Role of psychology in understanding crime in India: an analysis


For committing a criminal offense mens rea is generally taken to be an essential element of crime but what often gets lost between the commission of a crime and finding and charging the guilty is what brought him to commit this crime, and here I not only talk about the events that led to the crime but the psychology behind it. What prompts a person to commit a crime? What is the crime that the person was likely to commit? Is there a similar pattern or are some people more susceptible to it? Every crime should be punished and it doesn’t matter the extent of it, wrong is wrong but what I try to do in this paper is understand why a person gets where he thought that committing a particular crime was his only option. We have often seen cases of abetment of suicide, people pushing people to their edges and the person resorting to committing suicide so one clear thing is that psychology does play a major role in every type of crime, it can be helpful from the stage of catching the criminal to the stage of understanding the crime and using it to help in other matters. Psychology has changed and evolved over the years from its basic role on more common issues such as insanity and competency to the basis of memory and its effect on the legal testimony and the nature of family relationships in child custody.


The behavior of a person is the result of the way a person thinks. Personality is what defines how and or what a person thinks at any given moment. personality is what separates people. If you have to judge a person by the way he looks for the crimes he committed that would be wrong and baseless but his thought process and personality play a major role in connection to committing a crime and its severity. People’s approach to a given situation or how a person conducts some work is usually different from other people, now what makes it different is how a person perceives it and that perception depends on his personality and mindset. For example- say there are two brothers a and b who decide that they want to build their own separate homes. A goes for a loan from a bank whereas b goes for using his savings. Now the reason that they both choose different methods is the same but their views towards the reason are different. Their father at their age had taken a loan to build his own home but for reasons was unable to pay it back to the bank, bank, therefore, resulting in taking his property and rendering him homeless at that time forcing him to live somewhere else. The trauma the family had to face forced A into thinking that he would not commit the same mistakes that his father did and would always keep some money aside for the installments whereas B was so scared that he decided never go to the bank again and instead use what he had because the future was uncertain. Now, this may seem like a very normal situation the points to take from this are how a certain transaction affects a person’s regular thinking process as well. Now compare it to the criminals at the exact border point on the way to commit a crime, whether or more importantly what should he/she do and what not. How to react once an act has been done and what could have been averted can all be linked to psychological factors guiding a person. Understanding a person correctly is a very complex process but having an insight into the situations which triggered his/her response can be a very helpful thing to ascertain future criminal activities as well as in understanding the nature of the crime and to determine the procedure and the punishment of the same.



Psychology is used to understand the thought, emotions, behavior, and feelings of a person. The results can increase the understanding as to why people behave as they do. Psychology has helped people discover different personalities and how to promote a healthy developmental environment. Through psychology, we can understand what makes a more productive or what makes him more inclined towards a certain type of activity. psychology can be applied to a wide range of endeavors such as human and health services, education, management, sports, and in this especially law. It usually specializes in one of many different areas.

Forensic psychologists use psychological principles and findings in the legal and criminal justice system to help legal professionals such as judges, lawyers to understand the psychological findings of a case. Psychologists can also offer psychotherapy services, perform child custody evaluations or investigate reports of child abuse. Those working in civil courts can provide second opinions and provide psychotherapy to crime victims.



Psychology and crime go hand in hand. The mental aspect of a person plays a heavy role in deciding what kind of a person he/she becomes. Following are some examples or aspects that can help in understanding how crime and psychology work together.

 People who grow with antisocial behavior or some kind of physical or mental abuse in the home will be more likely to do the same to their children who in turn will often follow the same pattern. Neglected children or the ones who are abused have a different mindset and view the world differently; they are more likely to commit a crime later on in life.

Sexual abuse during childhood more often leads to these victims become abusers themselves. They think they get the same power their abuser had when they commit the crime on somebody else.

Peer influence also strongly influences a person’s decision to commit a crime. Young boys and girls who are bullied or who do not exactly fit into the expected standards of modern society can often find themselves doing illegal drugs which in itself is a crime and also using that drug to get the courage to commit a greater crime.

People who do not get adequate respect or they supposedly feel that they do not get in can often find a resort to crime as an ultimate way of getting the attention and respect of the people around them.

