September 17, 2021

Grievous Hurt under the Penal Code of India

Criminal law



The actual infliction of a bodily injury can be termed as battery under the English law. Therefore, hurt can be considered as an equivalent to battery under the law.[1] The Black’s Law Dictionary states that the use of the term hurt in the phrase “hurt or annoyance” does not only include physical injuries but also mental injuries.[2] It must be remembered that actus reus is an ingredient similar to that of homicide and that there have been many incidents wherein the use of force doesn’t constitute an actus reus. Sections 319 to 338 of the Code deal with hurt and grievous hurt in different forms.

Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code defines what grievous hurt is and lists eight types of hurt which would fall into the category of being grievous.[3] It has been derived from the French Penal Code. It is to be noted that these clauses are not mutually exclusive as there are injuries which may fall in more than one clause but the list is exhaustive as the framers of the Code have made use of the word “only” while listing the type of hurt that are grievous.

To be an offence of voluntarily causing grievous hurt, there should exist hurt, voluntarily inflicted and must come within any of the eight kinds which are mentioned in the section. The Section needs to be interpreted strictly so as no other injuries can be read as grievous hurt. It should be remembered that a simple hurt cannot be designated as grievous simply because it is inflicted on the vital parts of the body. Moreover, all other offences which fall under Section 320 constitute simple hurt under the law.

When a patient who has suffered from an assault has been brought to the casualty in a hospital, it is rightly a duty of the medical officer to inform and guide the police officer who is investigating about the type of hurt suffered by the person.[4] Finally it is the Court who decides the matter after taking into consideration all the facts, circumstances and medical opinion in the case. More often than not it is a tough task for medical personnel to inform about the injury. It can so happen that sometimes a person may have suffered from a simple hurt but could have or pretend to have a disorder which would result in a grievous injury. It is this when it becomes more difficult due to inability of understanding the law, lack of knowledge and interpretation, etc.

Hence, it is a necessity to have full and sound knowledge about the concepts of hurt. The medical officer, if required, may also consult an expert in this field after making necessary investigations. These need to be addressed with modern changing times to remove the ambiguities and make the Section flawless.

Distinction Between Simple and Grievous Hurt

The difference between simple and grievous isn’t as easy to determine. One of the main differences is that the punishment for causing simple and grievous hurt is one year and three years respectively. The difference between the two kinds of injuries is real and substantial as the nature of simple hurt is qualitatively different from the other one. It is this difference which needs to be appreciated by the courts of law during administering justice. The Courts have been confronted with the difficulty in identifying an injury.

In the case of Mutukdhar Singh VS. Emperor, the Court did not consider it as grievous hurt wherein the evidence was merely that a bone was cut but nothing so that it would indicate the extent of scratch on his bone.[5] Later on it was held by the Court that it would result in a fracture within Clause 7 of Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code if there is a break by cutting or splintering of the bone or a rupture in it.[6] In the case of Shahe Rai it was held that the accused had hurt on the infant due to sufficient aggravation which brought the offence under the definition of grievous hurt.[7]

The draftsmen found it difficult to draw a line between those bodily hurts which are serious and those which are light. Some are of the opinion that drawing a line with such precision is impossible. The litmus test to identify whether an injury is grievous hurt is to see whether the injuries in any way threaten the life. Hence, the injuries that are inflicted to vital parts are not grievous if they are not life threatening. It is to be noted that it is not a thumb rule that injuries on vital parts are life threatening even though injuries on those parts are generally life threatening.

Thus, it can be seen that the injuries which can be considered dangerous to life isn’t precise. The differences between the two may not always be simple and becomes very difficult most of the time to identify the injury whether it is simple or grievous which in turn makes the reporting erroneous. It may so happen that an injury which is simple in nature in the eyes of a medical practitioner may be a grievous hurt under Section 320 of the Code.[8]

Essential Ingredients of Grievous Hurt

Section 320 of the Code designates certain kinds of hurt which can be termed as grievous:

i) Emasculation:

Emasculation can be referred to as depriving a male of masculine vigour.[9] It can also be referred to as depriving a male of his male role which in turn affects the sexual capacity of that person and hence does not apply to female victims. This can be done either by castration or by cutting the sexual organ or by causing injury to the scrotum of a man or the spinal cord or the testis. It is to be noted that an accused will not be held for emasculation if the male retains his penetrating power.

