each case.

If the complainant was allowed to proceed only against the editor whose name was printed in the newspaper against whom there is a statutory presumption under section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 and in each case the editor succeeds in proving that he was not the editor having control over the selection of the alleged libelous matter published in the newspaper, the complainant would be left without any remedy to redress his grievance against the real culprit. The Supreme Court, therefore, held that the quashing of complaint against the appellants was, therefore, improper.

In V. Palani v. S. P. Chandrabose, the Madras High Court has held that filing a private complaint under section 500 of the Code which was ultimately quashed does not amount to defamation. Equally, service of summons on the said complaint would not amount to defamation as service of summons was only in pursuance of order of the court.

In H. K. Dua v, Chander Mohan, libellous matter was published in a newspaper. The Punjab and Haryana High Court held that prosecution of editor-in-chief was not good in law because he does not fall within the expression ‘editor’ in the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867. No presumption under section 7 of the Act could be raised that he was responsible to control election of matter that was published in a news item. His prosecution without any averment in the complaint that he controlled selection of such matter was liable to be quashed.

The offence under this section is non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable with the permission of the court, and is triable by court of session in case of public servant, and in other cases it is compoundable and triable by magistrate of the first class.