Different Theories of Punishment in India

Punishment is the act of imposing an unpleasant and undesirable act on a group or an individual. Punishment is a wide concept that has been used since time immemorial. The concept of punishment stems from the sense of justice. Legally, Punishment is given by a person in authority for various reasons. As civilisations grew and human rights took a major center stage in the idea of justice, the different legal systems of countries resorted to either lesser or more stringent punishment for certain acts.  This resulted in the formation of various theories of punishment over the years.

The theories of punishment are:

  1. Retributive theory of punishment: The retributive theory of punishment is perhaps the most instinctive one that humans inhibit. It works on the basis of revenge. An eye for an eye is the idea of this theory. In most heinous cases however, the exact same act cannot be carried out. Example of such a crime is the rape of a woman. The same cannot be done to a man as punishment. Castration was considered to be the punishment for rape up until the 1940s.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia have also put the death penalty upon those who carry out rape. Hence, the retributive theory does not necessarily mean the same act to be done as punishment but the standard or punishment is more or less similar to that of the crime committed.

Also Read: Healthcare as Fundamental Right – Aishwarya Sandeep

  • Preventive theory of punishment: The preventive theory of punishment can be equated to the preventive detention acts in India. When the justice system is sure of the high probability of the commission of a crime by a person or a group of individuals, the deterrent theory is used to prevent them from carrying out the act. For example, if ISIS has entered India with the plan to bomb the parliament, with appropriate intelligence, the police can arrest them before hand to prevent them from carrying out their mission for protection of national integrity. This prevention however, can be permanent as well if the system so decides.
  • Deterrent theory of punishment: The deterrent theory is based on the principle of setting an example to set a benchmark of fear. This fear causes a person who has intention to carry out an act to think twice before committing the crime and it may deter him from doing so. Most punishment laws in India are based on this theory wherein a certain punishment is already set for a certain act and this benchmark is supposed to deter individuals from doing such acts.
  • Expiatory theory of punishment: As is inferred from the name of this theory, the primary aim of the theory is to provide compensation to the aggrieved party in a case while bringing about the feeling of repent in the wrongdoer. This compensation can be claimed against a person as well as the state. The basic idea is to restore up to an extent so possible the loss that has occurred to the aggrieved person. In some cases however, such as a violation of fundamental right, the act in itself may not have caused any damage. Even then, the compensation can be in terms of money or benefits to the person. Seeking penance is the essence of expiatory theory of punishment.
  • Reformative theory of punishment: The reformative theory aims at bringing about a moral change in a person during his/her time of punishment. In some cases, a person carries out a crime in situations that may never arise again. Such people are given a chance to repent and reform themselves through the course of their punishment. This is achieved through various activities, labour and confinement in prisons. Contempt of court in a way has reformative theory of punishment wherein if jail time is given, the person is jailed so that the person realises the mistake so committed.

Also Read: Custom and the Changing Society – Aishwarya Sandeep

Hence, these are the main forms of punishment that are used in India. While there might be other theories, they more or less stem from these five basic theories of punishment.

Furthermore, in my opinion, in order to provide justice to the aggrieved as well as to being about a moral change in the society, the multiple approach theory must be used.

The multiple approach theory says that the above mentioned theories are not mutually exclusive to each other can must be used together in some cases to bring about actual justice and change.

Aishwarya Says:

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