160 years of Indian Penal Code

  • IASbaba
  • January 5, 2022
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(Sansad TV: Perspective)

Jan 1: 160 years of Indian Penal Code-  https://youtu.be/UG6hU18noVM 


  • GS-2- Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features
  • GS-2- Parliament and State legislatures— functioning 
  • GS-2- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors

160 years of Indian Penal Code

Context: Formed in 1862, the Indian Penal Code completes 160 years of its existence. The Indian Penal Code, the legislation that an ordinary citizen arguably interacts with the most, and which governs his relationship with the state, is still rooted in colonial ideas. 

  • Although some changes have been made through amendments and judicial pronouncements, the laws do not reflect the aspirations of a Constitution that gives primacy to liberty and equality.
  • Case in point – it took 158 years for the courts to decriminalise homosexuality and adultery 

Why there is a need to reform Criminal Laws?

  • Long Pending: The Indian Penal Code and its corollary laws, the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure, were all first enacted in the late 19th-century that have not undergone comprehensive revision
  • Colonial Hangover: IPC & CrPC were largely formalised to aid the colonial government in India, over 150 years ago. They are still rooted in colonial ideas despite amendments & judgements.
  • Lacks adequate recognition of Individual agency: IPC do not reflect the aspirations of a Constitution that gives primacy to liberty and equality. 
  • Still represent Victorian Morality: While it took 158 years for the courts to decriminalise homosexuality (section 377 of IPC) and adultery, there exist many provisions in the IPC that still echoes Victorian morality, which is especially true for women.
  • Ignorant of modern-age crimes: New crimes need to be defined and addressed in IPC, especially concerning technology and sexual offences. Ex: digital technology facilitating gambling and betting

The Way Ahead

  • The government must cover a large and diverse landscape of ‘offences’ and criminal procedure to craft a criminal law system that is truly in tune with the times. Ex: Contempt of Court, marital rape, acid attacks, hate crimes etc
  • Government should not give in to populist demands and run the risk of excessive policing and over-criminalising 
  • Death Penalty needs a legislative approach and not just passing the buck to the judiciary.
  • On procedural aspects of criminal law, there is a need to harmonise the statute books with court rulings
  • Victim who are often on the margins of the justice process should not be burdened with institutional delays
  • Accountability, above all, must guide the balance between the rights of the citizen and imperatives of state.


Macaulay had himself favoured regular revision of the code whenever gaps or ambiguities were found or experienced. The IPC’s original architect cannot be blamed for the current dismal state. 

  • Even though the IPC has been haphazardly amended more than 75 times, no comprehensive revision has been undertaken.
  • As a result, largely the courts have had to undertake this task, with unsatisfactory outcomes at times. 
  • Most amendments have been ad hoc and reactive, in response to immediate circumstances like the 2013 amendment after the Delhi gangrape case.

There is thus, a need to weed out outdated provisions, and update IPC to include modern day/hitherto excluded offences.


  • Charter Act of 1833 that established First law commission in 1834 under the Chairmanship of Lord Macaulay – recommendations led to drafting of IPC

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Has IPC served Indian society according to its needs? Or does it still have a colonial hangover? Examine.
  2. Has IPC been able to keep pace with the changing face of crime? Discuss.

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