Development of Penal Statute In India


A penal statute deals with the various offences prohibited by the government and the punishments imposed for the commission of such acts. These statutes are also responsible to protect the interest of the nation. The state must protect its people's liberty and provide them a better environment to live in, so the offences are committed against the state. The standard set for the proof of a crime is beyond a reasonable doubt. The most important penal statute in India is the Indian Penal Code,1860(IPC). IPC defines the law followed when an offence is committed. Some other examples are the POCSO Act, NDPS Act, prevention of corruption act, arms act,1959, etc.

History of Penal Statutes In India

The very first Penal statute to be known by Indians was Manusmriti which was written by Manu. It had a lot of stereotypes related to women. Preferential treatments were given to Brahmins. After the establishment of Muslim rule in law, Manusmriti was replaced by Mohammedan law. Now, this system relied on the discretion of Kazis whose opinions differed. When Europeans arrived in India, they faced numerous difficulties while following this criminal law system. In 1834, they established a law commission with Lord Macaulay as its president to create a uniform penal statute. Indian Penal Code was created and brought into force in 1862. 

Colonial-era Laws

Even after abolishing a lot of archaic colonial-era laws, some laws continue to exist. Our judicial system mostly depends on laws that belong to the colonial era. These laws may have lost their existence in their country of origin. Some of the laws are discussed below: -

1.Sedition Law - It became an offence in 1870 and was used by the Britishers to curb the liberty of the Indians. It was used to arrest revolutionary nationalists. Bal Gangadhar Tilak was one of the nationalists who faced sedition charges. This law is in Section 124A. In 2016, JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar was charged with sedition for raising anti-India slogans.

2.Section 295A - It is an anti-blasphemy law that criminalizes intentional acts to outrage the religious feelings of any class by disrespecting religious belief. Its provisions are way too broad. Recently a journalist named Amish Devgan was charged with this offence.

3.Unlawful Assembly - Section 141 talks about it. Under this, an assembly of five or more people becomes unlawful if a common intention to use criminal force is present or to disturb the functioning of any law. This provision is somewhat vague and so it is used unnecessarily to suppress even peaceful protests. The incidents that took place in Jamia Milia Islamia is an example.

Recent Developments of Penal Statutes

1.Protection of children from sexual offences Act, 2012 - this act is made more stringent by the latest amendment. It makes the minimum punishment to ten years from seven years earlier. It adds two more grounds under aggravated penetrative sexual assault. The minimum punishment is now up to twenty years and the maximum punishment to the death penalty. Further, it goes to add two more grounds for aggravated sexual assault. It also defines child pornography. It also enhances the gravity of punishment.

2.Arms Act, 1959 - According to the latest changes, a person can have only one firearm, and the license to have a firearm has been increased to five years. Provision of punishments has been made more strict than before. several new offences have been added to this act. It also added a new definition of organized crime. if you go and snatch a firearm from a police officer or any armed forces, you will face imprisonment between 10 years to life imprisonment. Another aspect that has been dealt with is firing during weddings, this has been made an offence.

3.Homosexuality - In 2009, the Delhi High Court has struck down section 377 but in 2013, the supreme court again criminalized this. The verdict in the Navtej Singh Johar case, which came out in September 2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down parts of section 377 of IPC which criminalized sex against the order of nature. The court further said that other aspects of this section dealing with unnatural sex with animals and children would still be valid. The Supreme Court allowed sexual intercourse between consenting adult members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Now India is among 150 nations where homosexuality is legalized.

4.Adultery - Section 497 of IPC talks about Adultery. this section was struck down by a five-judge constitutional bench. the judges believed that this section was arbitrary in nature. it was almost 160 years old and was deemed to be violative of rights to equality and equal opportunity to women. This law doesn't give women the right to sue her adulterer husband and can't herself be sued if she is in adultery. This law was done away with it long ago but was still followed in India till September 2018.

5.Rape laws - Some changes were brought in 2013 which increased imprisonment in sexual assault cases. It increased the punishment to death sentence in cases that cause the death of the victim or leaves her in a vegetative state. New offences such as stalking and voyeurism were created. It also added section 326A and 326B (acid attacks) in IP. The punishment for gang rape was increased to 20 years to life imprisonment. According to the 2018 amendment, the act of raping a girl under 12 years is punishable with a minimum imprisonment of 20 years or death sentence. Section 376AB, 376DA, and 376DB were included in IPC.


In this dynamic environment where new crimes, societal values, new beliefs, and a sense of modernity are originating, laws should also be changed to meet their objectives. Various laws were made by the Britishers to regulate India based on values that existed in England. As of now, India has thousands of archaic laws that had lost their existence in the country of their origin. India is developing at a fast pace in every aspect and to regulate this India we need to get our statutes developed. The Supreme Court of India and the govt. has been taking an active part in the regulation of the laws. Many archaic laws were scrapped and many new laws were made to make India a safer and livable country. Our penal statutes are changed to tackle any obstacle to the safety and security of India and its people.

Authored by

Anurag Pandey

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