A publisher who faced dozens of defamation cases explains why the law must go

The founder of Careers360 magazine and former Outlook publisher tells us how India's criminal defamation law is abused more than it is used.

In India, defamation laws, especially criminal defamation laws have been more abused than used. It is a surprise that these laws, made more than 150 years ago, still exist. It is even more surprising that a nation burdened with serious issues in justice delivery even entertains such cases when the priority should be to the contrary. Defamation laws are used to threaten, bully and silence free speech and promote censorship so as to enable the criminal activities of a few. Very few cases have been filed with an intent to pursue the truth and come clean.

That anyone even remotely connected can seek out any of the thousands of lower courts anywhere in the country to mount an enormous challenge against the free media is dangerous for our democracy. I have seen the abuse and suffered the consequences. However, this isn't personal as many times, the nation suffered more. I have been sued possibly 100 times in various courts in India, and these are my general observations:

  • Most get settled with a clarification. They file the case, announce to the world while actively pursuing for a clarification so that they can withdraw the case. They simply don't want to fight the case to its logical end.
  • There was one case that was filed in Kolkata, which was settled with a promise that we will never re-publish the same article again. The petitioners knew fully well that no publication prints any article twice. The case was a farce and so was the settlement. The person who filed the case is a Member of Parliament now. Actively aided by PR, the media went to town about the case being filed but the quiet withdrawal was never reported.
  • In one case, the Board of Control for Cricket in India filed a case of defamation against us for sensationalising the match-fixing story with an intent to increase circulation. It was the first time someone talked about "match-fixing in cricket". We all know the truth now, but BCCI was blind then. They now accept our story. 
  • In one case, a proclaimed henchman of a Goonda minister filed a case in interior Uttar Pradesh. We were informed by our local lawyer that we would be physically abused once we set foot in the local court. We moved the high court and got the case transferred to a different court. They never pursued the case after the transfer.
  • When we did a story against a Ponzi scheme, the cases were filed by an agent selling the Ponzi scheme in interior Bihar. The corporate office of both of us was in Mumbai. 
  • Whenever anything about sex is written, we would expect a plethora of cases across the country about how a family magazine has "offended their sensibilities". These are normally criminal cases that never see the light of the day, but we still have to fight them.
  • Most cases had a sinister way of being filed in courts in small towns in West Bengal or the North East of India. The idea is to drag the respondent to remote corners with inefficient judicial delays and harass them. In many cases, it is all about getting a quick injunction and silencing any further follow-up investigation in the matter.
  • Many cases have been filed by parties who are not connected nor suffered any damage. They are would-be employees, agents etc. who undertake the task on behalf of the main parties.

It is time India looks at its criminal defamation laws closely. Protection of national interests needs a free-speaking media. The constant threat of abuse of criminal defamation laws only to silence truth being spoken out is entirely out of place for a vibrant democracy.

The fact that most cases are filed by the rich and powerful against the free and open media tells its own story. The fact that not one case was decided against us proves the case for free speech. It is time India wakes up. This is the time for pushing greater transparency and accountability. This is time to strengthen our democratic institutions. This is the time to decriminalise defamation laws.

Note: I am a signatory to the #freespeech bill being proposed by a Member of Parliament as a private members bill.

A version of this piece first appeared on Facebook.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Watch Ruchir's journey: A story that captures the impact of accessible technology

Accessible technology has the potential to change lives.

“Technology can be a great leveller”, affirms Ruchir Falodia, Social Media Manager, TATA CLiQ. Out of the many qualities that define Ruchir as a person, one that stands out is that he is an autodidact – a self-taught coder and lover of technology.

Ruchir’s story is one that humanises technology - it has always played the role of a supportive friend who would look beyond his visual impairment. A top ranker through school and college, Ruchir would scan course books and convert them to a format which could be read out to him (in the absence of e-books for school). He also developed a lot of his work ethos on the philosophy of Open Source software, having contributed to various open source projects. The access provided by Open Source, where users could take a source code, modify it and distribute their own versions of the program, attracted him because of the even footing it gave everyone.

That is why I like being in programming. Nobody cares if you are in a wheelchair. Whatever be your physical disability, you are equal with every other developer. If your code works, good. If it doesn’t, you’ll be told so.

— Ruchir.

Motivated by the objectivity that technology provided, Ruchir made it his career. Despite having earned degree in computer engineering and an MBA, friends and family feared his visual impairment would prove difficult to overcome in a work setting. But Ruchir, who doesn’t like quotas or the ‘special’ tag he is often labelled with, used technology to prove that differently abled persons can work on an equal footing.

As he delved deeper into the tech space, Ruchir realised that he sought to explore the human side of technology. A fan of Agatha Christie and other crime novels, he wanted to express himself through storytelling and steered his career towards branding and marketing – which he sees as another way to tell stories.

Ruchir, then, migrated to Mumbai for the next phase in his career. It was in the Maximum City that his belief in technology being the great leveller was reinforced. “The city’s infrastructure is a challenging one, Uber helped me navigate the city” says Ruchir. By using the VoiceOver features, Ruchir could call an Uber wherever he was and move around easily. He reached out to Uber to see if together they could spread the message of accessible technology. This partnership resulted in a video that captures the essence of Ruchir’s story: The World in Voices.


It was important for Ruchir to get rid of the sympathetic lens through which others saw him. His story serves as a message of reassurance to other differently abled persons and abolishes some of the fears, doubts and prejudices present in families, friends, employers or colleagues.

To know more about Ruchir’s journey, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Uber and not by the Scroll editorial team.