Lack of education also certainly plays a role in inclining the graph of a person who is more likely to commit a crime.

How these and many more psychological issues come into play when understanding crime in India, I will explain with the help of taking examples of the crime in India itself.



One way to understand the role of psychology relating to crimes in India can be understood by studying the crimes committed against women in the country and the everlasting gender inequality in India. Not only in modern times but if you go way back in the history of India even during the times when gods prevailed in India women have been seen has as inferior to men and more as a servant than as a wife or a partner. Since early times men have taken the role of bread earning and women are seen to be used just for reproduction and taking care of the children and the households. This has always led to women suffering in every sphere of life. The birth of a boy is celebrated whereas the birth of a girl is often associated with pain and grief. There is a reason why child detection is a crime in India. Boys have always been considered to be outgoing whereas women are always meant to be shy.

Imagine a boy growing up in a typical Indian middle-class family with his sister seeing these things from a very young age such as him being given more food to eat more milk to drink more attention of the family. The girl is made to do all the house chores along with her mother whereas the father and the boy enjoy pre-done work at their home and even getting to scold the women for not doing the same work as per their preferences. The boy gets all the permissions whereas the girl child is kept grounded. Boy’s getting away with doing all the taboo things such as drinking and smoking whereas the girl being beaten and scolded to the same. The boy inheriting all the property of his ancestors whereas the girl being married to a man and being made to leave her own home for the home of another man and still not getting any property right there(talking about property right from the ground perspective of the society where there are equal laws and rights for women against their ancestral property but using them often brings them to hate and prejudice. The boy seeing this grows up with the mentality that he owns the women that he marries or who constitute his life and leads him to believe that whatever he does as a man is right it even being a crime.

For egg- Often the children who have been pressurized and beaten down often by their parents and society tend to think that when they are married, they can do the same to their wife and children similarly in many cases of women abuse all that a person tries to prove by assaulting or hurting a woman is that he is more powerful and the women should not speak in front of him. He thinks he can do anything. People tend to find what they couldn’t in the earlier stages of life in their current stages.



The supreme court of India on September 6th, 2018 decriminalized homosexuality between consenting adults by partially striking down section 377 of the IPC as unconstitutional. The verdict was a major victory for the LGBTQ community as they had been denied their rights for a very long time. But what role did psychology play in decriminalizing this section which had been considered a crime up until 2018?

Section 377 of the IPC was introduced in the year 1861 during the British rule in India referring to it as “unnatural offenses”. Homosexual people were not considered humans and they were deprived of their basic rights which the other people enjoyed freely. It is pure science, a certain manner in which the brain of individual functions and reacts towards other individuals of the same sex. Society cannot remain unmindful to the theory which several types of research both in the field of biological and psychological science, have proven and affirmed from time to time.

It was the judgment of the Supreme Court that led to change in peoples thinking and perspective towards homosexual people and made them understand that

  • Homosexuality is not a mental illness.
  • People have the right to choose their partners.
  • People have the freedom to be different.
  • Citizens also have a constitutional duty to respect another’s dignity.

What was perceived to be “unnatural”, “deviant” and “perverse” sexual behavior will now have to be accepted by all the people in a natural justified way just as it was meant to be whether now, they like it or not. The supreme court’s judgment will bring about a change in people opinion and they will now accept homosexuals more widely as now the supreme court and the government supports them, it also prevents crimes against them, the regular harassment they faced and brings about a wide movement of acceptance of them as normal people bringing them more jobs and more respect in the society.

From a very early time, countries like USA, England, and Canada have already welcomed homosexual people, and they in fact even marriage laws from them, although India was a very big step for the country it still lags behind. The reason behind this achievement also was an open mind and understanding that there cannot be a similar way that people think and work. People are different and get amused by different things and all this could never have happened if there were no steps to understand psychology, to understand people and their different reactions.So, psychology definitely plays an important role in understanding crime in India or more aptly in this case what was and could be a crime in India.



Up until 2017 suicide or any attempt made towards the same was considered as a criminal offense under section 309 of the IPC but this was changed after the passing of the new Mental Healthcare Act 2017 which now says “notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed unless proved otherwise, to have stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said code”. The act will have the duty to provide care, treatment, and rehabilitation facilities to the person who attempts suicide and has severe stress, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide. The act is aimed at transforming the mental healthcare regime in the country.

