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Punishment Under The Indian Code

In ancient time, people were lived in forest. At that time, their concerns were food, habitation and security from wild animals. But, with the passage of time, people started to live in collection or in society. Now, their concerns were totally changed. They wanted Personal safety, particularly security of life, liberty and property. The people wanted to live peacefully and without fear, in the society. Every person wants to save one from the crime of any kinds.

Actually crime denotes a wrongful act or omission of such a kind that the state deems it unfit or illegal, in the interest of the public. Crime has been a significant problem ever since the beginning of human civilization and till today, man cannot achieve complete success to finish criminality from society. There is no society in this universe which is not oppressing with the problem of crime and criminality.

When the crime is committed, it is important that some kind of pain must be inflicted on the accused. The punishment must be some kind of unpleasant experience for accused because retribution is the ingredient of human nature. It is important to cool down the feeling of retribution by punishing the accused. This is possible only when the penal law is effective and strong enough to deal with the violators of law. In India, the Indian Penal Code is the important legislation which deals with the different kinds of crime and its punishment.

There are many local and special laws existed other than Indian Penal Code in India but none of it is significant as the Indian Penal Code. Indian Penal Code is a legislation that criminalized many human conducts as illegal and it will be done, the appropriate punishment would be awarded to the accused.

In modern world, the punishment is considered as a good mean to stop the prospective criminal behaviour. The punishment creates fear in the heart of prospective criminals that if he done the same offence, punished likewise. It ultimately helps in the eradication of criminality from the society.


Punishment is the imposition of an undesirable or unpleasant outcome upon a group or individual imposed by an authority. The study and practice of the punishment of crimes is called Penology. The authority may be either a group or a single person and punishment may be carried out formally under a system of law or informally in other kinds of social settings such as within a family. Imposition of punishment on accused has certain objectives.

The main objective of punishment is reform the accused and become a fit subject for society. Other objective of punishment is to deter the similar criminal behaviour in future.[1] According to Manu:
"Penalty keeps the people under control, penalty protects them, penalty remains awake when people are asleep, so the wise have regarded punishment as a source of righteousness."[2]

Punishments are applied most generally to encourage and enforce proper behavior as defined by society. Criminals are punished judicially, by fines, corporal punishment or custodial sentences such as prison. Punishment may also be applied on moral as in penance or imposed in a theocracy with a religious police or by Inquisition.[3]

The punishment and the crime are the two side of a coin. The punishment should not be disproportionate to the crime. The punishment should not be too severe as the crime demanded and should not be too lenient as to fail to serve the purpose of the punishment. It should be proportionate that's would be avail to serve the purpose of the punishment.

Kinds of punishment:

Section 53 of Indian Penal Code defines the various kinds of punishment. Section 53 says that the punishments to which offenders are liable under the provisions of this Code are:
  1. Death;
  2. Imprisonment for life;
  3. omitted
  4. Imprisonment, which is of two descriptions, namely:
    1. Rigorous, that is, with hard labour;
    2. Simple;
  5. Forfeiture of property;
  6. Fine.[4]

These are the five types of punishment mentioned in the Indian Penal Code.
Death or Capital punishment:
Punishment of death is also called capital punishment. Under this punishment, a person is hanged till he dies. This punishment is provided only for serious offences like murder, and others. A death sentence is the highest degree of punishment awarded under Indian Penal Code. It is the very horrible and painful mode of punishment. Capital punishment is awarded in rarest of rare cases. This punishment is awarded by the court of law and sanctioned by the appropriate government.

The main purpose of awarding death penalty is deterrence. It discourages the person who planned to do same in future. It is far more powerful and effective mode of deterrence than life imprisonment because the fear of death for human being is very terrible than that of life imprisonment. The award of capital punishment is matter of great controversy. Many believe that it is morally excluded and others believe it is moral necessity.

Arguments are made both in favour and against the retention of the capital sentence as a form of punishment. Arguments in favour of retention of capital punishment said that it is a unique mode of the deterrence for the professional criminals. Another argument is that morally demanded for the welfare of the society. It is a good mode of retribution or reprobation for the worst type of crimes. Arguments also made against the retention of the capital punishment as the mode of punishment.

The major argument is that, it is morally wrong because only God can take the life of a person as he provides. No one other than God can take the life of a person. Another argument against the retention of the capital punishment is that the award of death penalty confronted the accused and his family with grave and immediate poignant suffering and pain.

It is argued that mental pain and torture suffered by the accused in waiting of the date of execution is very inhuman and barbaric stage for human being.[5] The capital punishment or death sentence can be awarded for the offences under section 115, 118, 121, 132, 194, 302, 303, 305, 364(A) and 376(A) of the Indian penal code.

Constitutional validity of Capital Punishment:

The constitutional validity of capital punishment has been questioned many times before the Supreme Court of India. In the case of Jag Mohan Singh V. State of U.P issue rose that the death penalty is unconstitutional and hence invalid as a punishment. In the case, the contention was that it violated the article 14 of the Indian Constitution. It is also the violation of article 21 of the Indian Constitution because of the lacking of fixed procedure of sentencing.

The Honorable Supreme Court rejected all the contentions and held that the deprivation of life is not unconstitutional if it is done according to the procedure established by the law. The Honorable Supreme Court declared capital punishment valid. Further in the case of Rajendra Prasad v. State of U.P, the Honorable Supreme court upheld his previous judgement of Jagmohan case but laid down a guideline for awarding capital punishment.

