The Reputation of a Person Is a Fundamental Right Under Article 21 Of the Indian Constitution- Analysis with Reference to Indian Tort Law.

Written By: Rushank Shah.

Edited By: Christo Sabu.


A person’s reputation in a society is determined by the acts that he carries out. Reputation is simply defined as the beliefs or opinions regarding someone or something held by the people in a society.  But this term holds more depth than just the simple meaning of having a general opinion and belief. That is because reputation, in this close-knit human society, defines what kind of treatment a person will receive from literally everyone, anywhere on the planet. For example, a man having been registered as a sex offender will mostly be seen as an individual looking to prey upon a woman at the first chance that he gets. And even a full process of reformation won’t take away the stigma for that man, regardless of his newfound beliefs.

This illustration of a sex offender can be further taken to show how it will affect his life on a micro-level. One of the greatest of such a tag will firstly affect his work-life. In case he is working, he might get fired so that the management can ensure the safety of its workers and its reputation in the market. He further will face a backlash in his personal life, where even his own family might view him with some apprehension or maybe even go further to disown him completely. Aside from this, every single time people recognize that person, he will be viewed with an apprehension of being a sexual predator. In a case like this, we can safely conclude that such an individual will be forced into loneliness and mental health problems. Such is the power and mindset of society. Such is the worth of our reputation as it may affect our lives in its entirety. And this makes reputation one of the closest needs that a person might have right next to life itself. Thus, it is something that most people seek to protect even at the cost of their own lives.

Such an important aspect of human life deserves to be protected from abuse and for this purpose, the law’s interjections are appreciated. Any action that can cause even the slightest form of abrasion of another individual’s reputation is strictly condemned under law. This article aims to discuss a person’s protection of reputation as a fundamental right provided under the Indian Constitution, and how the Indian Judicial system deals with matters affecting a person’s reputation. It further talks about how the law prevents any abrasion of a person’s reputation, as trivial as it might seem.

 Reputation defined under the law

Reputation does not have an explicit definition per se. However, it is found to be treated as a movable property, which can be moved like any other movable goods. Although the crudeness of this definition makes way for some ambiguity, it is very much likely an alternative to prevent any imputation of an individual’s reputation. The Indian judiciary has in many instances held that the reputation of a person is secondary only to his life. In the case, Noor Alam vs. the State of UP, the court held that the personal liberty of a person, as well as his reputation, is of paramount importance. The order that was passed was as follows:

“It is to be understood by one and all that there cannot be anything precious than the personal liberty as well as the reputation of a person.”[1]

Reputation is thus, a protected aspect of human life that the law deems as utmost necessary for survival in human society.

Section 19 of the CPC-

“Where a suit is for compensation for the wrong done to the person or movable property, if the wrong was done within the local limits of the jurisdiction of one Court and the defendant resides, or carries on business, or personally works for gain, within the local limits of the jurisdiction of another Court, the suit may be instituted at the option of the plaintiff in either of the said Courts.”

Cases of defamation are generally filed under section 19 of the Civil Procedure Code. Reputation is not mentioned in this section however, reputation is categorized as a movable property for the sake of this section. This section comes into play especially in cases of civil defamation.

Reputation as a fundamental right resting in Article 21

Article 21 of the Constitution states that,

“Protection of life and personal liberty- No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

When we talk about a person’s right to live, we mean something more than the mere existence of the person. In the case, Francis Coralie vs. Union Territory of Delhi[2], the court held that,

“The right to live includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, viz., the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing, and shelter over the head and facilities for reading writing, and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic necessities the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on functions and activities as constituting the bare minimum expression of the human self.”[3]

Here the Court held that the right to live with dignity was included in the basic right to life. The Court reasoned that a person’s right to live life would be meaningless if he didn’t have the right to protect and cherish his dignity. Another landmark case, where the court held a familiar contention was the famous judgment, Menaka Gandhi vs. Union of India[4]. The constitution of India does not have any explicit reference as to what constitutes an important part of human life. However, over the years, the Indian judiciary has come to see that other than a healthy existence in the context of health, a right to live with honor and dignity is a right that is of utmost importance to any person, sometimes even more important than his own life.[5]

Defamation- infringement of a person’s reputation

The dignity of a person is defined by the reputation that he holds in society. In the language of the law, when we talk about dignity and reputation, we find them interconnected with each other. The dignity of a man defines what kind of a reputation society will hold for him.

