Analysis of Conviction of Rioters in India


Riots are mostly defined as an unlawful assembly of three or more people with the intention of creating public disorder. These are considered under illegal actions as they involve violence and harm to public peace and order. Riot is defined under Section 146 of the Indian Penal Code which defines riot as “whenever force or violence is used in an unlawful manner, or by any member thereof, in the prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offense of rioting”[1]

The proceeding Section 47 defines the punishment for rioting which may extend to 2 years or fine or both. Riot can involve vandalism, theft or destruction of public property with the common intention of the mass that was involved.

Reason for Riots

Riots are mostly incited among groups of the individual when they believe or have the reason to believe that there remain unjust scenarios against them or unfair means used. They often riot in order to let the masses /government responsible, understand that they themselves are not happy with a particular result or decision made in light of them. These groups are often disorganized and chaotic and do not often exhibit herd behavior, hence are hard to control. There have been uncountable riots in India which have led to immense loss of public and private property. When there is a riot, the authorities try to hold them responsible, but it is an arduous task to control a riot and apprehend the ones responsible for a particular type of damage. Majority of rioters run away in order to hide and not get caught by the authorities hence most of the times, those who weren’t able to run away are caught. The discussion below shall shed light on conviction of rioters in India.

The pivot of the concept of who is culpable at the time of rioting is based on the supreme court decision in Lalji and others v/s State of Uttar Pradesh[2] (1989) “if any person is found committing an offense who is a part of unlawful assembly, every person belonging to that group will be charged with the same offense, after such discovery, court will not have to find out who actually committed the offense or require the persecution to prove any offense.”

Cases and judgment

The same was applicable to the case of murders in courses of a riot, it wouldn’t matter if a particular hit killed an individual or not. The individual involved in the riot would be held liable. This was held in the case of Munivel vs. Tamil Nadu[3], 2006.

It shall be understood that mere presence at the scene of the offense shall not be considered as a contributor to the offense. The issue here arises as it is difficult to dig out the intention of an individual as any offender can claim that he/she who was present at the time ofthe riot was innocent and was just present at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The presence of noticeable action is also something that needs to be analyzed. There are cases that lead us to determine whether an aspect of riot is apprehensible or not. Aspect such as that of an overt act. In the case of Kasthurirangam In re (1970) which held that active participation is not necessary for the commission of riot, individuals can incite riots by words and the need to use actions is not mandatory.

In a different view from the lalji case discussed earlier, it was held in Gangadhar Behara vs the State of Orissa[4] (2002) that the mere presence of an individual in an in the riot can make him/her liable for the same.

The conviction rates of rioters are relatively lower than the actual number of the rioter, it shall seem obvious, but every rioter contributes to the destruction. For instance, only 88 people were in the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots while clearly there were much more involved in those riots which killed many and went away with it, no charge of any kind.

The problem that resides with riots is that of control. Rioter is let loose and the police arrive way too late at the scene of the incident and major damage is already done at the beginning of the riot when the rioters are motivated and aggressive. Reforms should be provided in relevance to the police forces in every state of India. The police forces shall be handed every kind of riot control tools involving tear gas, electric guns, proper shielded vests and helmets, pepper sprays and other riot control tools. The police forces should be trained in order to understand how it’s vital to know the intention of the unit, whether they are at the desired place to simply disperse the rioters or are they there to use force to make them surrender or does it depend on the way rioters behaved the time of arrival of the police authorities. In accordance with that, the police force is at a shortage of manpower and requires more men; the authoritative body should tend to issue such as that. Issues of riots cannot be totally curbed but can be prevented to an extent and the capability that police authorities have can empower the country if funded and regulated properly by the government.


It shall be understood that the cases that were discussed were based on technicalities and justice was a chosen path but not the obvious one. What if the presence of that individual did not have anything to do with the riot or maybe the person who was not involved in the riot was inciting the people, the justice would not be done in these cases and many other scenarios and hence the court shall not hover over technicalities and fight for the truth and provide justice to the citizens of India. This conclusion was held in the case of Zahira Habibulla H. Sheikh and Another Vs. State of Gujarat and Others (2004)[5], “ultimately the job that must be done is handed to the judges and the court and it is their duty to dig out the truth and provide justice to the people involved and the citizens as well.

[1], last accessed on 24th June’19

[2] 1989 AIR 754

[3], last accessed on 24th June’19

[4], last accessed on 24th June’19, Appeal (crl.)  1282 of 2001

[5]2004 (5) SCC 353

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