Author: Ayushi Singh Tomar


Insanity means the state of mind, where a person is incapable of foreseeing the consequences of his acts. The basis of criminal liability in IPC is ‘mens rea’, i.e. a guilty mind, an insane person cannot form an intention or a guilty mind, he cannot be made liable for the consequences of any punishable act he does. Insanity acts as a blanket immunity for any kind of criminal liability.

Doctrine of Insanity in Indian Criminal Law

As per Section 84 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 –Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who at the time of doing it, by the reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.

There are four kinds of person who may be said to be non-compos mentis (not of sound mind)

  1. An idiot– A person who is not of same memory from birth, by perpetual infirmity, one has to be so dumb as to be unable to count till 20 and to tell the name of his parents. An idiot is a person whose mental development rate has been arrested at an early age.
  2. Lunatic– A person who is afflicted by a mental disorder at only certain period and vicissitudes, having intervals of reason.
  3. One made non-compos by illness– A person made non-composmentis by illness is excused in criminal cases from such acts as are committed under the influence of his disorder.
  4. One who is drunk– A person who is intoxicated at the time of doing the act.

Essential Ingredients

This section lays down the legal test when a person could be called insane and can be exonerated from the liability under Section 84 if he, at the time of doing that act-

  • is incapable of knowing,
  • the nature of his act,
  • that he is doing something contrary to the law.

This incapability must be due to unsoundness of mind at the time of the commission of the act. Only if these conditions are fulfilled, he will be considered insane under this section. If a person is occasionally of sound unsound mind, he will not be liable for an act done, when he was of unsound mind. The decisive point of determining liability is the moment when the act is committed, the insanity before or after the act does not become a ground for immunity. In the case of Madhukar Nigade v. State of Maharashtra[i], it was held that it has to be proved that, the accused, at the time of the commission of the offence, was not mentally fit to understand the consequence of his acts and was of unsound mind. In Mohammed Rafiq Shahabuddin Shaikh v. State of Maharashtra[ii], the Bombay High court held that even if there is a reasonable doubt in the mind of the court, regarding the mental condition of the accused at the time of the commission of the crime, shall be entitled to the benefit of the reasonable doubt and consequent acquittal, under Section 84 of IPC.

In the case of State v. EmercianoLemos[iii], it was held that a person laboring under delusion and hallucination is same as an insane person.

Burden Of Proof

To get the benefit of insanity, the onus of proving unsoundness is on the accused. The burden of proving the existence of circumstances bringing the case under Section 84 IPC is thrown on the accused and Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act directs that “the court shall presume the absence of such circumstances”.  In order that Section 84 IPC. may come into play, it is to be established that the accused is of unsound mind and his cognitive faculties are so impaired that he did not know the nature of the act done by him or that what he is doing is either wrong or contrary to law.[iv]  It has again been observed by the Supreme Court in the case of Bhikari v. State of Uttar Pradesh[v], that, Section 84 I.P.C. can be invoked by the accused of nullifying the evidence produced by the prosecution. Every person is said to know the consequences of his acts and the law governing the act. Therefore, the accused has to prove all the evidence by the prosecution to be false and establish his innocence beyond reasonable doubt. 

Leading Case Laws

1.      R v M’Naghten[vi]

Mac Naghten killed Edward Drummond, who he believed to the British Prime Minister Robert Pell. Drummond died five days later and M’Naghten was charged with his murder. He pleaded insanity.

In his case, Lord Chief Justice Tindal stated that “the question to be determined is, whether at the time the act in question was committed, the accused had or had not the use of his understanding, so as to know that he was doing a wrong act. If the jurors should be of opinion that the accused was not sensible, at the time he committed it, that he was violating the law, then he would be entitled to a verdict in his favor: but if, on the contrary, they were of opinion that when he committed the act he was in a sound state of mind, then their verdict must be against him.”

Also, the medical evidence brought forward stated that persons of otherwise sound mind, might be affected by morbid delusions and that M’Naghten was so affected.

Mac Naghten was found not guilty, as his ability to reason was overshadowed by delusion. This case laid the foundation of the principal of insanity as a complete defense.

  1. Paras Ram v. State of Punjab[vii]

Father and his relatives sacrificed a four-year-old son, to propitiate the deity. The accused was made to believe that if he did so, huge wealth would be accrued to him and he would lead a life peaceful life. The accused pleaded insanity, that he was unaware of the consequence of the acts he did.

Supreme Court held that such heinous and inhuman actions must be severely punished so as to deter others from resorting to barbaric practices. It was found that he intentionally did the act and was convicted.

  1. Ashiruddin Ahmed v. State[viii]

Accused in his dream, on being commanded by someone in paradise took his five-year-old son and killed him in the mosque, by thrusting a knife in his son’s throat. After which he went to his uncle and narrated the whole act he did.

It was held that, even though he knew the nature of his act, he did not know that it is wrong or contrary to law. Hence, was entitled to benefits under Section 84.

  1. DayabhaiChhaganbhai Thakkar v.State of Gujarat[ix]

The accused was the husband of Kelavati, he did not like his wife and a few months before the incident, wrote a letter to his father-in-law stating the same. One day Kelavati was heard shouting for help and crying, while her husband was beating her. When the neighbours entered the house, they found her dead.

At the trial, the defence of insanity was rejected by the Supreme court, as the evidence shows that he committed the act in complete sanity. It was held that the nature and the extent of unsoundness of mind must reach the stage that would make the offender completely unaware of the consequence of his act.

  1. Siddhapal Kamala Yadav v. State of Maharashtra[x]

Accused murdered a person, with a saline stand, while he was in prison. He pleaded not guilty, as he said he was unaware of the consequences of the act he was doing. When the police constable arrived there and handcuffed him, he tried to escape, showing that he was aware of the nature of his act. The evidence of doctors who attended the accused and the opinion expressed by them clearly goes to show that the appellant’s plea relating to unsoundness of mind has no substance.

The court rejected his claim, saying the present case does not fall under Section 84 of IPC.


Only a person who at the time of committing the act is unaware of the wrong is doing and the consequences it will follow will be considered insane under section 84 of IPC and will be completely exonerated from any criminal liability.

[i]Madhukar Nigade v. State of Maharashtra, 1996 CriLJ 1062.

[ii]Mohammed Rafiq Shahabuddin Shaikh v. State of Maharashtra,Criminal Appeal No. 731 of 2013.

[iii] State v. EmercianoLemos, 1970 CriLJ 36.

[iv]Digendra Nath v. The State, 1970 CrLJ 529.

[v]Bhikari v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1965 SCR (3) 194.

[vi] R v M’Naghten, (1843) 8 E.R. 718.

[vii] Paras Ram v. State of Punjab, (1981) 2 SCC 508.

[viii]Ashiruddin Ahmed v. State, AIR 1950 CrLJ 225.

[ix]DayabhaiChhaganbhai Thakkar v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1964 SC 1563.

[x]Siddhapal Kamala Yadav v. State of Maharashtra, Criminal AppealNo. 1602 of 2008.

About the Author: Ayushi is a second-year BALLB student at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar.

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