August 1, 2021

Murder and Culpable Homicide under Indian Penal Code


Law is an important mechanism for regulation of the society as it brings out a positive social change. It is considered important to understand the difference between criminal and civil offence. The liability, nature and punishment incurred for both are different. It is seen that any conduct which harms an individual harms the whole society as this society is made up of individuals and thus it is rightly said about crime that it is an offence against society. Blackstone defines crime as “an act committed or omitted in violation of public law forbidding or commanding it.” It is to be noted that a person is held guilty is they are proved to be blameworthy in both thought and action.[1]

The words “Indian Penal Code” is on its own self-explanatory wherein it provides for penalty for the offences committed under this Code. It is a tool for effective regularization of the society which consist of penal laws for the culprits. Section 2 of the Code states that “every person shall be liable to punishment under this Code and not otherwise for every act or omission contrary to the provisions thereof, of which he shall be guilty within India”.[2] Chapter 16 of the Indian Penal Code includes the offences which affect a human body and covers Sections from 299 to 377. The offences which affect life is an integral part of the Act which deals with offences relating to Human Body and there exist various aspects of crime causing death. It can be seen that there are a few sections where the offences are defined and where the punishments and different situations are mentioned.

The sections in the Code are exhaustive and interlinked as well. According to Section 299 of the Code, it would be an offence to culpable homicide if any person is causing death with the intention of causing death or by creating any bodily harm. Similarly, Section 300 of the Act deals with murder and is considered to be an offence against human body if it is done with proper intention. That’s a general difference between culpable homicide and murder and indeed there is a very thin line of distinction between the two. The difference is only that of intention to commit murder. In culpable homicide, an offender had an intention of causing bodily harm which causes death whereas, in murder, the offender must know that the act with cause death. Punishment is conveyed in both the cases but the nature of punishment in murder is grave but not that serious for the other. Section 302 of the Code deals with punishment to murder with death or life imprisonment whereas Section 304 deals with punishment relating to culpable homicide.

Homicide under Indian Penal Code

There are various offences which are committed against a human body which are provided in the Code but homicide is the most dangerous amongst them. The two main sections which deal with homicide are Sections 299 and 300 of the Code. The word “homicide” is derived from the Latin words homi meaning man and cido meaning to kill.[3] Hence, the term homicide means to kill a human being by some other human.[4] Nevertheless, it should be noted that one is not culpable in every case. It could not be a culpable homicide but a lawful homicide.[5] It can be termed as a culpable homicide if the death of a human is caused by any of the acts which fall under the ambit of Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code. Homicide can be considered as a wrongful act if we look at it through morality but, on the other hand, it can be differentiated between lawful and unlawful if we look at it from the legal perspective. The Indian Penal Code defines it in two ways as follows:

i) Lawful Homicide:

A Simple / Lawful Homicide is said to have been committed when death is caused by accident or misfortune and without any criminal intention or knowledge in doing any lawful act, by lawful means, in a lawful manner and with due care and caution. There exist a few provisions under Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code wherein it justifies the homicide by virtue of general exceptions such as:

a. An act done by a person in good faith, who is bound, by any mistake of fact and not that of mistake of law, believing that the person is bound by law to commit the homicide is justified.[6]

b. Judges, when delivering a judgment or acting judicially in exercise of any power, which he believes to be in good faith, given to him by law is justified.[7]

c. It should be noted that a person isn’t immune if he is exceeding the limit and is found abusing his position as a public servant but it is justified by a person acting in pursuance of an order or judgment of the Court.

d. By a person who is justified or by any reason of mistake of fact, in good faith, believes him to be justified by law.[8]

e. By any person acting without any criminal intention to cause harm and in good faith does it solely for the purpose of preventing or avoiding other harm to property or persons.[9]

f. Any act done for the purpose of right of private defence of the property or person.

