Multichannel seismic reflection profiles collected from the intraplate deformation area in the Central Indian Ocean Basin are used to describe brittle structures produced under compressive stress. Reflectors within oceanic basement are divided into four types: north-dipping and south-dipping reverse faults that are interpreted as reactivations of structures formed at the spreading-centre as outward and inward dipping faults respectively; lower-angle, north-dipping reflectors that probably represent new faults or faults just initiating; and sub-horizontal reflectors within the uppermost crust that are interpreted as hydrothermal alteration fronts. Within the sedimentary cover upwards fault propagation shows the faults steepening from c. 40° just above basement to near vertical and is preceded by sediment folding. A fractal analysis of faulting suggests two fault populations possibly reflecting different criteria for brittle failure. Measurements of north-south crustal shortening indicate a shortening rate of 2.5 (± 0.9) mm a−1, which is at the lower end of predictions from plate motions, but significant enough to recognize this area as a diffuse plate boundary. The formation of long-wavelength basement undulations and the reactivation of fracture zones and ridge-parallel fault fabrics are linked in a unified tectonic model driven by the high level of intraplate compressive stress in the area. There is little evidence from the seismic profiles for intraplate deformation starting before the widespread unconformity dated as 7 Ma.