Defamation is the umbrella term to classify all kinds of offenses where there might occur any abrasion of a person’s reputation. Defamation is an act through which another person’s reputation is put in jeopardy by spreading any false information about the targeted individual which might lead to bringing about a wrong image in the minds of right-minded individuals of the society about that individual.

Defamation is an offense both under civil laws and criminal laws. This means that in case a plaintiff chooses to file a complaint, he has the choice to sue the perpetrator either under civil laws or criminal law, depending upon the nature of remedy he chooses. However, in law, defamation is defined under section 499 of the Indian Penal Code. It states,

“Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person. Explanation 1. It may amount to defamation to impute anything to a deceased person, if the imputation would harm the reputation of that person if living, and is intended to be hurtful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives. Explanation 2. It may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such. Explanation 3. Imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically may amount to defamation. Explanation 4. No imputation is said to harm a person’s reputation, unless that imputation directly or indirectly, in the estimation of others, lowers the moral or intellectual character of that person, or lowers the character of that person in respect of his caste or of his calling, or lowers the credit of that person, or causes it to be believed that the body of that person is in a loathsome state, or a state generally considered as disgraceful.”

According to this section, any person who publishes any material or speaks in a certain manner about an individual to lower his reputation in the eyes of the right-minded individuals of the society has committed the offense of defamation. On the terms of publication, there are two types of defamation- libel and slander.

Libel- Libel is a publication in a permanent form where the information can be seen by more people and can be accessed even at a later stage to be shown to others.

Slander- Slander is a publication in a more transient form where the information is more temporary, like a word or a gesture where the receiver of the information cannot access it again.

Indian law doesn’t hold libel and slander distinct from one another but rather treats both as offenses under both criminal and civil laws. However, English law held some distinctions to make only libel a criminal offense while leaving slander to be dealt with by the law of torts.[6]

Defamation under the law of torts

When we come to talk about defamation, we often hear that defamation is mainly of two types- civil or criminal. However, what gets lost in the transit of communication is that these ‘types’ of defamation are only divided based on what remedy the plaintiff prefers in the case and accordingly, under what head does he want to pursue the suit. Under a criminal suit, the plaintiff has the chance to approach the courts in the usual hierarchy starting from the lower courts to higher courts.[7] Under a civil suit, the complaint can be filed in the High Court or any subordinate courts where damages might be awarded if the offense is proved without the defendant facing any jail time.[8]

The conditions to prove the offense of defamation are as follows-

1) The statement must be published. Publication here means passing on a piece of defamatory information about a person to another person who is not directly related to the defamed person.

2) It should be proved that the statement caused some downfall of the victim’s reputation in the society and that he faced certain losses because of the same, monetary or not.

3) The reputation should be hampered in the eyes of the rational section of society. This means that the damage should be to affect the victim in a real sense, where rational people could hold a bias against the victim based on the information.[9]

Defamation as a violation of Article 21

Article 21 talks about the utmost priority that is given to human life and what human life stands for, in the eyes of the law. Article 21 has evolved over the years with the law adding new perspectives to this particular article and what it means to have a right to life. In the case, Subramanyam Swamy vs. Union of India[10], the Supreme Court of India held that the right to reputation is enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Another notable decision was the ban on the publication of the book, ‘Godman to Tycoon- Untold Story of Baba Ramdev’, stating that the book was defamatory.


The Constitution of India grants its citizens the right to life. An aspect of this life includes the right to maintain one’s reputation. Defamation is the greatest abrasion to a person’s reputation and is constituted both as a criminal and a civil offense. The oppressed person has the option to ask for a remedy that might result in imprisonment of the accused or damages will be accordingly awarded under tort law. The Indian Judiciary has, time and again, held that a person’s life includes more than just his physical existence. Any deterioration of human life is classified as an offense; defamation being one of them.

[1] Noor Alam vs. the State of UP, Misc. Bench No. – 2935 of 2019,

[2] 1981 AIR 746, 1981 SCR (2) 516

[3] Supra 3

[4] 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

[5] Rija Jain, Article 21: Understanding the Right to Life and Personal Liberty, LAWCTOPUS, (15-10-2021, 19:17),


[7] Defamation laws in India, HELLO COUNSEL,, (17-10-2021, 11:06)

[8] Debayan Roy, How MJ Akbar’s Defamation Suit Against Priya Ramani May Play Out In Court Today, NEWS 18,, (17-10-2021, 11:25)

[9] Supra 9

[10] WP (C) 184/2014

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