Some acts are also excluded by this chapter and are protected under the general exceptions such as death caused by a person of unsound mind, a child below seven years of age or between seven to twelve depending upon the maturity, an intoxicated person who is forcefully administered the intoxication, etc. are declared as lawful.

ii) Unlawful Homicide:

An Unlawful Homicide can be termed as a homicide of the Part IV of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is not applicable. This homicide can be divided into two main forms:

a. Culpable homicide not amounting to murder[10]

b. Murder[11]

c. Negligent or Rash act

d. Suicide

Culpable Homicide under Indian Penal Code

While dealing with culpable homicide, Section 299 of the Code comes into play. It states that whoever causes death to a person by doing act with any intention of causing death or with the knowledge of doing such act to cause death to a person is said to commit an offence of the same. The main qualifiers of it is causing death by doing an act with the intention or with the intention of causing bodily injury as is likely to cause death or with the knowledge that it was likely to cause death.[12]

An act will not amount to this offence without any of these elements even if it is of criminal nature.[13] Section 299 deals primarily with the intention and also about the knowledge which may probably cause death. In the case of Sunder Lal VS. The State of Rajasthan, the weapons used were a lathi and a gandasi. There was only one blow which was directed on head and several others injuries on hands and legs with the gandasi and lathi. The accused were, thus, convicted under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code and hence knowledge plays an important role.

According to the definition, following are some of the ingredients:

i) There must occur death of a person,

ii) It should have been caused by another person,

iii) The death must have been:

a. Caused with the intention of causing death,

b. Caused with the intention of causing such injury as it would result in death,

c. Caused with the knowledge that by his act he is likely to cause death.

It should be noted that the words “intention” and “knowledge” must not be confused wherein it does not deal with the first two categories but it does in relation to the third one. Knowledge can be said to be a bare state of conscious awareness of some facts in which the mind remains inactive whereas intention means a conscious state in which instincts are active and summed up into action for a specific purpose.

In the case of Kusa Majhi VS. State of Orissa 1985 Cr.LJ 1460 the deceased warned her son for not going fishing with others. The son got angry, brought an axe and gave blows on her shoulder after which she died. The blows were in fit of moment and anger and was no pre plan of the offence. Therefore, it was held to be a case of culpable homicide as the blows were likely to cause bodily injury which then caused death. Section 304 of the Act deals with punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and is that of life imprisonment or an imprisonment term which may extend to ten years and also liable for fine.

Murder under Indian Penal Code

The term murder can be traced back to the German word “morth” which means secret killing. It refers to intentional killing of one person by another person with any forethought. It is considered to be a more serious offence as compared to culpable homicide. Section 300 of the Code state what acts under culpable homicide amount to murder. Moreover, an offence of murder will not be considered as murder unless it includes an offence that falls under culpable homicide. Hence it can be said that a culpable homicide is a genus whereas a murder is a species. Just like in the case of culpable homicide, intention and knowledge is very important. The probability of death is more is more in murder than in culpable homicide. There exist in all six types of murders which are as follows:

i) First degree murders are those wherein there is highest level of planning in relation to the victim

ii) Second degree murders are those where definite intention to harm a person is involved but not the intention to kill a person

iii) Third degree murders are caused due to the negligence or indifference of the offender

iv) Fourth degree murders are used for charging a person who has abetted the offender in order to cause aa crime.

v) Justifiable homicide is a murder but not charged accordingly as it occurs due to self defence

vi) Felony murder is where a third party dies during the commission of an offence.

Some ingredients of murder are as follows:

i) The act by which a death is caused is done with an intention of causing death:

It is culpable homicide amounting to murder when the act is done with an intention of causing death. It is to be noted that death may be caused by illegal omission where it is the act of a person with the clear intention of killing that person.

ii) The act with the intention of causing bodily injuries as the offender knows it will likely cause death:

As per Section 300(2) of the Code, it would be a culpable homicide amounting to murder if the offender intentionally causes bodily injury knowing that such an injury will cause death of the other person. The offence falling under this criteria consists of intention of causing bodily harm and then the knowledge that it will consequently cause death of the injured.

iii) The act with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person as it is sufficient in normal sense to result in death of the injured:

According to Section 300(3), it is sufficient that there is intention to cause the injury which was actually caused. The subjective factor ends there itself and that there shouldn’t be any further enquiry.

iv) The act wherein the person committing it knows that it is so dangerous that it must, in all probabilities, cause death or such injury will cause death:

Under Section 300(4) cases which are included are that of dangerous action without an intention to cause bodily injury to any person. Nevertheless, there should be knowledge that the act was imminently dangerous that it would cause death or such bodily injury, which would be inflicted, is likely to cause death.