Clause I of the Section under the Code states the requirement of an injury which has resulted in loss of masculine power. It is to be noted that where the victim is impotent before sustaining an injury which would cause impotence needs to be ruled out before holding the accused of grievous hurt. The existing terminology makes it difficult for determining the nature of injury as there have been cases wherein injuries which are grievous hurt have actually been simple hurt and vice versa.

ii) Permanent privation of the sight of either eye:

The word privation is defined “as loss of basic things that people need for living” as per the Oxford dictionary.[10] The privation of eye sight can be caused by pouring chemicals, poking into eyes, etc. An injury to eye is common and often inflicted by a fist or hand but only a significant injury to eye sight resulting in permanent privation of the eye sight is considered as a grievous injury. It is to be noted that temporary privation of the sight doesn’t amount to grievous hurt which means that the victim must be permanently deprived of the sight of one or both the eyes.[11]

The privation of eye sight not only includes barely the complete loss of sight but also it is enough if there occurs loss of quality or an attribute of the eye. Moreover, the clause is silent on the extent of the quality or attribute. Proper examination and checking of the history needs to be done beforehand in order to ascertain the right nature of injury as some victims try to mislead the doctor by pretending some injuries. Hence, it is ideal for a doctor to give his opinion once the injury has been completely healed.[12]

iii) Permanent privation of the hearing of either ear:

Permanent deprivation of hearing is also included under the category of grievous hurt. It is less serious than the injury mentioned above because it doesn’t disfigure a person but only deprives him of the use of his ear. Nevertheless, it is a serious injury to deprive any person of his senses. The extent of loss of quality is an ingredient for determining whether an injury is simple or grievous under Clause III of Section 20 of the Code.

The deafness must be permanent to attract this Section. Such an injury may be inflicted by a blow on head or ears, inserting a stick in the ear, putting any substance into the ear, etc. It would be difficult to mention in the medical opinion regarding the extent of loss of the hearing attribute unless the status of the victim before he suffered the accident is available to the doctor. Thus, there are chances of error in evaluating the effect and nature of the injury.

iv) Permanent privation of any member or joint:

The word “member” which is used in Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code means nothing more than an organ or a limb. Similarly, a joint refers to a place where two or more bones or muscles come together to form a connection.[13] A joint is also known as an articulation. In this case, privation of a member of a joint refers to injuring in any way or depriving of the functions against his or her will.[14] It is a grievous hurt if any joint becomes stiff to the extent that the normal function isn’t possible due to the injury. Basically, this permanent privation must include suffering of such injury to make them permanently or temporarily stiff so that they are not able to perform normal functions.

Thus, the privation of a member or joint, will result in grievous hurt whether it is temporary or permanent. It is pertinent to note that the privation to be considered as grievous hurt under Clause II and III of the Section need to be permanent whereas privation under Clause IV need not be permanent. One of the main reasons behind this would be the intense pain which a victim would suffer in Clause IV.

v) Destruction or permanent impairing of powers of any limb or joint:

The deprivation of a person to use any limb or joint makes him defenceless and crippled forever. This Clause mentions permanent impairment of the powers which also include a particular use of the limb or joint. The loss of a hand or a limb can be considered as the loss of a member or joint and accordingly the loss of a little finger can also be considered in the same way. Thus, a grievous hurt is said to be caused when there is any permanent decrease in the victim’s utility. The Code is silent on the punishment to be awarded as it has left it to the discretion of the Officer to interpret the same and award punishments. Unfortunately there are no case laws at the moment to bring out the difference in the quantum of punishments to be given to the accused.

vi) Permanent disfiguration of the head or face:

The permanent disfiguration of the face or head results in grievous hurt under the sixth clause. The word “disfigure” means nothing but to cause a person some external injury.[15] If the face or head is deformed or any cosmetic effect is caused so as to cause disadvantage to the victim then it will amount to grievous hurt under this provision even though the injury must not have affected the functioning of the part either temporarily or permanently. Some of the examples which will amount to grievous hurt are that of tearing of ears, inflicting on the cheeks with a sharp object, cutting of nose, etc. If a permanent scar is left by branding a girl’s cheeks with red hot iron, then it will amount to disfiguration.[16] It should be noted that the disfiguration must be permanent and not temporary.

In Kedarmal VS. Crown, it was held by the Court that a cut on the bridge of the girl’s nose which was caused by a sharp weapon was permanent disfigurement even though the internal wall was not impaired.[17] However, the clause fails to talk about disfigurement of other exposed body parts such as back, chest or neck which may be more dangerous than the head or face but the gravity of injury may not be same in all the persons.

vii) Fracture or dislocation of a bone or tooth:

The word “fracture” hasn’t been defined under the Code but the Oxford Dictionary has defined it as the breaking of the bone. It is another species of grievous hurt. However, it isn’t always necessary that all fractures should involve breaking of the bone because even a crack in the bone due to an injury is considered as a fracture. In a case where there was a bone deep incised wound and which then resulted in cutting of the bone was considered to be a fracture.[18]

Similarly, a crack of the skull bone which extended from the outer surface to the inner surface of the skull was considered to be a fracture. A cut will not be considered to be a fracture if it is only a scratch and didn’t do any deep into the bone. Further, the law should also spell out the nature of the cracks which are to be considered as a fracture under Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code . The dislocation of bone and joint also falls within the purview of grievous hurt.[19] A fractured or dislocated part may be set again but it is due to the suffering that it is termed as grievous. It will be rejoined or be set again without any trace of the injury.

