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Riot Under Indian Penal Code, 1860

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Supreet Kaur

Every civilized society aims at securing peace and order for its members. But civil disturbances are common in every society owing to criminal acts of human ranging from small theft to murdering. But the situation becomes worse when an offence is committed at large scale, and which is difficult to be curbed easily. One such offence is Riot.

Riot is the use of violence against persons or property. This is committed by a group of people with a common aim to disturb the civil order. An unlawful act is committed which may range from looting of shops to causing deaths of innocent people at large scale. Communal riots are more common in India. The worst riots that our country experienced include Anti- Sikhs riots in 1984, Bombay riots in 1993, Gujarat riots in 2002 and the recent 2020 Delhi riots.

The recent Delhi riots is a worth mentioning event which resulted in the death of nearly 53 people majority of whom were Muslims and injuries to more than 200 people. These riots affected the parts of North East Delhi. Apart from lives of Muslims, who were main targets, a huge damage was done to the property belonging to Muslims which included four Mosques as well. The riots had their origin in anti – CAA Protests which caused blocking of roads in Delhi affecting normal lives of people and the inciting factor was Kapil Mishra’s speech. The riots resulted in displacement of Muslims from their residence in Delhi. The riots exposed the inability of the police to maintain law and order situation and the communal hatred in the minds of people.

Legal Provisions for Riot in India

Since the outcome of riots is huge loss to life and property, it is a heinous crime against the humanity, and it must be punished severely. Chapter VIII of Indian Penal Code 1860 (hereinafter as IPC, 1860) deals with offences against tranquillity and one such offence is riot, defined under Section 146 of IPC, 1860 and made punishable under Section 147.

Section 146 states “Whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting.”

Essentials to constitute a riot:

To commit a riot, the co – existence of following elements is required:

  1. Unlawful Assembly: Article 19(1)(b) of our constitution guarantees us the right to assemble peaceably but unlawful assembly is an offence which is defined under Section 141 of IPC 1860 and made punishable under Section 142. An unlawful assembly is an assembly of five or more than five persons. It means to constitute a riot, the involvement of atleast five persons is required. Unlawful assembly means an assembly formed to commit an unlawful act. It may happen that an assembly which was lawful turned into an unlawful assembly by subsequent act of its members.[1] The members may not have a previous concert. Unlawful assembly is a separate offence, but it takes the form of riot when force or violence is used. So, to prove the offence of riot, the first requirement is proving the presence of at least five persons.
  2. Use of force or violence: It is the use of force which distinguishes an unlawful assembly from riot. Use of force or violence by an unlawful assembly is an easy ingredient of riot. Force is defined under Section 349 of IPC,1860. A person is said to use force if he, by his own force, affects the state of motion of other person or if he affects the motion of any inanimate object so that the substance might contact the body of other person (For example- ‘A’ kicks a bucket carrying hot water towards ‘B’, it is the use of force by ‘A’ , or if he induces any animal to change its motion) The word criminal force is defined under Section 350 as the use of intentional force against any person against the will of that person and if such force causes or is likely to cause injury or fear , it amounts to the use of criminal force. So, mere accidents don’t amount to use of criminal force since intention is not there. Riot includes the force used against persons and against inanimate objects as well eg, looting a shop, burning down a house.

Illustration: ‘A’ kicks a trolley which hits ‘B’, it is the use of force, now if ‘A’ has done it with an intention to cause injury to ‘B’, it is the use of criminal force by ‘A’ against ‘B’.

The term violence is not defined in the code. Violence is an extreme form of use of force. In Lakshmi Ammal v. Sammiappa[2] , it was held that the term violence has broader meaning. Violence includes the force which is used not only against persons but against inanimate objects as well.

  1. Common object: The common object means the purpose which the members of an unlawful assembly seek to achieve. Common object is different from common intention since common intention requires a pre plan. To constitute a riot, common object is required and there need not be prior meeting of minds before the offence is committed. Whether the members have a common object or not, it is determined by the circumstances and the conduct of members while committing riot. [3]

In Waman v. State of Maharashtra[4]: Supreme Court held that the common object must be within the knowledge of members of an unlawful assembly. The Supreme court in Amerika Rai v. State of Bihar[5] observed that the presence of a person in an unlawful assembly to achieve a common object is enough to make that person vicariously liable for the acts of others. In State of Maharashtra v. Joseph[6] : It was held that if the membership of an unlawful assembly is proved, it is enough to make a person liable. However mere spectators cannot be held liable because of their mere presence at the time of incidence.

Punishment for riot:

Section 147 states that “Whoever is guilty of rioting, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

The offence of riot is made punishable under Section 147 of IPC, 1860. Every member of the unlawful assembly is liable to imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine or both for committing riot. The offence of riot is cognizable, bailable but non compoundable. Moreover, it can be tried by any magistrate.

Rioting with deadly weapon:

Section 148 states that “Whoever is guilty of rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.”

Section 146 of IPC,1860, only mentions the use of force but under Section 148 if the riot is committed with a deadly weapon which means a weapon which can cause death like knife, gun etc, then the period of punishment can be extended upto three years or fine or both.

This offence is also cognizable, bailable but non compoundable. It can be tried by Judicial magistrate of first class.

Provoking/ Inciting a riot:

Section 153 states that “Whoever malignantly, or wantonly, by doing anything which is illegal, gives provocation to any person intending of knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the offence of rioting to be committed, shall, if the offence of rioting be committed in consequence of such provocation, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both and if the offence of rioting be not committed, imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”

So, giving provocation with a reasonable knowledge that such provocation can result in rioting is made punishable under Section 153. However, the punishment for the same is given depending upon the consequences of such provocation. If the riot is committed owing to such provocation the person so provoking can be punished with imprisonment which may extend to one year or fine or both.

If the riot is not committed, still for provoking the person can be punished with imprisonment which may extend to six months or fine or both.

For example: Giving a provoking speech.


It can be inferred that the legislation has played its role better by incorporating penal consequences of a riot and make making the offence cognizable and non compoundable but still India has experienced many riots both prior to independence and after the independence as well. The offenders are duly punished but the aftermath of riot must be borne by an innocent person. Riots arouses a sense of insecurity among people who are given a right to live peacefully by the law of land. There is always some provocation behind riots which is also made punishable under IPC, 1860. So, legislation is strict enough to curb riots what is needed to change the criminal attitude of human beings.

  1. Moti Das v. State of Bihar AIR 1954 S.C. 657
  2. AIR 1968 Mad 310
  3. Roy Fernandes v. State of Goa AIR 2012 S.C. 1030
  4. AIR 2011 S.C. 3327
  5. AIR 2011 SC 1379
  6. 1997 2 Crimes 228 Bom.