Current Scenario of Punishments under Indian Criminal Law


Punishments in India have a deep historical context, rooted in ancient texts like the Mahabharata, Vishnu Puran, Ramayana, and Durga Saptashati, as well as modern legal codes such as the Constitution of India, the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973, and the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill of 2023. Over time, the theories and applications of punishment have evolved significantly in line with societal progress. Know about famous criminal lawyers in bangalore

Types and Theories of Punishments in Ancient Texts

In ancient India, punishment, or “Danda,” was typically administered by the king with the advice of ministers and legal officials. The king’s duty was to protect his people and punish those who broke the law, as described in the Manusmriti. This ancient text introduced four main types of punishments:

  1. Vakdanda (Admonition): This was a strict oral warning for minor offenses.
  2. Dhikdanda (Censure): Social punishments including criticism, social boycott, and banishment for wrongdoers.
  3. Dhanadanda (Fine): Financial penalties for violations such as breaking land or revenue laws.
  4. Badhadanda (Physical Punishments): Severe physical punishments for serious crimes, including flogging, mutilation, and execution.

These punishments were primarily deterrent and retributive, aiming to control crime through fear and suffering. There was little regard for human rights, and punishments were often barbaric and disproportionate, particularly affecting weaker sections of society. The caste system also influenced the severity of punishments, with higher castes receiving lenient treatment compared to lower castes.

Punishments in Modern Law

Modern Indian law has retained some ancient forms of punishment but has also reformed many practices. Today, the Indian judiciary is guided by the reformatory theory, focusing on rehabilitating offenders rather than inflicting severe punishment. The Constitution of India, established in 1950, guarantees fundamental rights and has shifted the penal system towards reformative and expiatory theories.

The Constitution provides for the separation of powers, judicial review, and a free press, ensuring that punishments are just and proportional to the crime. Section 53 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860 lists various punishments, including:

  1. Capital Punishment
  2. Life Imprisonment
  3. Rigorous Imprisonment
  4. Simple Imprisonment
  5. Forfeiture of Property
  6. Fine

Capital punishment, in particular, is contentious due to its irreversible nature and is reserved for the “rarest of rare” cases, as seen in the cases of Amroha, Nirbhaya, and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Even after a death sentence is issued, it can be commuted to life imprisonment by the President of India or appellate courts.

Recent Legal Developments

The Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 outlines the procedures for criminal trials and includes reformative measures like security bonds for minor offenses. The Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill of 2023, which aims to replace the IPC, categorizes offenses into five main types, including crimes against the human body, property, public order, public health, and the state. It introduces new crimes like terrorism and organized crime and enhances penalties for severe offenses. It also introduces community service as a form of punishment for petty offenses, emphasizing reform over retribution.