In one of the cases, the deceased was kicked and beaten lot of times by the offender even after he fell senseless. The Court held that the murderer would have known that inflicting such wounds will result in death of that person and thus he was accused of murder.[14] In the case of B. N. Srikantiah VS. Mysore State there were 24 injuries and out of them 21 were incised on neck, head, shoulder, etc. The Court held that the intention of causing bodily injuries were established as many of them were on the vital parts and thus it was covered under Section 300.[15]

Major Distinctions Between Sections 299 And 300 of IPC, 1860

The main reason why Sections 299 and 300 are known to be overlapping offences is due to the difficulty in differentiating and understanding the difference between them as a real yet thin line of difference exists. The most confusing aspect between the two is that of “intention” of the offender as it is to cause death under both the provisions. Thus, the degree of intention of the offenders is to be considered.

If a victim was killed by a well-planned method then it can be regarded as a murder because the intention to kill was in high degree whereas if a victim is killed without any pre-planned method then such a death can be regarded as a culpable homicide as it would take place in a sudden fight. The major difference is that murder is more aggravated form of culpable homicide. There doesn’t exist any ambiguity in murder that the act may or may not kill as in the case of culpable homicide. Hence, it could be safe to say that whether the act committed is a culpable homicide or a murder totally is a question of facts.

There are certain ways to differentiate between these two concepts and it is latent with the term “seriousness of intention”. The word “likely” is used in Section 299 which states one of the probabilities which amount to culpable homicide but the word “sufficient” is used in Section 300 which denotes most probably.[16]

Subsequently, another difference can be that of the chance of death wherein it is high in case of murder and less under culpable homicide. Another difference is of mens rea where it is involved with a difference of degree in both the offences. This difference was cleared by Justice Melvin in the case of Reg. VS. Govinda.[17] In this case the accused knocked his wife down, then put one knee on her chest and then struck two or three blows with a closed fist. This produced extraversion of blood on the brain and she died consequently but there was no intention to cause death and also the injuries were no sufficient to cause death in the ordinary course. The accused was thus held liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.[18]

Moreover, the courts have developed a system which would decide under which section will the case fall. The very first stage out of the three stages is whether the accused has committed the act which caused the life of the victim. If the answer is positive, then the net stage is to consider whether the act is under Section 299 of the Code. The last stage of the process is reached if the answer is found to be affirmative. This is the stage where the Court decides if the facts of the case bring it under any of the four clauses of murder in Section 300 of the IPC. However, it is difficult to categorically distinguish between the two.[19]


The interpretation and wordings of offences relating to human body are clear and appropriate. Both culpable homicide as well as murder are overlapping yet distinct crimes. They differ with respect to the degree of probability of death or the seriousness of the act even though they seem to be same in a way. It can be said that culpable homicide is a wider term than murder. If the act that is done by the offender is a heinous crime resulting in death then it fall under the criteria of murder whereas if the act leaves the victim alive with grievous hurt then it is culpable homicide which doesn’t result in murder. Thus, in order to decide an act, the facts have to be ascertained in the first place and then knowledge and intention of the offender has to be ascertained. If the intention or knowledge is higher, then it would automatically fall under the ambit of murder.

Every case must be looked into a different one depending upon the facts and circumstances of every case. Therefore, the role of judges becomes very significant. A common line of difference is tough to be drawn as there isn’t any radical difference between these two crimes and depends from case to case. Moreover, the burden of presenting good arguments before the Court would be that of the lawyers of the two parties because it’s the facts that determine the level of offence.


[1] An act doesn’t make a person guilty unless its mind is also guilty

[2] Section 2 of Indian Penal Code of 1860

[3] Criminal Law Cases and Materials, K. D. Gaur, 18th Edition 2015, Lexis Nexis Publication, Page 389

[4] Ganesan VS. The State, Represented by the Inspector of Police, Alangulam Police Station, Virudunagar

[5] Culpable, in this case, could be understood as “responsible for something bad” and that which is unlawful

[6] Section 76 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860

[7] Section 77 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860

[8] Section 79 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860

[9] Section 81 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860

[10] Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860

[11] Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860

[12] Mirza Ghani Baig VS State of A.P. 1997 2 Crimes 19 (AP)

[13] State VS. Ram Swarup 1988 Cr.LJ 1067 All.

[14] Milmadhub Sirchar VS. R (1885)

[15] AIR 1958 SC 672

[16] (Last assessed on September 21, 2020)

[17] 1876 ILR Bom 342

[18] (Last assessed on September 17, 2020)

[19] PSA Pillas, Criminal Law, page 573 (Edition 12 – 2014), Lexis Nexis, New Delhi

Author: Ritwik Potdar (Symbiosis Law School, Pune)


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