Offenses against Public Tranquility

Offenses against Public Tranquility

Author: Prasun Sarkar


The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a substantive law that lists down offenses causing injury to both, individuals or public at large. Offenses against public tranquility are those which not only harm the property or peace or both of an individual but it harms the property or peace or both of the public at large. While causing such disruptions or restrictions on the normal working of the society, public tranquility is hampered thus causing an offense. In general, tranquility means a state of peace and quiet. Such a state is usually harmed by violent assemblies or by causing a riot or by destroying public property. While committing such offenses, there is an involvement of a large number of people, hence each one of them is held liable for having a common intention. Offenses of such nature should not only be strictly looked down upon but also necessary steps must be taken to prevent them. For a society to grow and progress there is a need for peace and tranquility. The reason being, it helps the people of the society to progress at what they are doing. The occurrence of such disturbances doesn’t allow individuals to live peacefully.

It is the fundamental duty of the State to maintain public order. As a civilized society, everybody accepts that peace and tranquility are very necessary for the development and to live a good and healthy life. The maintenance of law and order is the primary function of the Magistrate. According to the Criminal Procedure Code and others Act, the Magistrate is responsible for maintaining law and order in society. Maintenance of public order and tranquility in the public discourse is the primary objective of any government for a country to grow, develop and reach new heights of good governance, because of these provisions the government should be able to give its citizens a peaceful environment. The duty of the Executive Magistracy and the Police to maintain public order is thus clearly laid down by law. The Indian Penal Code, under Chapter 8 lays down the various offenses that hamper public tranquility. These offenses are often classified as group offenses since they usually include a large number of people who are individually held liable. The offenses may be classified as unlawful assembly, rioting, promoting enmity, and affray. Chapter X of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the legal provisions for maintenance of public order and tranquility and lays down the duties, powers, and functions of the Executive Magistracy and the Police on this behalf.

Unlawful Assembly

Section 141, Indian Penal Code (IPC) describes an unlawful assembly as a gathering of five or more persons who has a common intention :

  • To use or to show criminal force against the public servant, state or central government
  • To resist the execution of the law or legal process.
  • To commit any mischief or criminal trespass on any person.
  • To use the criminal force and deprive the enjoyment of the right of any person or obtain the possession of other people.
  • To use the criminal force and compel a person to do what he is not legally bound to do.

The common objective of all these assemblies has to be unlawful. A peaceful gathering of five or more persons cannot be charged under this section. The peaceful gathering of people for some other reason cannot be concluded to be unlawful until and unless the contrary is proved.

Section 142, of IPC, determines who is a member of such unlawful assembly and who is not. Simply being a part of the assembly does not make a person liable under Section 141. The person joining the assembly has to have the knowledge that the assembly he is joining is an unlawful one and has to have a common intention to cause public disorder similar to that of others. A person who is a part of the assembly but withdraws from it clearly indicates that he doesn’t have a common intention and is not a member of the unlawful assembly. However, a person who is physically not a part of the unlawful assembly due to injury or physical weakness but has a common intention as other members in the assembly will be held liable. Every member of the unlawful assembly is vicariously liable for the offense committed by the member in an unlawful assembly by the prosecution of the common object.[1]

Common Intention and Common Object

According to Section 149, when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone. Section 149, lays down only a rule of evidence and does not create a substantive offence. This section is intended to meet cases in which it may be difficult to distinguish between the acts of the individual members of a party or to prove exactly what part was taken by each of them in furtherance of the common intention of all. This section really means that if two or more persons intentionally do a thing jointly, it is just the same as if each of them has done it individually. The reason why all are deemed guilty in such cases is that the presence of accomplices gives encouragement, support, and protection to the person actually committing an act.

Section 143, IPC is a punitive section. Every member of an unlawful assembly may be imprisoned for a period of six months or has to pay a fine or both.

Section 144 contemplates an aggravated form of the offence of unlawful assembly when a member joins an assembly accompanied with a deadly weapon and a punishment of two years of imprisonment and fine is imposed for the same. The ingredients which need to be satisfied before Section 144 can be imposed on a person are as given below:

  • A member of an unlawful assembly
  • Use of a deadly weapon or a weapon which if used is likely to cause death

The important provision to note here is that a person not carrying a deadly weapon will still not be absolved of his liability under this section if he happens to be a part of such an unlawful assembly which is armed with a deadly weapon. Such a person will not be charged under Section 144 rather he will be charged under Section 141. 

Section 145 lays down the provision wherein a person joins or continues in an unlawful assembly that has been commanded to be dispersed. Such a person shall be punished with imprisonment of two years. However, if such an assembly is not unlawful and constitutes a group of five or persons who have been ordered to disperse, any person joining or continuing to disturb the public peace shall be punishable under Section 151. Section mandates that the accused must have caused disturbance despite having the knowledge of so.


