State of Madhya Pradesh Vs. Ahmadullah
 INSC 20 (25 January 1961)
AYYANGAR, N. RAJAGOPALA AYYANGAR, N.
RAJAGOPALA SARKAR, A.K.
CITATION: 1961 AIR 998 1961 SCR (3) 583
CITATOR INFO :
R 1971 SC 778 (2) F 1983 SC 855 (16)
Murder-Plea of unsoundness of mind-Crucial
time-Acquittal High Court's refusal to reverse, if justifiable-Indian Penal
Code, ss. 84, 302.
The High Court affirmed an order of acquittal
of the respondent on a charge of murder under s. 302 of the Indian Penal Code
passed by the Sessions judge on the ground that the accused was of unsound
mind. The prosecution case was that the accused committed the murder of his
mother-in-law against whom he had borne ill-will, by severing her head from her
body while she was asleep at dead of night. He made a confession of the crime
but a plea of insanity was taken at the trial. On appeal with special leave by
the State :
Held, that the crucial point of time at which
unsoundness of mind should be established is the time when the crime is
actually (1) I.L.R. 2 Cal, 337.
75 584 committed, the burden of proving which
lies on the accused in order to entitle him to the exemption provided under S. 84
of the Indian Penal Code.
It is not sufficient only to prove that the
accused suffered from an "epileptic type of insanity" before or after
the commission of the crime.
Henry Perry, 14 Cr. Appeal Rep. 48, followed.
There was nothing on the record of the
instant case to show that at the moment when the crime was committed the
accused was capable of knowing that what he was doing was wrong or contrary to
law and as such he was not entitled to an acquittal under s. 84 of the Indian
Refusal by the High Court to interfere with
an acquittal in the proved circumstances of the case could not be justified
under any rule as to " impelling reasons ".
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Criminal
Appeal No. 120 of 1960.
Appeal by special leave from the judgment and
order dated February 28, 1958, of the Madhya Pradesh High Court (Gwalior
Bench), in Criminal Appeal No. 3 of 1957.
I. N. Shroff, for the appellant.
The respondent did not appear.
1961. January 25. The Judgment of the Court
was delivered by AYYANGAR, J.-This is an appeal by special leave by the State
of Madhya Pradesh against the dismissal of an appeal preferred by it to the
High Court of Madhya Pradesh (Gwalior Bench) which declined to reverse the
order of acquittal passed by the Sessions Judge holding the respondent not
guilty of an offence under s. 302 of the Indian Penal Code.
The ground of acquittal by the Sessions
Judge, which was concurred in by the High Court was that the respondent was of
unsound mind at the time of the commission of the crime and so was entitled to
an acquittal under s. 84 of the Indian Penal Code.
There is very little dispute about the facts
or even about the construction of s. 84 of the Code because both the learned
Sessions Judge as well as the learned Judges of the High Court on appeal have
held that the crucial point of time at which the unsoundness of 585 mind, as
defined in that section, has to be established is when the act was committed.
It is the application of this principle to the facts established by the
evidence that is the ground of complaint by the appellant-State before us.
Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code which was
invoked by the respondent successfully in the Courts below runs in these terms:
" Nothing is an offence which is done by
a person who, at the time of doing it, by 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." It is not in dispute that the burden of proof
that the mental condition of the accused was, at the crucial point of time,
such as is described by this section lies on the accused who claims the benefit
of this exemption (vide s. 105, Indian Evidence Act, Illustration (a)).
In order to appreciate the point raised for
our decision it is necessary to refer to the findings of the Sessions Judge
which were in terms approved by the learned Judges of the High Court. Before we
do so, however, we shall narrate a few facts regarding which there is no
dispute: The deceased Bismilla was related to the accused-respondent as the
mother of his wife Jinnat whom he had divorced. The accused nurtured a
grievance against his mother-in-law for matters it is unnecessary to set out.
Bismilla went to bed in her own house on the night of September 28, 1954. On
the morning of the next day the body of Bismilla was found by her husband lying
in a pool of blood on the cot on which she was sleeping with the head missing.
The First Information Report was immediately lodged by the son of the deceased.
The police were informed that the respondent
bad borne ill- will towards Bismilla and thereafter the Sub-Inspector who was
in-charge of the investigation sent for the respondent.
The respondent admitted having committed the
murder and stated that be had put the head of Bismila and the knife with which
it had been severed from the body in a cloth-bag which he had hid in an
underground cell in the furniture shop 586 of his father. The respondent was
taken to that shop where he took out the articles in the presence of
He also took out a torch from the cash-box of
the shop and handed it over to the police with the statement that the torch had
been used by him on the occasion of the murder to locate the deceased in the
darkness. The accused further stated the manner in which he managed to scale
over the wall of the house of the deceased, how he gained entrance into the
room, how he found her asleep on a cot and how he severed the head from the
trunk and carried the former away and hid it at the place from which he took it
out. The respondent was produced before the District Magistrate before whom he
made a confessional statement reciting all the above facts. He was thereafter
committed to stand his trial before the Court of Sessions Judge, Gwalior, for
the offence under s. 302 of the Indian Penal Code. We have only to add that the
confession which was substantially corroborated by other evidence was never
withdrawn though in his answers to the questions put to him by the committing
magistrate and by the Sessions Judge under s. 342 of the Criminal Procedure
Code he professed ignorance of everything.