It should be noted that if dislocation is treated in time then it will not result in permanent injury. The responsibility of the examining doctor is more when it comes to fracture or dislocation of a tooth as it regards the gravity of injury. Factors such as condition of the gums, loosening of teeth, oral hygiene, etc. need to be taken into account and that the opinion should be a reasonable and unbiased one.

viii) Any hurt which endangers life or which causes the sufferer to be during the space of twenty days in severe bodily pain or make him unable to follow his ordinary pursuits:

Three different types of hurt have been included under Clause VIII and are independent of each other:

a. Any hurt which endangers life,

b. Any hurt which causes the victim to be in severe bodily pain for 20 days,

c. Any hurt which prevents the victim from following his ordinary pursuits for 20 days.

An injury is said to endanger life if it puts the life of the injured in danger.[20] It should be eminent in order to endanger life. There exists very thin line between “hurt which endangers life” and “injury as is likely to cause death”. The expression “endangers life” is much stronger than “dangerous to life”. Dangerous injuries are those injuries which need surgical intervention and it is sufficient to cause death is not help is provided. It is to be noted that it won’t amount to grievous hurt under Clause VIII if an injury is inflicted on vital part of the body but no organ is injured. A matter is to inferred from the facts and circumstances about the nature of the injury.[21]

The Indian Penal Code has taken into account certain kinds of hurt as grievous even though they might not be dangerous to life as the seriousness of the injury would result in the victim’s incapacitation for minimum of 20 days. The injury should be of such nature that the victim should suffer severe bodily pain or unable to follow normal work for at least 20 days. The phrase “ordinary pursuit” is very vague and has different meanings like eating, bathing, not to pursue work, etc. It was held by the Court that it must be proved during that period that the victim was unable to do his ordinary pursuits.[22] However, a hurt cannot be termed as grievous wherein the effect of the injury doesn’t last for 20 days. It is the nature and severity of the injury and chances of disability which are to be regarded.


Bodily infirmity is not only limited to skin and bones but also extends to the organs of the body. Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code defines what grievous hurt is and also contemplates all injuries which fall in the category. There exist eight clauses of grievous hurt and each one explains different injuries and disfigurements. Moreover, the pain must be bodily and must be caused by any means. Seriousness of the injury depends on the nature and the impact it causes.

The interpretation of the Courts have been dynamic with changing times. The Courts fearlessly pronounce judgments based on the facts and circumstances even when the opinion of the medical practitioners is vague. The extent of hurt and also the intention of the accused must be taken into account while determining the same. The Courts form their own opinion taking into consideration the present data and also form newer concepts and techniques. Nevertheless, every medical practitioner should have adequate knowledge in order to examine the person and make correct reports. Evidences such as the medicolegal reports on hurt which are prepared by them are very important for the Courts.


[1] Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, The Indian Penal Code, 22nd Edition, 2010, LexisNexis Gurgaon, page 1813
[2] Jashan Mal Jhamatmal VS. Brahmanand Sarupanand AIR 1944 Sind 21
[3] Indian Penal Code, 1860
[4] An assault can be termed as an attempt to cause injury to another by showing force and when gestures create a reasonable apprehension of danger to life or limb of another person
[5] AIR 1942 Pat. 376
[6] Abdul Salam VS. the State of Maharashtra 2006 ALL MR (Cri) 3148
[7] 3 Cal. 623
[8] C.A. Rockiyasamy VS. the State of Tamil Nadu Cr./A.(MD) No. 526 of 2006 in the High Court of Madras
[9] Roshni Duhan, “Forensic Medicine and Indian Criminal Laws: A Study of Relevancy With Legal Provisions”, 4 IJMS 1-5 (2016)
[10] Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary at 212 (2004)

[11] S.S. Das, The Penal Code 497 (University Book House Jaipur, 2018)
[14] Section 44 of the Indian Penal Code defines the word “injury”
[15] Gangaram VS. State of Rajasthan WLN 356 (1983)
[16] S.K. Sarvaria, R.A. Nelson’s Indian Penal Code, Vol. 3, 9th Edition, LexisNexis, New Delhi, page 3310
[17] 51 Cr. LJ 799
[18] Hori Lal VS. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1970 SC 1969
[19] The United States Medicine Library defines dislocation as “separation of bones from the joint where they meet
[20] Ramla VS. State (1963) 1 Cr LJ 387
[21] Virsa Singh VS. The State of Punjabi AIR 1958 SC 465
[22] Mithu Singh VS. State of Punjab 1980 Punj LR 639

Author Details: Ritwik Potdar (Symbiosis Law School, Pune)


Leave a Reply