Just what is 'culpable homicide'?

Jun 11, 2015, 07:46 IST | Armin Wandrewala

Much debate and discussion ensues over the term ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder, whenever someone is charged or likely to be charged with the same, especially when death is caused in a road accident

Much debate and discussion ensues over the term ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder, whenever someone is charged or likely to be charged with the same, especially when death is caused in a road accident.

Just what is ‘culpable homicide’?

“Section 299 (IPC): Culpable homicide Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.”

The punishment is prescribed under Section 302.

I have no intention of starting here a legal discussion/ debate on the term, but wanted to get the entire section across.

“It was an accident, there was no ‘intent to kill’,” scream those trying to defend the driver who has caused death, when he/she is charged with ‘culpable homicide’.

Yes, ‘this’ can be an accident, and sometimes is: when the driver is totally free of guilt or fault, when it is totally the fault of the victim, whether a pedestrian, or someone in another vehicle: like, when a pedestrian suddenly dashes across the road, against the signal or where there is no pedestrian crossing; like where a vehicle gets hit, and those on/in it die due to a collision; they themselves having transgressed a red light, or have broken a traffic rule/law e.g.: are coming from/driving on the wrong side of the road, etc. However, when an accident — and consequential death — is caused by a driver driving under influence of drink, or transgressing any road sign/ rule, like breaking a red light, or driving on the wrong side of the road, or driving on a pavement? When a driver well knows that such an act — an offence by itself — is likely to cause death?

Drivers who drive under the influence of drink, who break red lights, transgress pedestrian crossings, talk on the phone /text while driving, drive on the wrong side, enter no-entry, drive on pavements, speed, etc etc etc, are well aware that their action/s can cause death and/or serious injury. When an accident happens under such situations, and the victim dies, it is not the question of ‘intention’ alone, per se. There is also the ‘knowledge’ that such act/s could cause death!

A person who deliberately and willfully transgresses on the road is no less than a ‘terrorist’ on the road, and that it matters little, to a person injured or a family bereaved, whether death/injury is caused by a terrorist, or a person who willfully, knowingly and deliberately flouts traffic rules and norms, and thus causes death or injury — nor, even irritation!

Then, of course, is the danger of hidden or latent ‘injury’, impacting the health of innocent and law-abiding users of the road, on account of transgressions by the offenders.

The sad reality today is, hardly anyone follows traffic rules/laws; hardly anybody obeys signals. People cut lanes dangerously and wrongly, chat on cellphones while driving/ walking on roads, enter no-entry, drive on the wrong side, overtake from the wrong side, drive/park on pavements, etc etc etc… The list goes on and on.

Pedestrians, too, transgress blatantly and nonchalantly, and people think nothing of it unless something like this happens: people are killed, several families devastated, lives are ruined, including that of the offender/s.

The arrogance of the offenders knows no bounds! Several are guilty of this, several culpable: the rich, the supposedly educated, the uneducated, the poor, pedestrians, (who dart across dangerously, yakking on cells), motorists who transgress, be they owners of Mercs/BMWs/Audis/ Marutis/drivers of taxis/BEST buses/trucks/bikes/two-wheelers, etc.

It’s high time all citizens realise that they need to get their act together, and get back to following traffic rules and signals, and refrain from driving after intake of alcohol.

They would be doing themselves a favour as well.

The author is a lawyer practising at the Bombay High Court

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