Defamation law challenged

Defamation law challenged

A woman, who faced prosecution for defamation for making allegations against her father-in-law in a domestic violence case, has approached the Supreme Court challenging the Constitutional validity of the law's penal provisions.

Petitioner Tina Ahuja questioned the Constitutional validity of Section 199 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) and Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), mandating two-year jail on conviction, for being excessive, arbitrary, unreasonable and violative of the right to freedom speech and expression.

A vacation bench presided over by Justice R K Agrawal stayed the summons issued against Tina by a Delhi court on a complaint filed by her father-in-law Subhash Ahuja. 

The father-in-law, a Gurgaon resident, had filed the complaint with a city court contending that the allegations in Tina's petition under the Domestic Violence Act amounted to defamation against him.

In her writ petition filed through advocate Lalit Kumar, she claimed the penal provisions enacted 155 years ago were the remnants of the pre-Independence colonial era and completely antiquated, unsuitable, excessive, and unreasonable in the present-day context.

“The criminalisation of defamation vide Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC undermines the fundamental right to free speech and expression of citizens by pre-emptively discouraging healthy and informed debate,” said the petition.

The apex court, while suspending proceedings against the petitioner, tagged her petition along with the one filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and others seeking de-criminalisation of defamation laws.

“Defamation was criminalised both in England and India (by Lord Macaulay) with a view to protect the aristocracy and the ruling class. It was not a vehicle to serve the interests of the common people. However, today India is a constitutional democracy, where the ideas of freedom of speech and expression are held dear,” said the petitioner.

Among other grounds, she also cited examples of the US, the UK, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Maldives and other countries, where defamation provisions no longer exist, to buttress her case.

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