The Supreme Court held that in awarding the capital punishment in the case of 302 of IPC and 354(3) of CrPC, the courts should have read these sections in the light of part III and IV of the Constitution and death sentence may be awarded only to the white collar criminals and hardened criminals. In this case, Justice Krishana Iyer pleaded for the abolishment of capital punishment as a mode of punishment.

He said:
Since every saint had a past and every sinner a future, never wright off the man wearing the criminal veneer attire but remove the dangerous degeneracy in him, restore his retarded human potential by holistic healing of his fevered, fatigued or frustrated inside and by repairing the repressive, though hidden, injustice of the social order which is vicariously guilty of the criminal behaviour of many innocent convicts".

Bachan Singh V. State of Punjab, in the case the principle of rarest of the rare case is evolved. The held that the death may be awarded in the rarest of the rare case. The death sentence would only award when other options will close. In this case the Supreme Court laid down a guideline for sentencing of death sentence and also provided a list of aggravating circumstances as well as mitigating circumstances.

In Machhi Singh V. State of Punjab, The Supreme Court held the death sentence valid and stated that the motive of crime, manner of commission of crime and anti-social nature of crime should take into consideration while awarding the death sentence.[6]

Life Imprisonment:
The words imprisonment for life was substituted for transportation for life by Act XXVI of 1955. In punishment of the life punishment, the accused is to remain in prison until he is alive or until pardoned. Imprisonment for life means imprisonment for the whole of the remaining term of the convicted person's natural life otherwise commuted to a fixed period by the appropriate government. Section 55 of the IPC and section 433(b) of the CrPC provides power to appropriate government for the commutation of death sentence.

The appropriate government may reduce or suspend the sentence of imprisonment for life to imprisonment for a term of not more than 14 years of either description; rigorous and simple. The term of imprisonment for life may be considered as twenty years when there is a need of calculating the term of life imprisonment. As section 57 of the Indian Penal Code says, "In calculating fractions of terms of punishment, imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as equivalent to imprisonment for twenty years."[7]

Imprisonment is a most simple and very common mode of punishment for in India. imprisonment is a method by which the accused and unfit subject of society put into prison for a particular period of time with a view to make him a subject to society. Section 53 of Indian Penal Code mentioned imprisonment of two description; rigorous and simple. Imprisonment means to restrict the freedom of a person and put him in the prison.

Rigorous Imprisonment:
Rigorous imprisonment is a form of imprisonment under which an accused or a prisoner convicted for a crime is kept in prison subject to hard labour such as agriculture, carpentry, drawing water, etc. Rigorous imprisonment is obligatory for the offences given under the following two sections (no alternative for simple imprisonment is available). The sentence of imprisonment may be wholly rigorous or wholly simple and partly rigorous or partly simple. The section 60 of Indian Penal Code authorizes the courts to decide the type of imprisonment.

The following are some offences which are punishable with rigorous imprisonment.[8]
  • Section 194, IPC: Giving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure conviction of capital offence
  • Section 449, IPC: House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death.
  • Sec 392, IPC: Robbery
  • Sec 395, IPC: Dacoity

Simple imprisonment:
simple imprisonment is a form of imprisonment in which the accused or offender is confined to jail but not subject to any hard labour as in case of rigorous imprisonment. Simple imprisonment is awarded where a fine will not sufficient as to serve the purpose of the punishment. In the simple imprisonment, it is ensured that the accused should be keep away from the habitual or professionals criminals.

The simple imprisonment is awarded in the following offences.
  • Section 341, IPC: Wrongful Restraint
  • Section 403, IPC: Criminal disapprobation of property
  • Section 500,501,502 IPC: Defamation
  • Section 509, IPC: Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
  • Section 510, IPC: Misconduct in a public place by a drunken person

Fine is defined as the monetary punishment. The fine imposed as the punishment in the crimes which are not of serious nature. It is the very common mode of punishment. It is generally imposed in less serious offences such as breach of traffic rules and revenue this system of punishment was used in almost all penal system. Financial penalty was either in shape of fine or compensation or cost.

The Indian penal code restricted the courts to impose excessive fine. While imposing the fine, the courts must take into consideration the economic or financial condition of the accused. Section 63 says, "Where no sum is expressed to which a fine may extend, the amount of fine to which the offender is liable is unlimited, but shall not be excessive." [9]

Crime and punishment are two important aspect of criminal law. The crime and punishment runs simultaneously. It is general principle of criminal law that the punishment should not be excessive as the crime demands. The punishment should not too excessive and not too lenient as to fail to achieve the purpose of punishment. It is believed that the chief purpose of punishment should be reformation and deterrence. The punishment should be awarded keeping in the mind the culpability of accused.

The offenders should be punished in such way that becomes the cause of reformation for him and deterrence for others. The Indian Penal code mentions five types of punishment; Death penalty, Imprisonment for life, Imprisonment (simple and rigorous), forfeiture of property and fine.

All these punishments awarded according to the severity and mildness of the crime. In India, there are no general principles of sentencing. It is depend on the discretion of the court. Yet, the Supreme Court in their many judgment issued guidelines in this regard. As, there is no statutory guideline of sentencing, therefore great variation in sentencing is noticed.

  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Section 53, Indian Penal Code
  5. S.N. Misra, Indian Penal Code, 135 ( Central Law Publications, Prayagraj, 22nd edn. 2020)
  6. S.N. Misra, Indian Penal Code, 140 ( Central Law Publications, Prayagraj, 22nd edn. 2020)
  7. Section 57, Indian Penal Code
  8. Section 60, Indian Penal Code

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