On behalf of the defence, in support of the
plea of unsoundness of mind three witnesses were examined, two of them being
medical men. The first witness Mahavir Singh was the District Civil Surgeon and
Superintendent of the Mental Hospital. He spoke of having treated the accused
in August 1952 as a private patient. His deposition was to the effect that the
accused had an epileptic type of insanity, the last time that he saw him being
in August 1952, i.e., over two years before the date of the occurrence. His
evidence therefore cannot be very material-not to say decisive-on the question
as to whether at the moment when the offence was committed the accused was
insane as defined by s. 84 of tile Code or not. The other medical witness
examined for the defence was the Superintendent of the Mental Hospital who had
examined the accused on and after November 18, 1954, i. e., nearly two months
after the occurrence. His 587 deposition also was to the effect that the
accused was suffering from epileptic insanity. The witness testified, that at
the first stage of the attack of a fit the patient becomes spastic, that in the
second stage the patient would have convulsions of hands and feet and in the
tertiary stage becomes unconscious and at the last stage the patient might do
acts like sleep-walking. Obviously this was expert evidence about the nature of
the disease which the doctor stated the accused was suffering from, and not any
evidence relating to the mental condition of the accused at the time of the act.
The other witness who spoke about the mental condition of the accused was his
father. In his evidence he stated :
" The accused was in a disturbed state
of mind in the evening of September 28, 1954. He bad not taken food for two
days. When I went to the shop on the morning of September 29, 1954, at 7-30 or
7-45 I found the accused was unconscious and that his hands and feet were
stiffened. Just then the police came there and took away the accused." On
the basis of this evidence the learned Sessions Judge after correctly stating
the law that under s. 84 of the Indian Penal Code the crucial point of time at
which unsoundness of mind should be established, is the time when the act
constituting the offence is committed and that the burden of proving that an accused
is entitled to the benefit of this exemption is upon him, summarised the
evidence which had been led in the case in these terms:
" The next thing therefore to consider
is whether the accused was incapable of knowing the nature of the act. The fact
that the accused went at night to the house of his mother-in-law, deliberately
cut her head and brought it to his house is too obvious to show that the
accused was capable of knowing the nature of the act. To put it differently,
the accused while killing Bismilla was not under the impression that he was
breaking an earthen jar. Even the learned counsel for the defence laid no
stress on this aspect of insanity.
He, however, contended that the accused was
incapable of knowing that what he was doing was either wrong or contrary to
law." 588 The learned Judge, however, rested his decision to acquit the
accused on the following reasoning:
"There is the circumstance that soon
after the crime the accused was admitted to the mental hospital and the
Superintendent of the Hospital at least confirms that the accused suffers from
epileptic fits. Now epilepsy is a kind of disease which may cause insanity.
This is called epileptic insanity.
In this insanity the patient commits brutal
murders without knowing what he was doing.
The accused who suffered from epilepsy has
committed a brutal murder. There is thus ground to believe that he may have
committed this murder in a fit of epileptic insanity.................. These.
things give rise to the inference that the accused may have committed the crime
in a fit of insanity and without knowing that what he was doing was either
wrong or contrary to law. 1, therefore, find that the accused Ahmedullah did
kill Bismilla by severing her head from the body with a knife but that by reason
of unsoundness of mind he was incapable of knowing that what he was doing was
wrong or contrary to law and that he is, therefore, Dot guilty of the offence
of murder with which he is charged under section 302, Indian Penal Code and I
direct that the said accused be acquitted." The learned Judge had
definitely found that the accused knew the nature of the act he was doing,
finding which as we shall presently point out, was concurred in by the learned
Judges of the High Court. In the face of it we find it rather difficult to
sustain the reasoning upon which the last conclusion is rested on the facts of
From this order of acquittal by the learned
Sessions Judge the State filed an appeal to the High Court. The learned Judges
of the High Court also correctly appreciated the legal position that to invoke
the benefit of the exemption provided by s. 84 of the Indian Penal Code it
would be necessary to establish that the accused was, at the moment of the act
insane. The learned Judges, on this aspect of the case, said :
" About the mental condition immediately
before and after the crucial moment, we have the 589 circumstances, the conduct
of the respondent on the morning of the 29th and his confession given on that
afternoon. By themselves they do not support the theory of mental unsoundness
necessary for Section 84, though they are explicable, consistently with
epileptic insanity. The murder itself has been committed with extraordinary
cunning, and attention to the most minute detail It is certain the respondent
knew at that time the physical nature of what he was doing; he did not believe
that he was breaking a pot or cutting a cabbage, but was taking the life of a
human being which he says within 16 hours, he did for vindicating his honour.
