'When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no
choice but to become an outlaw.' - Nelson Mandela
Crime refers to a prohibited act which violates the provisions of law, is
detrimental and deleterious for the society, and is punishable under various
provisions of law. The term crime has been derived from the Latin term crīmen
which means 'charge' or 'cry of distress'. The Latin cognate has been derived
from the ancient Greek term κρίμα, krima which referred to an intellectual
mistake or an offence against the society, rather than a private or moral wrong.
William Blackstone has defined crime in his book, Commentaries on the Laws of
England as 'An act committed or omitted in violation of public law forbidding or
Halsbury defined crime in his book Laws of England as 'An unlawful act or
default which is an offense against public and renders the person guilty of the
act or default liable to legal punishment.'2.
Criminal behaviour can be defined has the conduct of the offender which leads to
and causes the offender to commit that felonious and unlawful act. Criminal
behavior is generally a violent and misanthropic behaviour. It is an antisocial
and felonic misbehavior of the offender which drives him to commit a crime.
A number of definitions have been given by various scholars and researchers in
the past few years however, there are a large variations in those definitions.
Serial killing has been defined as a series of three or more killings by the
same offender in the same way. Serial killing is the commission of a series of
murders and all those murders have similar characteristics. In 1998, a federal
law was passed by the United States Congress, titled: Protection of Children
from Sexual Predator Act of 1998 (Title 18, United States Code, Chapter 51, and
Section 1111). This law includes a definition of serial killings:
'The term 'serial killings' means a series of three or more killings, not less
than one of which was committed within the United States, having common
characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes
were committed by the same actor or actors'.3
Another definition proposed by the National Institute of Justice focuses on the
sexual urges of the criminals leading them commit barbaric and ruthless crimes.
This definition deals with the psyche of the criminals to satisfy their sexual
urge through callous means. It focuses on the urge to gratify oneself sexually
and as a result of which he or she might delve into atrocious and dreadful
There are four types of serial killers:
Serial killing can be attributed to the culmination of the following factors:
- Hedonistic, who seek thrill and enjoy committing murders,
- Missions-oriented, who believe that they are doing the society a favour by
eliminating some people,
- Visionary, who believe that some higher authority has ordered them to
terminate some people and;
- Those who seek power/control, who seek to dominate their victims.
- Social Factors:
A vast variety of economic, environmental and social factors
have been attributed to serial killing. Growing up in an inadequate environment
is a major reason for the development of such behaviour. It is often seen that
children who grow up in households which display violence and aggression tend to
assimilate similar behaviour. Exposure to violence increases the chances of the
children being involved in brutal and illegal acts later at some stage of life
or even in childhood.
- Psychological Factors:
Psychology and crime are closely linked subjects.
Researchers have found that people who are suffering from psychological problems
often delve into criminal activities. People having mental disorders such as
hallucinations, delusions, schizophrenia or other such psychological disorders
have been found to commit crimes. Children who have undergone through traumatic
experiences at a young age are at a higher risk of indulging in crimes. Also, it
has been seen that serial killers tend to have higher sexual drives and to
gratify such lust many of them commit such crimes.
- Biological Factors:
Crime has been attributed not just to economic and
psychological reasons but to biological reasons also. Psychophysiology, brain
and genetics are the three factors which are discussed in relation to the
biological factors of such criminal behaviour. Psychophysiology is that branch
of psychology which is concerned with the relationship between the physiological
signals of the body and disorders. Two common psychophysiological measures are
heart rate and skin conductance (i.e. sweat rate). Both capture autonomic
nervous system functioning; skin conductance reflects sympathetic nervous system
functioning while heart rate reflects both sympathetic and parasympathetic
nervous system activity. Blunted autonomic functioning has been associated with
increased antisocial behavior, including violence.
responsible for conducting electrochemical impulses within and across regions of
the brain and the body. Many psychiatric disorders have been linked to
imbalances in neurotransmitter systems. Serotonin is involved in a number of
brain functions, including regulation of emotional states. It has been
researched and found that lowering the serotonin levels results in the onset of
impulsive and aggressive behavior.
Abuse, violence and neglect in childhood can
result in the permanently reduced levels of serotonin which can lead to those
children indulging in illegal acts. An abnormally high level of testosterone, a
sex hormone, has been linked to excessive aggression which is one of the causes
of the causation of a crime. Imbalance in the hormones of individuals can lead
them to cause belligerent and hostile acts. This theory has been linked to the
high aggressive levels in criminals.4.
Serial Killings And Indian Law
There are no separate provisions for serial killing in the Indian law. The only
provisions to deal with serial killings in India are Sections 299 and Section
300 of the Indian Penal Code and their punishment are prescribed under Sections
304 and 302 respectively.
Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, Culpable homicide- Whoever causes death by
doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of
causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge
that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable
According to Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, a person convicted for
culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment for life or imprisonment
for either description which may extend upto 10 years.
Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, Murder- Except in the cases hereinafter
excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused
is done with the intention of causing death, or:
(Secondly) -If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as
the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the
harm is caused, or:
(Thirdly) -If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any
person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the
ordinary course of nature to cause death, or:
(Fourthly) -If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently
dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as
is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring
the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.
- When culpable homicide is not murder.:Culpable homicide is
not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by
grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the
provocation or causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident. The
above exception is subject to the following provisos::
(First) -That the provocation is not sought or voluntarily provoked by the
offender as an excuse for killing or doing harm to any person.
(Secondly) -That the provocation is not given by anything done in obedience to
the law, or by a public servant in the lawful exercise of the powers of such
(Thirdly) -That the provocation is not given by anything done in the lawful
exercise of the right of private defence.
Whether the provocation was grave and sudden enough to prevent the
offence from amounting to murder is a question of fact.
Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, in the exercise in
good faith of the right of private defence of person or property, exceeds the
power given to him by law and causes the death of the person against whom he is
exercising such right of defence without premeditation, and without any
intention of doing more harm than is necessary for the purpose of such defence.
Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, being a public
servant or aiding a public servant acting for the advancement of public justice,
exceeds the powers given to him by law, and causes death by doing an act which
he, in good faith, believes to be lawful and necessary for the due discharge of
his duty as such public servant and without ill-will towards the person whose
death is caused.
Culpable homicide is not murder if it is committed without
premeditation in a sudden fight in the heat of passion upon a sudden quarrel and
without the offender having taken undue advantage or acted in a cruel or unusual
It is immaterial in such cases which party offers the provocation or
commits the first assault.
Culpable homicide is not murder when the person whose death is
caused, being above the age of eighteen years, suffers death or takes the risk
of death with his own consent.5.
According to Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who is convicted
for murder shall be punished with death or with imprisonment for life and shall
also be liable to fine.
Serial Killers In India
Section 84, Indian Penal Code:
- Cyanide Mohan:
Mohan Kumar Vivekanand or Cyanide Mohan was a 59 year old
serial killer who was convicted by a Managlore fast track court for the murder
of 20 women. He would entice unmarried women and would promise to marry them and
on this pretext he would rape them. After raping them he would give them a
cyanide tablet on the pretext that it was a contraceptive pill and kill them. He
used the same modus operandi in all the 20 cases against him.
He was also
accused for bank frauds and other forgeries. Mohan was given life sentence and
was fined Rs. 25,000 for murder, he was awarded imprisonment for 10 years and
fined Rs. 5,000 for abduction, imprisonment for 10 year and Rs. 5,000 fine for
feeding poison, imprisonment for 7 years and Rs 5,000 fine for rape,
imprisonment for 5 years and Rs 5,000 fine for robbing jewellery and
imprisonment and fines for cheating and destroying evidence.
- Doctor Death:
Devendra Sharma, an Ayurvedic doctor was sentenced to death
for being involved in more than 50 killings and dumping the bodies of his
victims in canals which were crocodile infested. He was also involved in illegal
kidney transplant racket and illegally did around 125 kidneys for which he was
paid Rs. 5-7 Lacs per transplant. In 2008 he was sentenced for death penalty.
- The Nithari Killers:
Mohinder Singh Pandher was an affluent businessman
from Noida He along with his domestic servant, Surinder Koli, was arrested in
2006. A number of children went missing from the nearby Nithari village and
skulls were discovered in their tank drain. It was later discovered that
Surinder Koli used to lure young girls from Nithari village and bring them to
the house of his employer, Mohinder Singh Pandher. He was accused of sexual
exploitation, cannibalism, rape, organ trafficking, and murders.
Pandher was also suspected to be involved in all these crimes. Koli used to
bring young girls to the house and used to rape them and then cut the girls into
pieces in his bathroom. It was declared that Pandher was depressed and that Koli
was a psychopath and was suffering from some mental illness as Koli after being
arrested stated that he still has an urge to kill and this is a sign of
psychopathy. Surinder Koli was sentenced to death right away and later even
Mohinder Singh Pandher was sentenced to death as this case was considered to be
"rarest of the rare case"
- Auto Shankar:
Gowri Shankar, also known as Auto Shankar was an auto rickshaw
driver and was convicted for abducting and raping girls and also for 6 murders.
He was also involved in human trafficking and smuggling arrack, an alcohol. He
was sentenced to death in 1991 and in 1995 he was hanged in the Salem Central
Prison, Tamil Nadu.
Act of a person of unsound mind- Nothing is an
offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of
unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he
is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.6.
Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code provides that to convict the offender for an
offence, he must have the required mens rea while committing that offence.