This act comes at a time when a student commits suicide every one hour according to the 2015 data of the NCRB, 2015 the number of suicides stood at 8934, the number of attempted suicides many unreported, is likely to be much higher. Young people find it difficult to cope with failure in their exams or even their careers and neither the families nor friends or social institutions offer sufficient help. This pressure buildup is due to the constant social pressure on the people living in the Indian society and more importantly the parent’s denial that our child “is fine” or “there is nothing wrong with him”, “there is no such thing as mental illness”.

Professional help is difficult to find in India as India has a shortage of mental health professionals. Student suicide is becoming a trend in Kota, Rajasthan where many commercial coaching center’s which guarantee success pressure their students into achieving unrealistic goals which in turn leads to failure and anxiety, and depression over the fear of letting their family down, and the students have no choice but to end their lives. A similar trend can be seen in the prestigious Indian colleges of IITs across the country.

Other reasons for these suicides are poor relationships with the parents and friends, the feeling of being unwanted, poor understanding of their romantic relationships, etc.

But this can be changed and the Indian government has taken the much needed although very little of a step towards it with the new mental healthcare act as it says that “Every person with mental illness shall have a right to live with dignity…there shall be no discrimination on any basis including gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, caste, culture, social or political beliefs, class or disability.” The act ensures that every person with a mental illness shall have the right to live in, be a part of society, and not be segregated from society. The person will not continue to remain in a mental health facility merely because he does not have a family, is not accepted by his family, is homeless, or due to the absence of community-based facilities.

The act can be considered one of the many positive steps to be taken to ensure that we have adequate awareness about mental health, to increase the conversation regarding mental health and not just considering it a joke, to remove the stigma associates with mental illness and hopefully one day India can curb the graph of its suicide rate especially because of social pressure and lack of understandings between the parents and the children. 




This case represents the relationship between a physician and their patient and how a physician can prevent a crime from happening. This case set the precedent of “Physician duty to report danger”. Patients sometimes confide intimate details of their lives to physician’s patients seek an empathetic ear but what if the revelation by a patient constitutes danger and risk to another party?

Prosenjit Poddar, a foreign graduate student came to the University of California, Berkley, from Bengal, India in 1967. He met Tatiana Tarasoff at a folk dancing class and thereafter they met regularly. On New-year’s eve, Tatiana kissed Poddar, and Poddar interpreted the act to signify a serious romantic relationship. Tatiana did not reciprocate this view and once when she realized how serious he was about her she tried to make it clear that she was dating other guys and did not see the relationship going anywhere and was not interested. Poddar reportedly began stalking her and became depressed soon after, his studies and health suffered. He started tape-recording all their further occasional meetings throughout the summer of 1969 and replayed them to figure out why she rejected him. During this time Tatiana went to brazil and Poddar seemed to improve. Poddar sought help from Dr. Lawrence Moore a psychologist at UC Berkeley Cowell memorial hospital. During the therapy, Poddar confined that he had thought about killing, although Tatiana was never mentioned specifically. The concerned doctor reported this information to the campus police and asked the police to detain him reporting that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenic delusions. The campus police detained him shortly but had to let him go because appeared entirely rational, Poddar stopped seeing his psychologist and by that time Tatiana had returned from her travels. Neither Tatiana nor her parents were informed that Poddar had revealed an intention to kill. On October 27, 1969, Poddar stabbed and killed Tatiana at her home and after killing her called the police, confessed, and asked to be handcuffed. Tatiana’s parents sued Moore and the other employees of the university that was called “Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California”.


 The trial court dismissed the complaint believing that the doctor only had a duty to his patient and not to any third-party attendant to the doctor-patient relationship, however, in 1974 the supreme court reversed the holdings and reasoned that the therapist has to use reasonable care to give threatened person warnings that are essential to avert foreseeable danger. The court said that it did not require the therapists to render exact performances but only to exercise that reasonable degree of skilled care ordinarily possessed by members of their profession under similar circumstances. It also said that the risk that unnecessary warnings may be given is a reasonable price to pay for the lives of possible victims that might be saved.


