Indian Penal Code: A Regressive Piece of Legislation

Kartik Agarwal elucidates the need for the amendments of the IPC.

The Indian Penal Code was drafted in 1860 by Lord Thomas Macaulay, who chaired the First Law Commission. It came into force in 1862, thus criminalizing a lot of acts to facilitate the British raj. The Indian Penal Code, is a regressive piece of legislation which facilitates the progression of archaic laws and ideologies. The legislation has been amended 76 times, with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 being the latest amendment, which was enforced after the heinous Nirbhaya incident ,under the recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee, which was set up exclusively to provide recommendations for laws to protect women.

While the legislation has been amended various times, the crux remains the same. It is a legislation made in the times of the British raj, resembling the mindset of 1860 and not the spirit of the 21st century.

The Indian Penal Code has been criticized by President Pranab Mukherjee, the Supreme Court, and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor for being archaic and redundant for the current times. The legislation has been challenged on many grounds, its homosexuality law, and sedition law, right granting freedom of speech and expression and adultery law being few of them.

Law on Sodomy : Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code deals with unnatural offences relating to the human body, criminalizes sexual activities “against the order of nature”, thus criminalizing consensual same-sex relations. This section defies many international treaties that India is a signatory to, for example, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, the U.N. Charter being a few among many. The law is heavily biased against the LGBTQ community as it enforces the view of treating them as second class citizens.N

Not only does the law violate the personal rights of an individual, but by the means of this law, sexual minorities like homosexuals and transsexuals are also barred from accessing much needed healthcare. The law creates institutionalized stereotypes and oppressive schemes, which the public has to suffer. Institutionalized oppression gives way to moral policing, which in many cases, is worse as it incites people to enforce their own forms of punishments. Moreover, this harms India’s global image when various countries have legalized same-sex marriage, while India still has not come to terms with the fact that homosexuality exists. Ironically, this law was implemented by the British in the 1800s, and it is now being used by Indians when even the United Kingdom has legalized same-sex relations.

The President of India, Hon’ble Pranab Mukherjee himself said that the Indian Penal Code is archaic and in need of a change. This statement was made in light of the JNU row, where the student’s union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested for making seditious remarks. This raised the question whether India’s sedition law was a tool used by the government to keep political activism by the citizens in check.

Law on Sedition : Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code deals with sedition, criminalizing any act which brings into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government of India. The simple contentious fact is that the government cannot declare any act or statement seditious at its whims to avoid criticism and public questioning. It is the very foundation of democracy which will be destroyed if the right to question the government is taken away from people. The law is extremely vague and does not define which all acts specifically constitute attempt to excite disaffection towards the government.

Law on Adultery : Another law under the IPC which is regressive and one-sided is the law on adultery. Section 497 of IPC deals with adultery, criminalizing consensual sex between a man and a married woman. The IPC is of the view that adultery is an offence against the husband of the married woman by the man in relations with the married woman. This law, therefore, only punishes the man and not the married woman, making the woman immune to adultery charges. It either treats the woman as a commodity with no say, or responsibility in the charges whatsoever, or it discriminates against men for being the only person who participates in the act of seduction of the wife.

The crux of this article is that most of laws in the Indian Penal Code are extremely sexist in nature which downgrades a woman’s integrity and her importance in the society that we live in.

In a predominantly patriarchal society, a woman’s role is already looked down upon, and when the state forms laws which do nothing to change that, then the society turns a blind eye to the ailments of a woman.

Not only that, the laws also are biased against men, as the entire patriarchal construct forces a man to be take responsibilities for actions which involves a conscious decision on the part of both parties.

The Indian Penal Code is a piece of legislation which is a reminder of Victorian times when our country was a British colony, and the simple fact that we are still imposing the very same rules on ourselves shows how much more we as a country need to achieve.



[1] Gardiner Harris. 2013. “Murder Charges Are Filed Against 5 Men in New Delhi Gang Rape”. The New York Times, January 3. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[2] Express News Service. 2016. “IPC requires thorough revision to meet 21st century needs: Pranab Mukherjee”. Indian Express, 27 February. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[3] Venkatesan, J. 2016. “Criticism of Government Does Not Constitute Sedition, Says Supreme Court”. The Wire, 5 September. Accessed 12 November 2016.; Mahapatra, Dhananjay. 2011. “Adultery law biased against men, says Supreme Court”. Times of India, 3 December. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[4] Special Correspondent. 2015. “Tharoor’s Bill on homosexuality voted out”. The Hindu, 19 December. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[5] Chakravarty, Ipsita. 2016. “Ruling upholding gay sex ban sparked rise in homophobia in India, says activist”., 15 June. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[6] Libelson, Dana. 2015. “Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage Nationwide”. The Huffington Post, 26 June. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[7] Frizell, Sam. 2014. “First Couples Wed as Gay Marriage Becomes Legal in UK”. Time Magazine, 29 March. Accessed 12 November 2016.

[8] Dasarathi, Amala. 2016. “Section 497 and 498 of the IPC on adultery laws are dusty Victorian remnants”. Firstpost, 1 July. Accessed 13 November 2016.

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