However, if at the time of the commission of that offence, the person is of
unsound mind and is not capable of knowing the nature of his act and is unable
to understand the illegality and unlawfulness of his act, then he will not be
held liable for having committed that offence.
In the case of Raman Raghav, also known as known as "Jack the Ripper of India",
he was convicted for over 40 murders in the 1960s in Mumbai. He mercilessly
killed people, including children, with a blunt object. He used to smash the
heads of his victims and used to break their jaws.
The Bombay High Court sentenced him to death, however, it was argued that he was
suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia and that he was unable to
understand the illegality and unlawfulness of his acts. His punishment was
reduced to life imprisonment and he was lodged in the Yerwada Central Jail where
he died after a few years of kidney failure.
There are two elements which are necessary to be present in order to convict a
person for an offence. Those elements are Mens Rea which means having a guilty
mind and Actus Reus which means doing a wrongful act. The legal maxim Actus
Non-Facet Reum Nisi Mens sit Rea means that in order to convict a person of an
offence both act and intent must be established. According to this legal maxim
no person will be held guilty of an offence if both the elements are not
established. A person will be punished for his unlawful act only when it is
proved that he had the complete knowledge of his act and that he committed that
The M'Naghten Rule was established by the English House of Lords in the mid-19th
Century which states that:
"Every man is to be presumed to be sane, and ... that to establish a defense on
the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the
committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of
reason, from disease of mind, and not to know the nature and quality of the act
he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was
According to the M'Naghten Rule if a person wants to establish defence on the
basis of insanity then he has to prove that at the time of the commission of the
offence, due to unsoundness of mind, he was unable to understand the nature of
his act and that what he was doing was unlawful and illegal. It has to be proved
that insanity was at the time of the commission of that offence.
Legal Insanity And Medical Insanity
Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code provides that an act should be done by a
person of unsound mind and that such a person was unable to understand the
nature and unlawfulness of his act. However, one needs to differentiate between
legal insanity and medical insanity as the court takes into consideration only
legal insanity. A person becomes legally insane when he loses his reasonable
power and is unable to understand that his act is unlawful and illegal. In order
to defend himself on the basis of insanity the accused needs to prove that at
the time of the commission of the offence he lost his power to think reasonably
and to understand that his act was against the law.
Serial Killings And Judidical Response
There is no specific law in India to deal with serial killings. Offenders are
usually convicted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The offenders can
however take defence under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code which provides
that an act done by a person under unsoundness of mind will not be considered as
an offence. In India there have been many cases where crimes have been committed
by people suffering from serial mental illnesses however they are dealt with the
same provisions of law as other offenders are dealt with. Section 84 is the only
provision in the Indian law which deals with the crimes committed by such
Serial killers, who suffer from mental illnesses need to be rehabilitated rather
than punished. Their illness rather than their crime needs to be addressed on
priority basis. However, there are no appropriate laws and adequate institutions
to address to the problems of such people.
There have been so many crimes so committed by such people however, there are
only a few judgments which have done justice in the true sense. In all the cases
discussed above, all those killers had a different psyche and had different
reasons for committing those crimes, however, most of them were dealt with the
same provisions of law as are other offenders.
Serial Killings have been quite common in India. Most of the times serial
killers are linked with mental illnesses; it is often seen that most of the
serial killers do suffer from serious mental illnesses such as paranoid
schizophrenia, depression and other such illnesses. There is a dire need that
special provisions be added in the Indian law for such offenders and that their
mental illnesses be dealt with before convicting them for the offences they have
committed as most of the times such offenders are unable to understand the
nature and wrongfulness of their acts.
Serial killing is often linked with psychopaths and there is a difference
between such offences and the offences committed by normal people who are able
to understand the nature of their acts. The case of Raman Raghav is an example
of such a serial killer who was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was
unable to understand the nature and illegality of his acts.
Psychology and Law are closely interrelated. Psychology provides an insight to
the mental state of the offender. The judge must take into view the psyche of
the offender while pronouncing a judgment in order to render justice in its
truest sense. Legal psychology is not much popular in India, however, efforts
need to be made in this field in order to rehabilitate people who delve into
serial killings due to underlying mental illnesses and to mete out justice.
Written By: Akshita Tandon -
- Crime, https://thefactfactor.com/facts/law/legal_concepts/criminology/what-is-crime-and-criminology/7004/
,(Visited on 17 July, 2022).
- Supra 1.
- Serial Murder, https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder#two,(Visited
on 17 July, 2022).
- Shichun Ling, Rebecca Umbach, and Adrian Raine, Biological Explanations
On Criminal Behaviour, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6640871/,
(Visited on 18 July, 2022).
- Section 299 and 300, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/626019/, (Visited on 18
- Supra 5.
- The M'Naghten Rule, https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-procedure/the-m-naghten-rule.html,
(Visited on 19 July, 2022).
4th Year Law Student, University Institute
of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Punjab