Riots are civil unrest that is caused by unorganized groups of people who often tempt to go violent either against the government or other people or against public property. Riots are often caused due to dissent or grievance. Section 146, says that whenever forces or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member thereof, in the prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of each assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting. Retrospectively, riots have been caused due to dissatisfaction towards the government, being oppressed by higher classes, or due to communal disharmony.

Section, 147 and 148 lays down the punishment for rioting. Under Section, 147 a person will be punished for a term of two years or has to pay a fine or both. However, when a person is charged under Section 148, i.e. person guilty of rioting with a deadly weapon, such person shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. A person will be held liable under this section only when he is carrying a deadly weapon or any other weapon which is likely to cause death.

There is a relation between a common object and offence created, when the offence is committed with a common object then every person is liable for that. Unlawful assembly is equal to five or more persons plus common object however, rioting is equal to unlawful assembly plus violence.[2]

Section 153 is important with reference to provoking with an intention that a riot be carried out by an unlawful assembly. A person can be convicted under this section if he in pursuance to aforementioned intention does any act which is illegal in a malicious or reckless manner. The provocative acts or words do not take into account an act of abetment or instigation.[3] However, the word ‘provocation’ occurring in this section does not cover a chance provocation.[4]

Promotion of enormity between different groups

Section 153A was inserted in the Code in the year 1898 with a view to subside the breach of public peace and tranquillity due to conflicts and mutual abuse amongst various classes. Mens rea is an essential ingredient for the offence that is committed under section 153A of IPC.[5]

The section holds a person guilty who promotes or attempts to promote discord and animosity between different regional, caste, religion, or racial communities, and such acts must disturb or must be likely to disturb the public tranquillity. Further, any sort of movement, exercise, activity, or drill perpetuating the use of force or violence against any of the groups aforementioned shall also fall in the ambit of Section 153A. Further, sorts out any activity, development, penetrate or other comparative movement expecting that the members in such action might utilize or be prepared to utilize criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the members in such action will utilize or be prepared to utilize criminal force or violence, or takes an interest in such action planning to utilize or be prepared to utilize criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the members in such action will utilize or be prepared to utilize criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or territorial gathering or caste or community and such action for any reason at all causes or is probably going to cause dread or alert or a sentiment instability among individuals from such religious, racial, language or provincial gathering or caste or community, shall be held liable.

Section 153B was inserted in the year of 1972,[6] to contain the rise in the communal and caste tensions emerging in the country which did not just create disharmony amongst the different communities but also affected the national integrity of the nation. The section holds any person who:

  • Publishes an imputation that a particular community by reasons of the following or being a member of a particular religion, racial, regional or language group cannot bear true and complete allegiance to the integrity of the nation;
  • Asserts and propagates that a certain group for the reasons aforementioned is bereaved of their rights as a citizen of India;
  • If any of the aforementioned actions if perpetuates the creation of discontent and disharmony amongst the community or class of persons and causes to give rise to ill will and animosity;

shall be punished with three years imprisonment or fine or with both. Further, if any of the aforementioned actions be committed in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship then such person shall be punished with five years imprisonment and fine.


Section 159 of IPC describes affray. Section 159 of the Indian Penal Code provides that if two or more persons are fighting in a public place to disturb the public peace, they will be said to commit the offence of​​ affray. The essentials of this section are:

  • Fight between two or more persons;
  • Fighting in a public place; and

Disturbance of the public peace in consequence thereof.

In the case of​​ C Subbarayudh v. State of Andhra Pradesh,[7] it was​​ held that to constitute affray there must be a fight and it is not fought when one party is aggressive and the other is passive. Thus there must be retaliation from both sides as they both need to participate in the struggle. If a person disturbs the public peace by attacking another person in a public place and the other person does not retaliate it will not attract the offence of affray under Section 159 of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 160 deals with the punishment for Affray. The punishment may extend to one month or fine which may extend up to rupees 100 or both.


The Indian Penal Code has indeed taken some stern steps to restrict public disturbances. Public disturbances not only create restrictions in the normal working of the society but also hampers societal development. For a society to progress there is a need for peace and fewer distractions. Further such unruly behaviour doesn’t have a positive impact on society. Such behaviour not only instils fear among people but also prevents them from standing against such behaviour. The police authorities do take necessary steps to restrict such behaviour but responsibility also lies on people to discourage such civil unrest. Civil unrest like these also results in the destruction of public property which in turn affects the public. However, with stricter norms and more awareness among the people offences like these can be prevented and ultimately leading to a peaceful society.

[1] State of Maharashtra v. Joseph Mingel Koli; (1997) 2 Crimes 228 (Bom).

[2] Allauddin Mian Sharif Mian v. State of Bihar; (1989) Cr LJ 1466 : AIR 1989 SC 1456.

[3] Emperor v. Ahmed Hasham; [1932] 35 Bom LR 240.

[4] State of Orissa v. RC Chowala;  AIR 1966 Orissa 192.

[5] Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of Andhra Pradesh; (1997) 7 Supreme Today 127.

[6] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1972, s 2.

[7] (1996) Cri LJ 1472 (AP).