Culpable Homicide v. Murder – The Subtleties


This article has been written by Vaibhav Laddha, a second year at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.

The word ‘Homicide’ denotes the act of killing a human by another human, derived from the Latin terms homi (man) and cido (cut). It is the generic term used for a multitude of situations where a death of a human being is caused by another human (as opposed to say a natural calamity), some of which may not be illegal, as we shall explore in the following paragraphs.

Homicides are of two types: lawful and unlawful. The Indian law recognizes three kinds of homicides: (i) excusable homicides, (ii) justifiable homicides and (iii) unlawful/criminal homicides. Death caused by an innocent agent such as a child under seven years (he or she is deemed as a doli incapax – incapable of forming the intention to commit a crime) is excusable, while a death caused by a person acting in self-defence is justifiable.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (henceforth, IPC) incorporates four types of homicide offences, namely: (i) culpable homicide not amounting to murder (ii) culpable homicide amounting to murder, or murder in short (iii) death by a rash or negligent act and (iv) dowry death.

The sections pertaining to culpable homicide and murder are quite technical and hence, confusing. Murder is merely a special, aggravated form of culpable homicide. Therefore, every murder is a culpable homicide, but not every culpable homicide is murder.

There is said to have been a culpable homicide if there is a death of a person caused by another person, with the intention of causing such death and the knowledge that his or her act is likely to cause death. Therefore, when a person stabs another with the intention of killing him, and that person dies as a consequence of that stabbing, it is culpable homicide (also murder, as we will see).

All culpable homicides are murder if they fulfill the special requirements provided in Section 300 of the IPC, which are:

  1. The act is done with the intention of causing death

OR intention of causing a bodily injury that is likely to cause death

OR intention of causing a bodily injury that is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death

  1. The act is done with the knowledge that the act is so imminently dangerous that in all probability it will cause an injury that is likely to cause death, or if it is done without a justification for causing the risk of death

Therefore, when a man causes a death of a person but does not intend to cause such death, or when he does not have the knowledge that the act he is committing is likely to cause death it is culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

An act does not amount to murder, if it falls under any of the exceptions given below:

  1. When an offender is deprived of his self-control under grave and sudden provocation. For example, if A gives sudden provocation to B and B in retaliation shoots A, this is not murder. This exception also has three exceptions.
  2. However, if B provoked A to incite him so as to find an excuse to kill A, this would amount to murder as he has voluntarily sought such provocation.
  3. It would also amount to murder if A were a public servant acting lawfully, such as a police officer who is arresting B for a crime.
  4. If A, for example, pulled B’s nose and B holds A to prevent A from doing so. A, under this sudden provocation, kills B, would be guilty of murder as that provocation was given in the lawful exercise of private defence.
  5. When an offender causes death in the rightful exercise of right to private defence (defence of body or property)
  6. When the act is committed by a public servant in the lawful discharge of his duties
  7. When the act is committed in a sudden fight in the heat of passion, without any premeditation
  8. When the act causes a death of a person above eighteen years of age, with that person’s consent

In the famous Nanavati case, the accused shot his wife’s love dead. The Court held that it was murder, because there was no ‘grave and sudden provocation’ that led to the murder. This conclusion was derived from the fact that the accused had the time to think and reflect when he went to the ship, procured a gun and then went to the deceased’s home.

In another case, the accused saw the deceased sexually assaulting his son and therefore, killed him. The Court held that it was culpable homicide not amounting to murder as there was sudden and grave provocation.

In a case in Uttar Pradesh, the deceased attempted to attack the accused, but there was a fight and the deceased started retreating. It was then that the accused assaulted the deceased which led to his death. The Court held that as the deceased was retreating, there was no danger to the life of the accused and the accused had exceeded his right to private defence, and it would thus amount to murder.

A policeman had arrested a thief and was escorting him in a train. The thief then attempted to escape on foot, and the policeman shot at the thief, but hit the fireman (the guy who shovels coal into the furnace) instead. The Court held that it was covered under the exception and it would not amount to murder. However, the public servant accused must believe, in good faith that the act he committed was lawful, or was necessary in the course of his duty. Therefore, when a senior ordered his subordinate to shoot when there was no need to do so, it was held that this act would not fall under the exceptions, and would amount to murder.

In a land dispute, the accused had destroyed the deceased’s property which was lying on his land at which point there was a dispute which culminated into a fight. The accused, in the heat of passion, struck the deceased which caused his death. It was held that this act would fall under the exceptions and would not amount to murder. However, in another case, where the deceased slapped the accused, and the accused left and returned with other men armed with deadly weapons and killed the deceased, it was held that this would not fall under the exceptions as this act was not committed in the ‘heat of passion’ but was premeditated, and would thus amount to murder.

Where an injured soldier, above the age of eighteen and aware of the consequences of his injury and his request, asks his comrade to shoot him to end his pain, the act would not amount to murder.

As seen in these examples, murder is a subset of culpable homicide. Culpable homicide is the genus and murder is the specie. The difference between the two essentially boils down to the degree of intention and knowledge about the likelihood of death, and it would be impossible to come up with objective parameters of what act constitutes which offence.

However, I hope this rudimentary guide would help you answer CLAT questions adequately enough.

Thanks for reading!

Note from Admin: The article written by Vaibhav is to help you better your understanding of the terms used. When it comes to principle-based application questions in the Legal Aptitude section, the principle in the question must be given greater weightage than any previous known concept. If principle says the opposite of what is written in the article, then, you must go by the principle. This is a pro-tip on cracking CLAT and hopefully, you keep it close to your heart! 🙂


  1. Thank-you so much….
    Seriously it is very helpful nd a very useful article.
    I just wanna any one who could clear out this confusion nd see I found it.

    But have a doubt.
    Ok let me tell.
    In a question both the principle of murder nd culpable homicide are given. And a person murdered another intentionally.
    Toh my question is, what will be the answer…. Culpable homicide or murder happened there????
    According to the principle it is murder. But as u said murder is a part of culpable homicide….Then the answer would be culpable homicide na.

    I don’t know wht is correct.

    • Culpable homicide is of two kinds: 1. Culpable homicide amounting to murder, and 2. Culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

      When someone says “culpable homicide v/s murder”, it essentially means “culpable homicide not amounting to murder v/s culpable homicide amount to murder”. Keep that distinction in mind. To put it differently, when you say that someone has committed culpable homicide, it is ordinarily taken as ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’.

      You are correct with your logic. But if you call a clear case of killing someone ‘culpable homicide’ instead of ‘murder’, it will not be a full answer. Because there is more than culpable homicide there. There is murder and that needs to be said.

      Hope it’s clear.

      • Yesss, sir u cleared out this upto that level….Means I got the confidence that I can break away someone’s doubt regarding this topic.

        Thank-you so much.

        A happy follower☺.

    • As Asad said, the distinction of culpable homicide and murder is actually a distinction of culpable homicide amounting to murder (murder) or culpable homicide that does not amount to murder (culpable homicide). So if there is a scenario where a person murders another person with intention and knowledge, it would amount to murder, unless it falls in any of the exceptions. If it falls under any of the exceptions, then it becomes culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

      I hope this makes it clear. Please ask further questions if it isn’t, or if you have any other questions.

      • Sir…..Thanks a lot for this clear explanation nd also for ur kindness.

        I’m a ware house of doubts. And it’s not possible to ask question over comments nd also it’ll be quite awkward…hope u understand.
        But it’ll be great if u’ll provide ur email id to contact.
        Also it’ll be ok if there’s any problem.

        But u guys r superb. Thank-you .

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