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 

When did we start parenting our parents?

As our parents grow older, our ‘adulting’ skills are tested like never before.

From answering every homework question to killing every monster under the bed, from soothing every wound with care to crushing anxiety by just the sound of their voice - parents understandably seemed like invincible, know-it-all superheroes all our childhood. It’s no wonder then that reality hits all of a sudden, the first time a parent falls and suffers a slip disc, or wears a thick pair of spectacles to read a restaurant menu - our parents are growing old, and older. It’s a slow process as our parents turn from superheroes to...human.

And just as slow to evolve are the dynamics of our relationship with them. Once upon a time, a peck on the cheek was a frequent ritual. As were handmade birthday cards every year from the artistically inclined, or declaring parents as ‘My Hero’ in school essays. Every parent-child duo could boast of an affectionate ritual - movie nights, cooking Sundays, reading favourite books together etc. The changed dynamic is indeed the most visible in the way we express our affection.

The affection is now expressed in more mature, more subtle ways - ways that mimics that of our own parents’ a lot. When did we start parenting our parents? Was it the first time we offered to foot the electricity bill, or drove them to the doctor, or dragged them along on a much-needed morning walk? Little did we know those innocent acts were but a start of a gradual role reversal.

In adulthood, children’s affection for their parents takes on a sense of responsibility. It includes everything from teaching them how to use smartphones effectively and contributing to family finances to tracking doctor’s appointments and ensuring medicine compliance. Worry and concern, though evidence of love, tend to largely replace old-fashioned patterns of affection between parents and children as the latter grow up.

It’s something that can be easily rectified, though. Start at the simplest - the old-fashioned peck on the cheek. When was the last time you gave your mom or dad a peck on the cheek like a spontaneous five-year-old - for no reason at all? Young parents can take their own children’s behaviour available as inspiration.

As young parents come to understand the responsibilities associated with caring for their parents, they also come to realise that they wouldn’t want their children to go through the same challenges. Creating a safe and secure environment for your family can help you strike a balance between the loving child in you and the caring, responsible adult that you are. A good life insurance plan can help families deal with unforeseen health crises by providing protection against financial loss. Having assurance of a measure of financial security for family can help ease financial tensions considerably, leaving you to focus on being a caring, affectionate child. Moreover,you can eliminate some of the worry for your children when they grow up – as the video below shows.


To learn more about life insurance plans available for your family, see here.

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