The above case showcases how important it is to have a mental health professional in one’s life and how important their guidance is. Not only could the crime had been averted but a person suffering from mental health issues could have been cured of his ill mindset. This case also highlights my above-made points that either directly or indirectly a person through his behavior can affect the outcome of someone else’s life and that if we are careful enough, the “to become” criminal always displays subtle signs of him/her tipping over to the edge of crime but this does not mean that we have to become full professional doctors or that in case something happens it our fault, we just have to make sure that that the unusual points do not skip from our eyes and that can be possible especially in India if we are free from the social taboo of needing mental help and giving mental health equal importance as we give to the other things.

If whenever you feel that a person or certain authorities should be alerted regarding anything be it be a false alarm, you should always go for it.


Psychology and crime have a very deep relation as to not only understanding why and how did a person commit a crime but if a certain act can be considered a crime or not as seen in the case of section 377 and how no specific education or abetment is required to make a person commit a crime. Psychology shows how the basic upbringing of a person in regards to his/her society and the environment which has been surrounding them and their parents affects and their growth as a person and makes them susceptible towards a certain crime without them even knowing. The psychological study of humans has to keep on going to find solutions to the small as well as big crimes happening every day and them being treated as they are normal. The other thing that can be concluded is that people who seek mental health should not be considered abnormal and desperate for attention instead they should be helped in every way possible as what a person may do next can never be calculated precisely. If people try and understand the basic psychology behind the crimes we can resort to certain issuance of guidelines which can help prevent crime and the most important of all is to instill in people a culture of therapy especially in countries like India where still people have very little or no access to their parents and superiors to talk about anything that bothers them, we have to understand that one wrong step of ours can create an illusion in the mind of those around us that can lead to a life of misery of themselves and the people around them.

Some suggestions that can be taken from the paper are-

  • Introduction of mental health compulsory in primary and senior education in schools as well as colleges.
  • Specific meetings to be held with the parents of the children studying in schools and colleges with their teachers regarding the mental health of the students as well as the parents and the parents need to be enlightened for the same as well and helped wherever they need help.
  • All the institutes be they may Educational institutes, offices, workplaces, courts, factories to have a mental health counselor present and approachable to every person attending or working in the institutions.
  • Several seminars and lectures on the importance of mental health and on the importance of sharing the thoughts inside the minds to be held by various NGO’s and educational institutions.
  • Introduction of more and more courses and study materials in colleges for students wanting to pursue a profession in the same.
  • The villages and the areas where education cannot reach have to be specially brought under the radar because people living there are unaware of any such kind of things and many have been the victims of mental abuse for a very long time sometimes their whole life.
  • The creation of several mental wellness institutes from the states and central governments ensures that people approaching get full attention towards their needs.
  • Social media also plays a role in disturbing the mental health of the people, the parents and the grown-up people themselves should come up with policies to restrict its usage and this fact should never be denied that what is often seen on social media is tailored and not true and it should not be followed blindly.


  1. Mehak Sikand, K. jayasankaraRedyy,  Role of psychological Factors in criminal behavior in adults in India,Sikand and Reddy, 2017,
  • SudhintaSinha, Personality correlates of criminals: a comparative study between normal controls and criminals, jan-jun 2016,

  • Dr. d. Amutha, The roots of gender inequality in India, 28 January 2017

  • Apurva Vishwanath, homosexuality not a mental illness : what 5 judges said while striking down section 377, 6,September,2018,
  • Nikita Puri,Corporates are becoming more inclusive in a post section 377 world, 8 February, 2020

  • Psychologists- what they do, Student, 2009

  • Rebecca Joy Stanboroug,How black and white thinking hurts you, 13 January ,2020

  • Adrian Furnham, Eysenck’s personality theory, 27 November, 2018

  1. Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California

Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425 (Cal. 1976)

  1. DevanikSaha, Every hour one student commits suicide in India, Hindustan times, 08 may, 2017

  1. Press trust of India, 27 students committed suicide in 5 years, IIT Madras tops the list, Business Standard, 08 December, 2019

  1. Government decriminalizes suicide, notifies new law, NDTV, 03 June, 2018.

  1. Mental healthcare act, 2017 No. 10, Acts of parliament, 2017(India)

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