In fact, the condition at the time of the confession is one of elation rather
than of depression or a black-out .................. The learned Sessions Judge
has held that the respondent was in a fit of epileptic insanity on the 28th
night, when he killed his mother-in-law; it is not clearly recorded, but it
also seems to be his finding that this fit of epileptic insanity continued at
least till the time of his confession. This finding is not one without any
evidence to support it, or one that can be called perverse; still, it is one
that could properly be arrived at, only if it is consistent with the
observation made on the respondent immediately after the 29th September,
1954." They proceeded to point out that there was no observation by
medical experts soon after the act to enable an inference to be drawn as to the
mental condition of the accused just prior thereto. After detailing the
arguments on either side the learned Judges concluded:
" Thus we have no evidence pointing to
that kind and degree of mental unsoundness at the time of the act as required
by section 84 of the I.P.C. ; but on the defective material adduced, it would
have been in my opinion, an unsatisfactory conclusion either way In a case like
this when the proved facts would otherwise support a conviction for murder it
was for the defence to adduce evidence and it should, in principle, reap the
consequence of any omissions in this regard," 590 From these observations
it would appear as if the learned Judges of the High Court were differing from
the learned Sessions Judge in his conclusion as regards the application of
section 84 to the facts of the present case. They however, continued:
" The Sessions Judge was satisfied that
the defence has discharged the onus of proving that at the time of the commission
of the offence the accused was mentally so unsound as not to know that the act
was wrong and contrary to law. Now it is for the State to establish in appeal
that the finding is perverse and that there are compelling reasons why that
decision should be reversed." and it is on this ground that the learned
Judges dismissed the appeal by the State.
We find ourselves wholly unable to concur
with this conclusion or with the reasoning on which it is rested. The learned
Judges failed to appreciate that the error in the judgment of the Sessions
Judge lay not so much in the implicit acceptance of the testimony of the father
of the accused-because he was obviously an interested witness, and of this the
appellant State could certainly and justifiably complain-but in proceeding on a
basis wherein inferences and probabilities resting on assumptions were
permitted to do duty for proved facts, which the statute required to be
established before the exemption under the section could be claimed. Refusal to
interfere with an acquital in such circumstances could hardly be justified
under any rule as to " impelling reasons " for interference even
assuming the existence of such a rule. The error in the judgment of the High
Court consisted in ignoring the fact that there was nothing on the record on
the basis of which it could be said that at the moment of the act, the accused
was incapable of knowing that what he was doing was wrong or contrary to law.
In this connection we might refer to the
decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal in En, gland in Henry Perry(1) were
also the defence was that the accused had been prone to have fits of epileptic
insanity. During the course of the argument Reading, C.J., observed :
(z) 14 Cr. Appeal Rep. 48.
591 " The crux of the whole question is
whether this man was suffering from epilepsy at the time he committed the
crime. Otherwise it would be a most dangerous doctrine if a man could say, 'I
once had an epileptic fit, and everything that happens hereafter must be put
down to that'. " In dismissing the appeal the learned Chief Justice said:
" Every man is presumed to be sane and
to possess a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his acts unless
the contrary is proved. To establish insanity it must be clearly proved that at
the time of committing the act the party is labouring under such defect of
reason as not to know the nature and quality of the act which he is
committing-that is, the physical nature and quality as distinguished from the
moral-or, if he does know the nature and quality of the act he is committing,
that he does not know that he is doing wrong...... There is, however, evidence
of a medical character before the jury, and there are statements made by the
prisoner himself, that he has suffered from epileptic fits. The Court has had
further evidence, especially in the prison records, of his having had attacks
of epilepsy. But to establish that is only one step; it must be shown that the
man was suffering from an epileptic seizure at the time when he committed the murders;
and that has not been proved. " We consider that the situation in the
present case is very similar and the observations extracted apply with
appositeness. We consider that there was no basis in the evidence before the
Court for the finding by the Sessions Judge that at the crucial moment when the
accused out the throat of his mother-in-law and severed her head, he was from
unsoundness of mind incapable of knowing that what he was doing was wrong. Even
the evidence of the father does not support such a finding. In this connection
the Courts below have failed to take into account the circumstances in which
the killing was compassed. The accused bore illwill to Bismilla and the act was
committed at dead of night when he would not be seen, the accused 76 592 taking
a torch with him, access to the house of the deceased being obtained by stealth
by scaling over a wall. Then again, there was the mood of exaltation which the
accused exhibited after he had put her out of her life. It was a crime
committed not in a sudden mood of insanity but one that was preceded by careful
planning and exhibiting cool calculation in execution and directed against a
person who was considered to he the enemy.
The appeal is therefore allowed, the order of
acquittal passed against the respondent set as de and in its place will be
substituted a finding that the respondent is guilty of murder under s. 302 of
the Indian Penal Code. In the normal course the proper punishment for the
heinous and premeditated crime committed with -inhuman brutality would have
been a sentence of death. But taking into account the fact that the accused has
been acquitted by the Sessions Judgean order which has been affirmed by the
High Court we consider that the ends of justice would be met if we sentence the
accused to rigorous imprisonment for life. It is needless to add that the State
Government will take steps to have the accused treated in an asylum until he is
cured of his illness, if this still continues.