Section 141 IPC: The Unlawful Assembly Defined

The Constitution of India is the Magna Carta that promises and ensures several rights fundamental in nature to the citizens of the country in Part III of the Constitution. Among many freedoms that the Constitution of India gives, one of the important freedoms is to assemble peaceably and without arms.[1] The right to assemble is a healthy and positive right furthering productive gatherings and group discussions for the purposes of entertainment, personality development and growth of the country. Such fundamental right is essential for a progressive country to develop collectively where all people contribute and participate substantively. But to check the evil mind of humans and the selfish outlook of some of the citizens, a strict check has to be imposed to prevent these gatherings from disturbing the peace and tranquility in the society. In this time of increased community sentiments and highly vulnerable atmosphere, where civil and communal strife along with terrorism have grown to be so common threats, laws to restrict and prohibit the formation of assembles and gatherings of people which are destructive of societal harmony.

Chapter VIII of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a collection of some provisions that seeks to deal with the issue of unlawful assembly to preserve public tranquility. Section 141, IPC defines the term unlawful assembly as:

“An assembly of five or more persons is designated an “unlawful assembly”, if the common object of the persons composing that assembly is—

(First) — To overawe by criminal force, or show of criminal force, the Central or any State Government or Parliament or the Legis­lature of any State, or any public servant in the exercise of the lawful power of such public servant; or

(Second) — To resist the execution of any law, or of any legal process; or

(Third) — To commit any mischief or criminal trespass, or other offence; or

(Fourth) — By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to any person, to take or obtain possession of any property, or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way, or of the use of water or other incorporeal right of which he is in possession or enjoyment, or to enforce any right or supposed right; or

(Fifth) — By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do.[2]

 As per ordinary and natural meaning, ‘unlawful assembly’ means a gathering or meeting of three or more people aiming to disturb the peace and tranquility of the community by committing a crime or doing some lawful act in a manner which will adversely affect the legal order in the society. Section 141, IPC provides a very categorical and exhaustive yet comprehensive definition of ‘unlawful assembly’ to cover all possible collective gatherings with mischievous intentions. The cautiously drafted provision has proved the test of time and has without hindering or restricting the Fundamental Right assured under Article 19(1) (b) of the Constitution, has comfortably come within the ambit of Article 19(3) of the Constitution.  The basic principle behind this is that law discourages tumultuous assemblage of men. This section criminalizes not the offence committed by the assembly but the consensus of the purpose and the collective mala fide intention of the gathering.

Various judicial pronouncements upheld the definition and covered various circumstances wherein an assembly was declared unlawful by the court. The Supreme Court pronounced that the first essential to constitute an assembly an unlawful assembly is that it should constitute of five or more persons.[3] In Raju @ Rajendra and Another v. State of Rajasthan[4], it was held that if all the accused persons came together at the place of the occurrence armed with dangerous weapons it can be inferred that they formed unlawful assembly. In Hukum Singh v. State[5], the Supreme Court observed that where several persons were armed with lathis and one of them with hatchet and all of them agreed to use those weapons, they were resisted; they were guilty for having used violent weapons and prosecuted for their common object.

Section 142, IPC further provides that Whoever, being aware of facts which render any assembly an unlawful assembly, intention­ally joins that assembly, or continues in it, is said to be a member of an unlawful assembly.[6] Section 143, IPC subjects the members of the assembly declared as unlawful with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.[7] Further Section 144, IPC provides that whoev­er, being armed with any deadly weapon, or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, is a member of an unlawful assembly, shall be punished with imprison­ment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.[8] For the continued and conscious presence Section 145, IPC imposes stricter penalty and provides that whoev­er, being armed with any deadly weapon, or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, is a member of an unlawful assembly, shall be punished with imprison­ment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.[9]

Section 141, IPC further declares that an assembly which was not unlawful when assembled may subsequently become unlawful if it becomes violent or is likely to result in disturbance. Under Section 129, CrPC, 1973, such an assembly may be ordered to be dispersed if the disturbance to the public peace is reasonably apprehended. Section 151 of the IPC makes it an offence not to disperse after a lawful command to disperse has been given. The main basis of all these cases is to reflect the need for compulsory check on meeting with an intention to disturb peace and bring chaos.

[1] Article 19 of the Constitution of India

[2] Section 141 IPC, 1860

[3] 1963 (1) Cri LJ 100 : AIR 1963 SC 174

[4] 2013 (1) Crimes 158 (SC)

[5] AIR 1961 SC 1541

[6] Section 142 IPC, 1860

[7] Section 143 IPC, 1860

[8] Section 144 IPC, 1860

[9] Section 145 IPC, 1860

Authored by Sonal Vyas | Edited by Rini Mathew.

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