GRAVE AND SUDDEN PROVOCATION

INTRODUCTION

The article discusses what can amount to grave provocation under exception 1[1] to section 300 of the Indian penal code. Exception 1 to S. 300 IPC states that culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, while deprived of self-control due to grave and sudden provocation, causes the death or caused the death of another person by mistake or accident. Despite the several judicial decisions over a long period of time, there are still significant uncertainties and ambiguities that still require clarification. Our Courts apply basic standards of interpretation in general to analyse the facts of any case. It can be seen that the framers of the code while framing the basic idea of this section, have put a fundamental idea which is certainly different from the one developed by the courts and is being used to interpret the law.

GRAVE PROVOCATION UNDER IPC

In the landmark case of Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra[2], the supreme court of India explained the test and the ingredients for sudden and grave provocation. According to it, any reasonable person belonging to the same class of the society as that of the accused, if placed in the situation in which the accused committed the crime, would get so provoked as to lose his self-control, then only the accused can get the defence of grave and sudden provocation, and the liability of murder can get reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The section has a wide scope with which it can also attract mere words and gestures under certain circumstances to result in grave and sudden provocation. The social and mental background created by the series of previous acts and omissions is considered by the courts to determine whether the present act or offence is a result of a grave and sudden provocation due to the previous acts or not.

The above decision of the Supreme court is not exhaustive and can have a wider approach on case to case basis and varying circumstances of the case. There is no abstract or specific rule to determine a reasonable person. The only point is that a reasonable man should be a normal person of the same cultural, social, and emotional background of that of the accused and should commit the same offence as committed by the accused when placed in the same position or the circumstances as that of the accused.

INGREDIENTS OF GRAVE PROVOCTAION

To bring your case under exception 1 to S. 300 of IPC i.e. sudden and grave provocation, the following must be proved- 

  • Actual provocation received by the accused.
  • Provocation so received is grave and sudden.
  • After receiving the provocation, the accused got deprived of his power of self-control.
  • The crime or the offence took place after the accused was deprived of his power of self-control, and before the time, he could cool down, getting out of his provocation.   

The essential explanation at the end of the section makes it crystal clear that the question whether the provocation so received by the accused was grave and sudden enough to prevent the offence from amounting to murder is a question of fact and not the question of law. It means that the liability or the charges would be decided by the courts based on the facts and particular circumstances of various cases. 

DEATH IN A SUDDEN PROVOCATIVE FIGHT

In a sudden fight of two parties, if the death of one party will be caused by the other due to the action taken by the other party out of grave provocation or anger due to it, the accused will only be liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. No single party can blame the other party for initiating the provocation, as both the parties will be held equally liable for provocation of the fight. The crucial point to be considered is that the provocation made should be sudden and unpremeditated, and the element of anger should be visible.

Culpable homicide will not amount to murder if the offender commits the act while being deprived of the power of self-control due to grave and sudden provocation. The provocation must be sudden and grave such that it will make the accused lose his self-control. Further, it should be sudden, meaning the accused could not go home or come armed with weapons bringing his fellows for his help. Conclusively, sufficient cooldown time should not be present during the whole series of events.

In the case of Harchandra V. state of Rajasthan[3], the murder took place all of a sudden with accused intending to kill the victim. However, on the other hand, there was no evidence to show that the act took place all of a sudden. Moreover, the prosecution failed to prove that the injuries on the body of the deceased are due to the intention of the accused to kill him and not due to the sudden and grave provocation. Due to the absence of proofs, the High court of Rajasthan held that the offence caused by the accused is not a murder. The accused was held liable for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and escaped from the punishment of the murder i.e., life imprisonment or death sentence.

The supreme court of India in the case of Virsa Singh V. State of Punjab[4] held that if in the case, there is no clear circumstance to show that the injury so caused is accidental or unintentional, then the court would presume that the accused committed the act or the offence with the intention to cause that injury. Whether that intention was actual or out of necessity, the same has to be proved; otherwise, the entire liability of the injury would be on the accused, and it would be assumed that he had the intention to commit that offence and was successful in the commission of it.

Considering the two cases mentioned above, ambiguity can be seen clearly regarding the test of sudden and grave provocation. When the court faces problems in interpreting the law, and it is not possible to apply the test, then the court, with its standard rules of interpretation, decides the case considering the special facts and circumstances of the case that varies from case to case. Conclusively, this process can also lead to injustice and can drag the innocent behind bars.

CONCLUSION

Many cases have been filed in the criminal history of our country under the defence of exception 1 to S. 300 of IPC. Several variations in interpretations, and conflicts among the judgments are evident from the time of its inception. The case of Nanavati is still the landmark case that triggered the defence of grave and sudden provocation. The court did much in this case; still, many of the matters remain unresolved. The primary concern which is ambiguous is the test for grave and sudden provocation. The test for determining the use of this section does not sit well with the justice system and human reality. The increasing ambiguities are leading to higher conflicts in this issue. The wordings of the code are very precise and explicit in itself. It was the present application and interpretation of the courts, which is leading to unhappiness in the sector of the law. The basic idea of the code formulated by the framers should be kept at the absolute authority before interpreting and applying the rule of law. Now is the time, the court should revert to the tests as proposed by the code framers.


[1] Exception 1 of S. 300 reduces the offence from murder to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

[2] A.I.R 1962 S.C. 605.

[3] RLW 2006 (4) Raj 3028

[4] 1958 AIR 465

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